The Next Generation of Private Brand

This guest post comes from frequent contributor, Tess Wicksteed, Executive Vice President Pearlfisher NY of the international design agency Pearlfisher.

LBird2The Next Generation of Private Brand

As the success of Private Brands continues to grow – and often trounce the national brands – how will brands and retailers now build on this to develop and position the non-food sectors?

Kids retail is a huge and rapidly expanding growth sector – covering everything from food options to fashion, toys, leisure and gaming  – and not seeming to suffer the same slumps and spikes in demand as reflected elsewhere by our more austere spending patterns.

The kids sector is one where Private Brand can really come into its own. Kids fashion, in particular, has already cornered its own section of the market as busy mums make on-the-spot purchases as they pick up items alongside the weekly shop. This niche is neatly summed up by Deepa Dsouza, Trend and Innovation Consultant, Mintel India: “Brand loyalty is less in the kids wear segment and it is easier for private labels to thrive in this segment due to value and affordability. Consumers are unwilling to pay a premium for kids wear as children outgrow clothes easily. In this scenario, it is easier for private labels to get profitable.” (Source:

The same report on the kids fashion market in India (from the end of 2012) shows just how the retail tables have turned. It reports how sales have dwindled for both the largest kids wear brand – Liliput – and second largest brand – Giny & Jony. It is online and offline private label brands that are stepping in, with stores such as Shoppers Stop introducing new kids label ‘Carrot’ and e-retailer Unamia also launching its own Private Label.

It could be argued that in such a booming economy, it is not a risk to try a new strategy and maximize this opportunity. But despite – or maybe because of  – the economic downturn, we are also seeing a raft of own-brands appear in the UK.

HappyLandThe Early Learning Centre (ELC) is one of the UK’s largest toy retailers. Its new HappyLand range is positioned as a place a child’s imagination can run wild with worlds of fabulous buildings, characters, animals and vehicles. Already popular, the brand was re-designed at the end of last year, with a focus on transcending language barriers and creating brand messages using phonetics to allow the tone of voice to work across different cultures – a creative proposition that also allows HappyLand to operate as a stand-alone brand selling through ELC’s International retail partners.

LBird1 Last year, Mothercare also launched its Little Bird brand, in partnership with Jools Oliver, and it has been a runaway success. The ensuing sales and media recognition will inevitably prompt Mothercare (and other retailers) to consider a more long-term and strategic plan when it comes to further developing and expanding a portfolio of own-brands.

But the discrepancy comes when we look at the US market; a leader across the board when it comes to private label but showing a more fragmented picture when it comes to how it develops this particular business model, in this particular sector.

todd1Currently in the US, development for kids and private label seems to focus on collaboration. With names such as Todd Oldham and his Kids Made Modern Collection, a collaboration made specifically for and exclusively sold at Target, UU for Uniqlo with Jun Takahashi (amongst others) and the many designer collaborations for J. Crew and Crewcuts – such as Selima Optique – being thrown around we know that image and kudos is of the upmost importance but this is something of a borrowed credibility. These collaborations are uber stylish and design/designer led but it’s still about association: it is a great way to benefit from others’ success but can sometimes create confusing layers of messaging.

J. Crew and Selima Optique

 Target has, of course, always engaged both strategies: high-end designer partnerships and the development of its own award-winning brands – and both with comparable success. And whilst Mothercare’s Little Bird is a collaboration – it is also more than that. It is an equitable partnership dedicated to the original and unique design and creation of a range of bespoke items.

 These US retail collaborations undoubtedly show the desirability and emphasis placed on the design and the designer, but also highlight an opportunity ripe for change: an opportunity to develop dedicated and design-led kids own-brands and not just expand the next generation of PL but potentially foster a new generation of PL devotees.

 Tess Wicksteed - smallTess Wicksteed, Executive Vice President Pearlfisher NY
Tess’s great talent is the instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As the creative force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, getting to the point fast and delivering strategy that’s both creative and cohesive. A longstanding Pearlfisher person, Tess was Strategy Director in London for ten years before relocating with her family for a brand new challenge in New York.

As a literature student at York, Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Tess was keen to become first a clown, then a teacher. However, it was her belief that good culture matters that finally led to a career in design and an ongoing commitment to creating powerful brands that contribute positively to the world. Short and sharp in all things, Tess balances refreshing bluntness with disarming humanity. Her presence on a project promises fireworks – and guarantees results.


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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.