One of the few people to create four successful international fashion brands, George Davies’ career in fashion retail spans over 30 years, the most successful fashion innovator of his time, a design guru and legend. He is the style visionary who founded NEXT in the 80’s, George at Asda in the 90’s, per una in Marks and Spencer in 2001 and his new and expanding venture FG4 launched in Saudi Arabia and Dubai in 2011. These brands account for over 12% of the current UK High Street and a staggering £72 billion contribution to the adult and childrenswear market.
NEXT was his first brand and is still very strong. NEXT taught George (GD) Brand Creation. From Womenswear it went on to become Menswear, then Kidswear, Interiors, Jewellery, Gardening – it was the first lifestyle brand.
The great thing was, he was excited and had vision of what could be achieved, but to underpin his ideas, he travelled the length and breadth of the UK visiting Womenswear shops. Market research is fundamental, but the difference is he had never used market research consultants. “You have to do it yourself”.
In creating a brand GD had to define the Brand concept. Everything you create, every operation within the Brand had to be in unison so that it came together as one vision and sub-consciously the consumer recognised this and ultimately identified with it. Of course, you have to come up with a name that encompasses all these qualities, he calls this process his perfect diamond.
The NEXT concept was about – Design, Affordability and Collections, making it really easy for the Customer to shop keeping their individuality but still being able to experiment.
At this time, GD had strong feelings that as towns became overcrowded and clogged up with cars, mail order was an opportunity. In the 1980’s mail order was seen as almost a little down market, targeting people who needed credit. So to this, NEXT bought Grattan and a year later GD launched NEXT DIRECTORY, and still today it has no rivals! Fabric swatches and 48-hour delivery were all revolutionary.
In the late 80’s GD moved on, but he left his legacy with NEXT, continuing to have phenomenal growth.
GEORGE AT ASDA was GD’s second venture. When you have a gap in the market, rather than looking inside out, it is good to look outside in. Because our cities and towns were not designed to cope with the tremendous growth of the car population, shopping out of town and ease of parking became the answer for the weekly family purchase of food, groceries and general merchandise. GD was the first person to recognise the huge potential for womens, mens and childrenswear in this environment.
The success and diversity of the NEXT brand had given GD an unrivalled reputation in the clothing industry, allowing him to attack the market in a totally new way. A great product, with great design, great quality, training of colleagues and an environment that was easy to shop with a trolley were fundamental in developing a quality experience for the consumer. With the addition of a mixture of service and self service, backed by unbeatable prices and changing rooms in a supermarket for the very first time the scene was set to change the shopping habits of the high street forever.
PER UNA AT MARKS & SPENCER was GD’s third venture. In 2000, George was approached by Roger Holmes, CEO of M&S. For GD, this was a dream come true. Since his very early days in retailing with Littlewoods, he had watched and followed M&S in awe, knowing and envious of their reputation for service, amazing quality at good value with a true Great British customer reputation. He was the first independent clothing designer to be asked to sell his fashions within M&S stores.
Always inspired by Italian design, it seemed the most natural decision to name the new brand PER UNA “for one” (feminine). Bringing this level of Italian design to customers at M&S quality standards on unique fixtures, proved to be a runaway success, virtually selling everything out before Christmas. After launching 15 stores a week for three weeks, the phenomenal demand meant the roll out of further stores was rescheduled until Spring/Summer.
PER UNA targeted the 25 plus lady, looking for coordinated collections, at PER UNA it was all about attitude not age.
FG4 is GD’s first overseas retail brand. Here are some of George’s colleagues discussing his newest venture.
Steve Goodwin – Director
UK fashion went through a huge transformation after 2008 when George left the Per Una business.
The country went through a massive double dip recession, Supermarkets increased drastically their share of the clothing market, Online clothing brands started to become serious players in the market and disposable “high street” fashion was born.
A lot of UK brands disappeared during this time and as this recession then hit other major European countries a vacuum appeared in the European Womens and Kidswear fashion business.
George became aware that although this was happening in the UK and certain European cities there was still a huge Global demand for a brand and clothing designed and delivered to the customer still encompassing all his key values and beliefs which had made Next, George at Asda and Per Una such huge success stories.
The FG4 brand is designed and displayed with the customer in mind. Every element of the store from the hanger to the swing ticket is designed to make the customer experience an enjoyable one.
The garments are designed as outfits and collections and then displayed as such in the store to help the customer understand how to wear and outfit the latest trends.
Affordable fashion with fantastic attention to detail and beautiful fabrics really makes this brand stand out from the rest of the high street.
Sally Scott – Head of Environment and Store Design
GD’s fourth venture certainly wasn’t the easy option but FG4 London is fast building a reputation as the destination brand for designer fashion clothing at amazing value for both woman and kids across the Middle East.
Passionate about both the customer and product, FG4 London is built around the principles of designing fashionable product, which delivers great value to the customer, “exceeding all customer expectations”.
Understanding the customer is key and GD made several trips to the Middle East to understand the culture and get under the skin of the customer before setting up this incredible brand. Talking to the female customer which had never been done before gave GD the insight he needed to ensure the brand would be a success and fulfil customer aspirations.
Both the product and the store environment has to have great synergy. They need to stand out from the competitors or why would your customer want to come in. Creating a store ambiance which makes the customer feel comfortable and want to stay is a key philosophy to FG4.
However each market is different , GD is not arrogant to think his achievements within the UK would transcend automatically to the middle east. His unique ability to understand and communicate to the customer enabled GD to launch an entirely new retail chain abroad, from concept design to launch in just 16 weeks with an extensive rollout programme thereafter.
Louise Goodwin – Head of Womenswear
FG4 represents the first time GD has launched in an entirely new retail chain overseas. This in itself posed new and fresh challenges not only trying to understand the market but also a completely new culture.
GD broke boundaries in his market research in trying to understand the Womens customer, who she was and what she wore under her Abaya, holding focus groups with Women, which was previously unheard of in the middle east.
This gave GD a unique advantage when not only design product but also store concepts.
Giving the brand a strong identity across both Kids and Womens was key to launching FG4, GD wanted to ensure both brands had their own identity but yet complemented each other.
GD extensive travel to manufacturing partners was and still remains key to the success of the FG4 Brand, working with manufacturing partners to make sure that all garments are of the highest quality and value.