Does Carlisle really need a Jack Wills? As someone who doesn’t live in my home city anymore, nor wears JW clothing, I’m okay with being told to stick my schnozz elsewhere, but hearing the news made me think about just what kind of strategy is actually being used here.
A history lesson. Jack Wills started in Devon about 13 years ago and now has just under 50 stores in the UK. Often paired with Abercrombie or Hollister for their portrayal of a young, middle-class lifestyle, it’s price point often makes it favourable among university students – it’s a step up from Topman, Gap et al in terms of pricing.
It’s also known for its campaigns; hot models and toned blokes who have taken the time to go to the gym 8 days a week but find the idea of buttoning up a shirt cumbersome. Boat shoes that are so expensive it seems flippant to bother tying the shoelaces. And the girls? The girls are just as tanned and picture-perfect, wearing tweed shorts because anything is immediately classy if it’s tweed. And your top can be as low cut as you like if it’s cashmere.
And a history lesson on Carlisle, while we’re here. We got our Starbucks in 2008. Finally got a Nandos in 2011. I told a stranger on a night bus that I lived in Carlisle once (you can take the boy out the north, etc) and she, perhaps confusing the Great Border City with the island on Lost, seemed to think it sporadically changed location, bordered with Scotland, Wales and Newcastle. No. We’re 6 miles from the Scottish Border, North-West to be precise, maybe 60 miles from Newcastle. Say it with me now. En-ger-lund.
But as well as our new-found love of chicken and sweet, barely-caffienated drinks (OH: ‘What’s a mermaid got to do wid coffee?’) we have shops. Not many shops, though, because GAP was closed in 2006. The H&M is women only. There aren’t any trainer shops. Independent retailer Hoopers (a House of Fraser type outfit selling Levis, Pringle, Barbour etc) shut down two months ago due to poor sales. So, the crux. Does Carlisle even want a Jack Wills?
Naturally someone has identified a market; kids with money. Because though JW has been aimed at the university types, who like clothes detailing rowing, rugby and polo without the wearer having to give a hoot about rowing, rugby or polo, there’s been a definite shift in the age of their customers. They’re getting younger. Kids wearing Jack Wills are popping their stiff collars before they’re even in 6th form, and as long as they’re stuck in the school’s crappy social hierarchy, they’re going to be incredibly sporadic and incredibly loyal to the right brand. Which is just brilliant for Jack Wills.
Jack Wills: Unashamedly
But I’d argue that given Carlsle is so starved of retail space that the worst thing you could do is offer consumers something at such a radical end of the spectrum. At least Ralph Lauren, and Fred Perry (both on sale in Carlisle’s House of Fraser) appeal to broad demographics; I bought my first RL polo shirt at 16, and when I worked at an outlet in Gretna (Google it) you had men and women from 16-60 buying work shirts, jeans, polo shirts or swim shorts without the sense that anyone was being compromised in terms of how they looked.
Is the same true of Jack Wills? No. They want you to buy into it at a young age, and once you reach a certain age (like with Hollister and Abercrombie) you begin to look a bit sad. Even ironic. Thankfully, the company has an older, upmarket brand, Aubin & Wills, aimed at the twenty-something tired of suckling on Jack’s teet. It’s stocked in Selfridges, sold on Mr Porter, and the almost-out-of-grasp price point makes more sense when it appeals to older, less spontaneous customers. People don’t splurge on Aubin & Wills, they buy what they know they want.
Give Carlisle a male H&M, or a Zara, even bring GAP back, because while any new shops is excellent news (the high street is bare thin, like) something like Jack Wills feels like a pretty poor choice. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it were being balanced out by cheaper alternatives. Can we have both?