MINI Rocketman
Off the Cuff

Thomas Pink CEO Jonathan Heilbron on China 
´┐╝Product of the 1980’s, British shirtmaker Thomas Pink repackaged Savile Row starch into something younger and more accessible. ISBN discusses the immediate future for the brand in China with CEO Jonathan Heilbron
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Thomas Pink is Savile Row for people who want but are too intimidated to shop Savile Row. Is that fair?

The guys who started Pink [Irish brothers James, Peter and John Mullen] were in their early 20’s. London became a financial centre during the 1980’s. At the beginning of the decade people were still wearing three-piece suits and bowler hats. Then, during the 80’s people started dressing down and taking off their jackets; that made the shirt more visible in ways it hadn’t been before. Jermyn Street in London at that time was a great product but badly sold, full of stuffy shops and quite intimidating.
A 20-year-old suddenly earning money who had style and fashion wouldn’t think of going there. The brothers recognised that things needed opening up - so they had pretty girls serving, music playing, making the whole experience feel like second nature. At that time, it was radical. And even though they made a hugely successful start, by the end of the 1980’s there were only four stores. So despite the huge popularity of the brand across the cognoscenti of 20-to- 30-year-old Thatcherite children, it was still a very small business scale. But the 80’s were a very formative period for the brand and I think Pink is very much a child of the 80’s.

How well has that child developed into the 21st century?

I think we’ve carried on the accessibility, the value proposition, and the fun part, trying to make people comfortable in what they wear. The business has become more fashionable in terms of styles and the customer has developed. It’s not just a financial, city guy anymore. We’re appealing to an international customer, someone who travels, maybe an architect or de- signer. We’ve also carried on the ethos of being innovative and new - I hate to use the word irreverent - but there was a little bit of that previously in the way Pink positioned itself.

Pink retains interesting positioning; a brand with strong distinction in a world where so many feel the same.

Yes, you’re right. And by keeping the shirts dominant it will remain so. Specialisation helps focus too. There’s no point just offering the same shirts as everybody else, one has to have competitive edge. Specialisation allows focus on product innovation and we have a great design team. The British- ness of the brand is a huge strength, but it’s also about how you display that. We also wouldn’t want to lose the richness of Jermyn Street. The real challenge is to keep energising our offering while the customer grows up.

What have you learned about Chinese consumers since opening in Hong Kong two years ago?

Hong Kong’s a great market for us. Lessons? We’d love to have a much bigger shop! Certainly, Pacific Place is great, The Landmark I’m thrilled; two great locations to show off the brand. We’re thrilled with the number of Mainland Chinese customers. The product is fairly consistent with what we see worldwide. The need for greater personalisation is important, certainly here in Hong Kong and in China as well. I think there is a customer here who likes to have special attention that goes with having two shops in a big market. It becomes an occasion to shop in Pink. That’s a big difference from other brands and it’s interesting how we develop that.

How much resonance does the name Pink carry in Asia?

In Asia one thing we’ve seen is people who don’t know the Pink brand then fall in love with it. And then their perception is, why are you only doing shirts? Why not suits, coats, luggage, or a pair of shoes?

Can we expect to start seeing those things soon?

Shirts are still the dominant part of the business and we’re always trying to diversify them. In terms of other products, ties, cufflinks and boxers are important. In the last two years we’ve introduced jackets and coats. We’re going to try suits this autumn, for the first time. So we’re always looking to push it forward, make it relevant to the shirt.

The current Pink advertising campaign feels very touristic, very iconographically British.

We’re trying to make sure it conveys what the brand stands for. A sense of quirky Britishness, aristocratic but gentle, charming, humorous, using British icons and architecture. I want to know what our brand stands for. Huge amounts of work and effort go into engaging customers, both old and new. That’s incredibly important along with the quality of the product. Pink can help you find your style but do it in a fun, vibrant way.