Marlies Dekkers: the survival story

Inspired by Joan of Arc, the ultimate female warrior, Marlies Dekkers pledged to soldier on after being declared bankrupt last year. In her first interview since her brand restarted in August, Dekkers talks to Sarah Blackman about the lessons she has learned and the pioneering changes she is making to her brand, which could benefit lingerie retailers in a big way.

In the months that followed the announcement that Dutch lingerie brand Marlies Dekkers had been declared bankrupt and restarted with a new investment firm, silence fell on the high street, with many stockists left in doubt over the future of the brand.

Sarah Rollins, owner of Scottish boutique Bravado Underwear told Lingerie Insight in a recent interview: “I am worried about the position of Marlies Dekkers at the moment and this has been so good for us over the past five years. So I am looking for something to replace this should I not be able to get it again.”

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But retailers can put their concerns to bed because, behind closed doors, Marlies Dekkers has been developing a novel system that could make lingerie buying simple, more flexible and cheaper, all the while offering the same, hugely-popular lingerie designs that attracted buyers to the label in the first place.

The brand is doing away with costly sales reps and has employed a large ecommerce team to promote a web portal that will allow retailers to buy their stock online, at any time. And stockists don’t have to worry about missing out on opportunities to touch and feel the product, as the label will hold two showrooms a year.

“It’s a completely new way of working,” says designer Marlies Dekkers. “Buyers can order via an order portal and they don’t have to order half a year in advance. They can make their purchases at the last minute and 24 to 48 hours later they have their stock.”

“We think it’s difficult for a retailer to project what they will need in their stores in six month’s time, so this makes everything more flexible. Retailers can say ‘I need more white or red’ and concentrate on current trends, instead of on what’s going to be happening half a year in advance,” she adds.

“Our production will be more limited, so you have to be fast, otherwise the stock is gone – that’s the risk – but on the other hand, the risk is much more limited for the stores because they have no sales reps pushing them to order in bulk. They can order like a consumer, via the web.”

Bankruptcy ruling

Marlies Dekkers was declared bankrupt by a court in Rotterdam on August 22, 2013, after booking a loss of €2.9m a year earlier. But the brand, and around one third of its 100 employees, wasted no time in restarting with the support of private equity investor Karmijn Kapitaal.

“It was a really tough time, but we were only bankrupt for one hour because we went down the pre-pack route,” says Dekkers.

Pre-packaged insolvency, or a ‘pre-pack’, is a kind of bankruptcy procedure, where a restructure plan is agreed in advance of a company declaring its insolvency. In the UK, pre-packs have been popular since the introduction of the Enterprise Act 2002, which made major changes to competition law, and the Netherlands is currently trialling this procedure with a select few companies to see if it takes off. Marlies Dekkers was one of these companies.

“Normally you file for bankruptcy in front of a judge and then people go into your company and look for investors – this could take weeks, sometimes months. All the while your company is being ripped apart by the media,” explains Dekkers.

“With the pre-pack, they come into your company silently, so nobody knows that it is happening. They look for solutions and look to keep as many people on the pay-list as possible to save the brand. So I was bankrupt for an hour, but I already had the new investor. That is pretty unique,” she says.

So what caused the loss of earnings and eventual bankruptcy? “It was a combination of things,” says Dekkers. “One of our producers, which made 50% of our products, was declared bankrupt and the product was so complex to make that we immediately had a big problem.”

“Then, apart from in the Benelux market, we experienced a huge growth and we had no products because we had to replace the production.”

Lessons learned

Marlies Dekkers acted quickly to stop the company from going under, and creating a web portal was the biggest preventative measure. By cutting the costs of employing sales reps and handling payments via a web portal, it can put the money it has into innovation – something the company is renowned for.

But the brand has also had to cut back on the number of international stockists that carry its garments in order to save the business.

“In the new model, we want to make our lines more exclusive so we don’t have as many selling points,” explains the designer. “We had stock in several areas of the world and it was really too much so we reduced the sale points by looking at the ones that were financially healthy, and the ones that were not.”

“We still have UK stockists – we are still in Selfridges, for example. We don’t have that much stock in the smaller lingerie stores, but we are still working with the bigger ones,” she adds.

So where does this situation leave independent stores? Will they be able to stock Marlies Dekkers? “It depends if they are financially healthy and can deal with the fact that we now do business online,” says Dekkers.

She believes that lingerie retailers will need to get used to buying garments online, as this new way of working will become the norm in the not too distant future.

“In the jeans world, this is happening a lot. It’s a new thing to do this in the lingerie world,” she explains. “I think it’s important that the stores understand that this is the new reality.”

AW14 and beyond

Details of Marlies Dekkers’ AW14 collection are strictly under wraps, but the designer was able to tell Lingerie Insight that the range is inspired by Joan of Arc – the ultimate female warrior.

“She was inspiring for me in the tough times so I want to honour her with this collection – it’s very strong and empowering,” says Dekkers.

Dekkers has two labels – marlies|dekkers, an innovative range of lingerie and swimwear that is recognised by strong lines, unique finishes and cut-outs, and Undressed – a younger, more colourful collection.

She says marlies|dekkers will be “more outrageous than before” for the new season and “very, very exclusive”, with price points of up to €180 for a bra.

“We will produce a small amount of product for celebrities and we will only allow a few retailers, who we know can make a profit from it, to sell it,” she explains. “We will show the collection later than we normally would because it’s very exclusive.

We can’t share too many details because, in the past, a lot of people have copied us, so we have to be careful,” adds Dekkers.

Meanwhile, the Undressed collection will be broader, with garments stocked in more pure-plays and department stores. Price wise, bras will retail for around €90.

SS14 collections are still available for buyers because, with the new system, Marlies Dekkers adds new styles to its order portal every month.

Going forward, Marlies Dekkers plans to increase its communication with lingerie buyers so that they can fully understand the new web portal.

“Because there haven’t been any agents visiting the retailers, it seems like it’s been quiet,” admits Dekkers.

“We need to find a way to talk to our customers in a different way than we did before. This is already working with the bigger stores, like Selfridges, and I believe the rest will follow.”
“Lingerie retailers have to learn that the system is new and it’s different. This will take time because they have always dealt with agents. They will now need to follow us online rather than having someone come to them.
They must be active and participate,” she urges.

“We have found a new business model for the modern times.”

 

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