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Rise to prominence in the 1980s
Although Thomas Pink is a 18th century tailor who popularised the red hunting coat, the business was actually founded by three Irish brothers in 1984. Originally operating in the City of London, its boxy designs rose to prominence during the finance-obsessed 1980s, along with other mid-market shirtmakers such as Charles Tyrwhitt, Moss Bros, Hawes & Curtis and TM Lewin. It was eventually snapped up Louis Vuitton-owner LVMH in 1999 in a £43m deal.
All these shirtmakers continued to thrive at the start of the millennium and increasingly turned their attention to international expansion as they looked to capitalise on the reputation and heritage of British tailoring. Thomas Pink would eventually expand to markets as far afield as Mexico, the UAE, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong – although many of these were operated by franchise partners.
The discounting drug
While Pink was still trading strongly at the start of the 2010s, and had successfully introduced an ecommerce channel, it had become embroiled in a dangerous cycle of discounting. Rivals such as TM Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt had started offering multi-buy promotions – usually four shirts for £100 – and Thomas Pink had become sucked into that.
This promotional activity had become a cause concern, but it would prove to be particularly difficult to wean the business off of the discounting drug. Following a pre-tax loss of £23.8m in 2018, it was decided to reposition the business more upmarket by focusing on “the highest levels of product quality”, exceptional customer service and shifting some production to a facility in London. Unprofitable stores were also closed, along with an increased focused on online and wholesale.
In a key move, LVMH appointed ex-Gucci and Dunhill menswear head John Ray as creative director. The move upmarket was also accompanied by a rebranding to Pink Shirtmaker in early 2019.
But there was to be no early success as sales fell by 20 per cent in 2019, while its losses widened to £41.1m. The brand commented that reconquering clients in a more upscale segment had proven “slower than expected”. In the minds of its customers, the brand was still competing with the likes of TM Lewin and Charles Tyrwhitt and it was therefore hard to justify its higher price points.
Covid-19 hastens Pink’s demise
It won’t come as a surprise that Pink did not trade well in the pandemic retail landscape. Not only was it forced to close its shops in markets around the world, but the ‘stay at home’ economy meant that there was much less demand for formal menswear. LVMH was quick to pull the plug and decided not to re-open the stores after summer 2020 as it looked for a buyer.
Pink was not the only shirtmaker to be affected by the pandemic. TM Lewin went into administration in July 2020, with all of its stores closed around the world too. However, TM Lewin has since relaunched as an online-only brand and is targeting a younger market with a more casual menswear offer that goes beyond shirts.
Is there a future for Pink?
The new incarnation of Pink might not necessarily want to follow TM Lewin’s move into the highly competitive casualwear market and instead stick to its bread and butter of shirts. However, a relaunch as an online-only brand certainly makes sense, particularly given that Pink still benefits from international brand recognition.
Pink’s website seems to indicate that this will likely happen, stating that the brand will be “back soon with an improved website to offer you the highest quality English shirting”. The site also suggests that “the same team that has helped build the brand over the years” will be back, perhaps pointing towards a return to its styles before its failed repositioning.
Men’s shirts are ideally suited to the online channel. it is a category that is made for repeat purchases once a customer knows his preferred fit and collar/sleeve size. Ecommerce is also a great way to tap into international demand, although it will need to offer a reasonably-priced delivery option.
Crucially, as an online player it will be much easier for Pink to become a profitable business, as it won’t be weighed down by expensive rents. However, the brand’s success in the short-term will depend on how soon the world goes back to a sense of normalcy and how strong the trend towards increased remote working will be post-pandemic.