INTERVIEW: Heidi Klein

British swimwear brand Heidi Klein is eyeing the US market after partnering with the Pentland Group last year. Here, designer Heidi Gosman shares the brand’s strategies going forward.

Since British swimwear brand Heidi Klein received a sizeable cash injection from the Pentland Group in July 2013, things have been going, well, swimmingly.

The luxury label had already established a reputation in the UK for being a leading retailer and wholesaler, with two boutiques open in London, and stockists including Harrods, Selfridges, Intermix and Net-a-porter selling its designs.

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But founders, Penny Klein and Heidi Gosman, had burning ambitions to take the brand to the next level and the Pentland Group, which now owns a significant minority stake in the business, was just the company to do that, according to Gosman, the designer behind the brand.

“Penny and I had grown the company for 10 years and got to where we wanted to be in the UK – we were number one in a lot of the department stores and we had our own stores – and I think to take that internationally, which is what we want to do with the brand, we recognised that we didn’t have the infrastructure or the financial backing to do that on our own,” she says.

“[The Pentland Group] very much wanted to keep Heidi Klein as a boutique brand and they leave us to our own devices, but we have the infrastructure of a billion pound business to tap into when and if we want to, which is great for us.”

With the group’s investment, Heidi Klein has been able to contemplate expanding is business in the US, with plans to open a pop-up store in The Hamptons in the New Year and, eventually, a flagship store in New York City.

The move would follow the successful launch in luxury American department store Barneys in 2006, and more recently, in Saks 5th Avenue, LA and Palm Beach.

“In the UK we are pretty much covered – we have a presence in Selfridges and in Harvey Nichols, both in London, and in the North. If an opportunity comes along for a pop-up in the UK, we would consider it, but I think it’s mainly overseas that we are looking at, and our next big flagship would be in New York because we have done incredibly well in the American market,” explains Gosman.

The partnership has also opened doors to big manufacturing companies around the world, which are set to help Heidi Klein meet the production capacity needed to supply retailers abroad.

“[Pentland] has got big contacts in the manufacturing world, so we’ve got bigger and stronger manufacturers that we would have struggled with without a big brand like that behind us because of minimums and stuff like that,” Gosman explains.

But despite Heidi Klein’s recent focus on the states, and indeed the rest of the world – Gosman and Klein are currently looking to open a pop-up store in the Caribbean – the brand still sees the UK as the epicentre of its burgeoning business.

Heidi Klein has two multi-brand stores based in Notting Hill and Chelsea, which Gosman sees as creative hubs for inspiration.

“The stores give me a constant focus group and I think that’s why our designs are so commercial because I could be on the shop floor in the morning and the design studio in the afternoon and I constantly hear what the clients are loving, but also what they’re not liking. So the stores are still a very important part of the business.”

Heidi Klein’s Notting Hill store was launched in 2002 as a one-stop holiday shop where consumers could buy everything from a sun hat, to swimwear, under one roof.

“Back then shopping for your holiday was quite a big chore, and also quite an unenjoyable experience. The product offering wasn’t great, but also, the experience of shopping for your holiday wasn’t great either,” Gosman recalls.

“We wanted to change that experience of holiday shopping being a complete and utter nightmare to actually being the start of your holiday and a really nice thing to do.”

Heidi Klein began to stock small brands before launching its first own brand collection in 2004.

“We wanted to offer brands that weren’t stocked in department stores, so we bought from smaller brands in Spain and Italy and that’s really how we kicked off Heidi Klein,” says Gosman.

“And then one day Penny and I were on the shop floor and our customers were saying to us ‘when you go buying, will you look for a one-piece body?,’ or ‘could you look for a brand that offers mix and match?’ and whether we were buying in Europe or in the states, we just couldn’t find the product,” she explains.

“I had a friend in lingerie and asked her if she could come in and help put together some stuff that’s missing for our clients. Ever since then, it’s kind of grown from a retail business to a wholesale business.”

So why didn’t Heidi Klein remove itself from retail altogether?

“We toyed with the idea of just going Heidi Klein, but I don’t think you can be everything to everyone, which is why we still do multi-brands,” Gosman resolves.

“And I think we have stuck to what was our unique selling point in the beginning, which was the perfect fit. Heidi Klein is all about gorgeous-looking bikinis, but with that support. Eleven years ago, you could only really get that if you went into lingerie stores – no one was doing it for swim. It’s all about recognising what you’re good at and doing it better and better each season.”



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