Promoting, Protecting & Developing British Luxury

Bridges spoke with Helen Brocklebank, the Chief Executive of Walpole; the official sector body for United Kingdom luxury since 1992.

For our readers in Japan and the rest of Asia, what is the role of Walpole as the voice of British luxury?

Walpole is the sector body for UK luxury and currently has 270 members spanning all sectors of luxury including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Claridge’s, Dunhill, Harrods, Glenmorangie, Manolo Blahnik, Net-A-Porter, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Wedgwood and numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which currently make up 60% of the sector, such as Chapel Down, Ettinger, Floris, Savoir Beds and Bremont Watches.  Walpole promotes, protects and develops the unique qualities of UK luxury: the long tradition, rich heritage, superior craftsmanship, innovation, design, style, and impeccable service at the heart of the industry – currently worth over £48 billion to the UK economy, a leading creator of jobs and major contributor to the British economy. In addition to representing the British luxury sector through lobbying, trade missions, sectoral and business development, Walpole is a community is highly engaged and collaborative brands with a common goal to elevate British luxury on the world stage, which is especially important as UK luxury is highly export focused with round 80% of what it creates destined for overseas markets.

What makes Japan a unique market for British luxury brands active in Asia?

The Japanese consumer is extremely well researched, with a thorough understanding of provenance, quality, and craftsmanship. This plays well in British brands’ favor – particularly those heritage brands seen as specialists in their area; whether it be Scottish cashmere and whisky, footwear from Northampton, or Savile Row tailoring, the Japanese consumer knows why they shop with the brands they do, and demonstrates true loyalty to those businesses they see as the authority in a particular sector. Additionally, Royal Warrants are seen as a mark of true quality and are well respected in the Japanese market. The reasons a particular product is so special, why it is the best-in-class, are as important as how it looks – open any Japanese menswear magazine and you will find products styled beautifully and looking exceptionally cool, but the editorial will always have a focus on the product’s backstory too.

As Hilary Freeman, Managing Director men’s shoemaker and Walpole member, Edward Green says: “The Japanese have a deep appreciation of history yet always aspire to move forward. To move forward one needs to build on one’s roots. The solid growth of Edward Green and similar brands in Japan is built on their appreciation simultaneously of our history and the development of our manufacturing, while respecting timeless qualities of beauty, style, extreme comfort and durability.’

Sustainability is an important aspect for most businesses. What is Walpole doing to support ‘green’ initiatives?

At Walpole, our aim is for the UK to become the leader in sustainable luxury. It is an ambitious vision and we will support our community of 270 member businesses by helping them share the benefit of their passion, knowledge and expertise with each other, and by galvanizing and facilitating collective action. We have developed our Sustainability Manifesto and strategy which defines the issues that matter most to our sector and stakeholders – circular economy innovation, environmental stewardship, supply chain excellence and workplace equality – and our 12 aspirations are designed to establish a pathway for future sustainability success. Importantly, they help member businesses fulfil the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, becoming part of the broader, global push for a fairer, more sustainable world.

At Walpole, our aim is for the UK to become the leader in sustainable luxury. It is an ambitious vision and we will support our community of 270 member businesses by helping them share the benefit of their passion, knowledge and expertise with each other, and by galvanizing and facilitating collective action

Helen Brocklebank, the Chief Executive of Walpole

With a prestigious heritage extending back many centuries the UK luxury sector has both the opportunity and responsibility to carve a name for itself as a sustainability leader and in my view you’re not a luxury brand if you’re not a sustainable brand. It’s been really encouraging to see how much brands have been doing to communicate their commitment to sustainability to their customers – Mulberry’s ‘Made to Last Manifesto’ is a great example. New brands which are all about sustainability, like The Restory (an on-demand service providing modern after-care and repairs for luxury fashion) or My Wardrobe-HQ (the UK’s first fashion rental marketplace), have been able to flourish too.

What can we expect from Walpole in 2022 as the global economy gets back on its feet?

The focus has to be on recovery. According to Bain, the global luxury sector is forecast to return to 2019 revenues by the end of 2022 or early 2023 (slightly later for hospitality) and whilst the past year has been difficult for luxury brands and retailers worldwide, the virtual freeze on international tourism has presented a particular challenge for British luxury. Tourist spending accounts for an average of one-third of British luxury brands revenue and tourist-shoppers from China, the Middle East and the United States are hugely important in terms of their spending. Conversely, one the biggest opportunities is the export-oriented nature of UK luxury and now that Britain has left the EU there will be benefits that can be reaped through new trade deals including the historic economic partnership agreement with Japan which goes beyond the previous EU agreement and marked the UK’s first major trade deal as an independent trading nation and highlighted the strength of trade ties between the UK and Japan. The interplay between these two crucial aspects of the British luxury business model will guide Walpole’s work with members along with creating interesting and elegant moments to bring brands together as a community to learn, share and collaborate which feels more important than ever.

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