SINCE she established her eponymous fashion label 11 years ago, quickly becoming the jeans queen of London, Donna Ida Thornton has grown from strength to strength (quite literally: sales are up 14 per cent this year and are predicted to grow to 29 per cent in 2019). The key to her success? Agility, dynamism in uncertain waters and well-researched leaps of faith – and she’s about to do it again. Today sees the official launch of her namesake label Donna Ida’s expansion into a lifestyle brand with the introduction of candles, nightwear, outerwear and accessories, as well as a new website which moving forward will now only stock her in-house denim brand (such is its success since its launch in 2012).
They’re small steps into the lifestyle arena to start with, but given the demand from her customers – and her impressive track record – chances are that the new offering will be as successful as the skinny jeans she sells from the curated labels she stocks and the high-waisted styles she has made the calling card of her own denim collection.
Here, Thornton explains why the time is right to expand, the power of being an early social-media adopter, and how she has made the transition from clothes to candles.
Why does now feel like the right time to relaunch as a lifestyle brand?
I launched Donna Ida as the ultimate denim destination in 2006 as a multi-brand boutique and looked to create my own denim brand when I saw a gap in the market for high rise jeans in 2012. Since then the brand has exceeded our expectations and become a huge part of the business.
I think of jeans as the base layer of your outfit so I introduced contemporary separates in response to customer demand to complement the high-rise denim look. I love the idea of silk and cashmere pieces which you can layer up and take you from day to evening.
From autumn/winter 2017 we’ll have a candle launching in October; a nightwear collection; plus an outerwear piece for the first time, the London Car Coat in wool. The demand we hear from customers has reflected in our figures and so we’re confident to increase our offering into the lifestyle market. Moving in this direction has enabled us to be more creative, to listen to our customers and influencers, and produce the iconic staple styles and fashion forward statement pieces for the modern woman.
Tell us about the new products that you will be introducing.
I’m working on developing two candles, one of which will launch in October this year for autumn/winter 2017 The first candle will capture the essence of winter with a luxurious, feminine fragrance that would be perfect for a decadent boudoir and has seductive rich floral scent with a hint of rose.
The second candle will launch in March 2018 and is themed around an English country garden where fresh summer herbs will be the dominant notes. I love that the first one will be sexy and luxe, and the second one will be down to earth, perfectly representing the understated glamour of the Donna Ida girl.
The new nightwear collection (that will launch for AW17) will have silk pieces in our Donna Ida Star Crossed prints to run through the entire collection. I’ve added the Lounge Lizard Pyjamas; the Smoothly Does It silk pillow case (as these are famous for preventing wrinkles); and the You Can’t See Me Eye Mask which has “Star Sleeper” embroidered on it.
How did you find the production process for making the candles different from curating and making clothes?
I’ve been working with the acclaimed perfume designer Azzi Glasser to make the candles and she has a wealth of experience, so I have really enjoyed the process. The biggest challenge was narrowing down the signature scents from all the fragrances that you love. I’m incredibly excited to see them, and smell the final creation!
You have built your business selling other-name denim brands, why now are you taking it back to own brand online?
Launching our own brand in 2012 was a huge step as we had developed from being a boutique to product developers. Five years later, we have a collection that we are very proud of and Donna Ida makes up the majority of our business with core pieces and fashion styles always topping our best-seller lists. Donnaida.com is our global shopfront and from today, it will reflect our brand image and distinct style with beautifully curated images and content to help shoppers find the right pieces. Storytelling is just part of our new journey, we will also have a seamless checkout process to make it as easy as possible to shop online.
You started at a time when influencers and social media was taking off for brands and individuals – how have you taken advantage of that?
Social media has been a great way to reach people and show them how to wear the latest designs, explain how jeans should fit, and advise what styles they should buy. I use my platforms to share and inspire people plus it is a great place to get feedback on the collections as we design them.
Working with influencers has always been key to the brand as our customers are constantly seeking inspiration and ways to wear. Our Style Insider photo shoots and interviews will continue to feature the biggest denim influencers, whether that is social-media stars or inspiring women in fashion.
How have you grown with your customer base?
Our customer base has increased due to brand awareness. We now have 40 stockists for the Donna Ida brand in the UK, we collaborate each season with like-minded brands, and we do a number of pop-up shops at exclusive locations each season. Our wholesale stockists have been instrumental in the growth of the brand also and they have in part driven the new direction.
As your company grows, how important is it to you to remain hands on?
I still, and always will, love being on the shop floor as I can see the customers and get instant feedback. Helping someone to find their perfect pair of jeans and walk out feeling confident is why I started Donna Ida just over 10 years ago and it still gives me the same feeling now. I do spend more time in design and development meetings, but I still get a good balance of being face to face with customers.
What are your thoughts on giving your customers an omni-channel experience?
My philosophy is to keep it simple. I want to make sure that the shopping process is as simple and straight forward as possible so our refreshed website will have improved UX to mirror the fast and efficient service in store. Beyond that, our digital platform has to inspire in the same way that our boutique staff do, so we will also focus on creating inspiring lookbook images, monthly Style Insider features highlighting an influencer’s edit, plus how to wear blog posts for core styles and continuity pieces.
Are you looking at any future technologies – like virtual-reality changing rooms for example – to incorporate into the business?
After our website has been relaunched, we’ll be focusing on the technology used in Donna Ida boutiques to ensure our systems are simple and effective as possible.
Where would you like to see your business five years from now and who do you see your “girl” as now?
Donna Ida will continue to evolve as a lifestyle brand continuing to create hero pieces in our signature style. The essence of the Donna Ida girl is defined by her love of denim which underpins her wardrobe and her entire lifestyle. The simplicity of a pair of jeans is her foundation, informing the way she lives life. She enjoys touches of glamour in every part of her world.