In March, iconic swimwear label Tigerlily went into voluntary administration after celebrating its 20th anniversary and undergoing a major brand transformation.
But just a few months later, the much-loved retailer is coming back to life and joining forces with Crumpler, as it returns to its original design roots and charts a path towards further international expansion.
Crumpler CEO Adam Wilkinson is now also leading the Tigerlily team. Here, we chat about Tigerlily’s transition and its plans for the future.
Inside Retail: How would you describe the past few months since integrating Tigerlily with the Crumpler business?
Adam Wilkinson: It’s been overwhelming to tell you the truth, but it’s been quite exciting. The first thing we wanted to do was get a gauge on the Tigerlily customer. That was the number one priority. We did a lot of research and asked for feedback over the first few months, just to hear what customers were looking for and how they felt the brand was going. And we got an overwhelming response. We did one survey and we had 16,000 responses overnight. It was phenomenal.
A couple of key things came out that our core customers were crying out to see again from the brand. Tigerlily is known for its eclectic, beautiful fabrics, colours and prints – people wanted to see more of that come back. They also made a clear point that over the last couple of years, the price points had crept up a little bit and they definitely want the brand to be affordable while being of great quality. There were also some key shapes customers were keen to see back, like our stretchy pants and maxi dresses. Swimwear was a big one – there was a massive call-out for Tigerlily to get back into swimwear.
The logo had changed over the last year too, but people loved the heritage logo. It had a bohemian feel to it, so there were a lot of customers asking us to show a sense of fun and enjoyment, especially in the current environment.
We really took all the feedback on board. In the first three months, the key was getting an understanding of the customer and communicating with them what we plan to do very quickly with the brand. They had been in limbo in the last six months during the change of direction and the administration process. As our first priority, we really just wanted to win the trust back from our customers.
IRAU: How has the transition been for the Tigerlily team?
AW: We obviously moved head offices from Sydney down to Melbourne because we had the space with Crumpler. We had a beautiful office space in the Melbourne CBD, but we were only using 50 per cent capacity under Crumpler, so it made sense to bring Tigerlily down here for economical reasons.
We had a look at the Tigerlily store network and we have a strong, passionate retail team who love the brand and want to continue to see it flourish, so we’ve retained all the existing retail team for Tigerlily, but it was more difficult for head office with staff not willing to move from Sydney to Melbourne.
We wanted to make sure that for Tigerlily in particular, the team members we brought in live and breathe the lifestyle and embody the brand. It was key for us to bring in people who understand Tigerlily and what we think it should stand for.
Our design team has come from a few different areas. We have some designers based in Melbourne, others in Sydney, we’ve got designers based between Byron Bay and Melbourne and fabric and textile design is based in Byron Bay. We have a good mix of people who are familiar with the brand, some who had worked on it previously. I think they’ve got a very clear vision of where the brand needs to go in the next 12 months, along with the customer feedback.
As two separate businesses sharing resources, Crumpler has some expertise in logistics, finance, some online capabilities, some merch planning and buying expertise that we’re able to utilise across Tigerlily as well. But what we really wanted to make unique about the Tigerlily team we brought on board was that it had a clear aesthetic, so we the design, marketing, customer service and retail teams are all purely focused on Tigerlily, so it can grow and flourish under its own handwriting.
IRAU: As the new CEO of Tigerlily, how have you found the process?
AW: At Crumpler, we had to work out who the customer is and we’ve taken Crumpler on an evolution – all brands need to evolve – and the same goes with Tigerlily.
So for me, the number one thing is working out who our core customer is and have we lost our way a bit? It’s about how we get back on track, but also how we continue the evolution of the brand. Finding out who the customer is was the priority for me, then building the right team who can execute.
Product is king in my book and we’re making sure that we’re getting the right product in the next six to 12 months that customers will want to buy. All the logistics, admin and transitioning offices – that’s all part and parcel of the job. It’s always challenging to do in a short period of time, but it’s secondary to getting the team right.
IRAU: Where is Tigerlily’s store network at right now?
AW: Through the process, we’ve rationalised it to some extent. At its peak, Tigerlily had around 26 stores. We’re currently operating 10 stores nationally, which we feel is about right in the current retail environment. The stores that we have now were all profitable and well located across the country. We’ve retained some of our flagship stores, which is great for the brand. We prefer to have less stores and do them better, so we’re now looking at merching and updating windows more frequently and creating a unique store environment. I am a firm believer that with fewer stores in the current environment, it’s the best way to go.
IRAU: Are you also looking to update the stores to reflect the recent changes?
AW: We’ve started changing that already. With the logos and details in the store, we’ve already gone back to the heritage brand. We’re just about to drop a new collection for July and August which arrives the third week of July, then you’ll start to see some significant changes in terms of visual merchandising and window displays, the mood and look of the stores. We just want to make it more fun and eclectic and make it an experience. Fashion is key, but we always had some beautiful homewares, great smelling candles, it really was a sensory experience, so we want to continue in that vein.
IRAU: How would you say Tigerlily has performed during the pandemic and through this transition period?
AW: Obviously retail’s been closed and wholesale is the same with much of the network closed down. Through the online business, it’s actually been steady. Online is something we’re really excited about and it has had year-on-year growth for as long as I can look back. It’s a really strong business.
As part of the transition and getting stock levels under control, we have had to do clearance promotion like most retailers, but now we’re at the point where our stores are looking cleaner and we’re introducing the new product in two weeks. We have a great online business with a strong social following. Like a lot of other retailers, it’s something that we can definitely invest and grow in in the next few years.
IRAU: Some people might be surprised by the new relationship between Crumpler and Tigerlily. Why does it make sense to you?
AW: In the current environment, the first thing is the financial opportunity and the economies of scale. We had a few things going for Crumpler that make sense for Tigerlily.
We had head office space available that we could use and share those costs. But probably one of the more important things is the warehouse Crumpler was using previously. We have our own fully operated warehouse based in Footscray in Melbourne, which again, we were only using at 50 per cent capacity. That gives us a lot of flexibility as a business as we’re not relying on 3PL, so it gives us the opportunity to bring Tigerlily into the warehouse and be able to expand into things like the marketplace dropship experience and get our product out quickly to online customers. It gives the brand a lot of flexibility it may not have had previously. We’re excited about that opportunity – obviously the omnichannel experience for customers is key.
Crumpler also has a satellite office in Singapore. Without being able to open up physical stores right now, we see an opportunity for Tigerlily to open up with key online retailers in Asia. Having warehousing and a sales office in Singapore gives the brand the opportunity to do that at a low cost and utilise the work that’s gone into building up Crumpler in the last few years.
From a brand perspective, a number of our team members actually have more experience in apparel than bags, to tell you the truth. My background is apparel – bags were actually new to me three years ago – so we felt that within our team here, we had a good handle on running apparel. But we definitely needed to get the right marketing and design teams that loved and breathed that brand. We were comfortable we could make Tigerlily successful.
IRAU: Internationally, where is Tigerlily at right now?
AW: We’re selling into L Brands in the US, Shopbop, Selfridges and Harrods in the UK, we’re in Harvey Nichols in the Middle East – we’re aligned with some great retailers. But Asia hadn’t been a focus for the brand previously.
Because of our expertise we’ve had in the last couple of years, we do see an opportunity there. We’re having some success with online retailers over in Asia through Zalora, Lazada and to some extent, Tmall. We’re servicing those businesses with our warehouses over there currently. They’re keen on taking on the brand, so that’s quite exciting.
IRAU: Australian swimwear brands are struggling right now. Seafolly and Jets have gone into administration recently. What are your thoughts on the sector right now?
AW: Swimwear has always been a solid category and accounted for 25 per cent of sales for Tigerlily. It has become more of a fragmented market, with smaller brands popping up and taking market share and you have a lot of Instagram influencers starting their own labels and taking a bite of the cherry. And on the lower end, you also have Cotton On Group doing swimwear at competitive pricepoints, too.
It’s definitely become more competitive than it might have been 10 years ago when just a few brands monopolise the market. But it’s definitely a big business and there’s real opportunity.
I think the challenge for swimwear in Australia equally is the retail exposure that they have. For a lot of retail businesses in Australia, whether they’re in swimwear or not, they’re struggling under the weight of their stores and the difficulty in running those and they would probably like leaner operations.
We still think there’s a strong business opportunity for Tigerlily swimwear. When we reached out to customers and our wholesale business, there was a call out for swimwear to come back into our business in a more meaningful way, so it is something that we’re focused on.