“There’s a lot of the team, including myself, that have been here for such a long time. We’ve worked with Umar, we all buy into his vision and we want to continue driving the success of the brand,” Nicki Capstick, marketing director at PrettyLittleThing, told Prolific North.
“It changes the day-to-day a little bit for us but we’re very passionate about achieving new things and breaking boundaries,” she said. “We are a brand that’s always pushing the dial on trying new brand opportunities and doing new things on social. With Umar not being here, it doesn’t mean that any of that stops. It was a bittersweet moment because it’s obviously very sad that he’s no longer here. It was his baby.”
It seems as though the Northern brand is just getting started, as plans now ramp up for US expansion with the opening of its first warehouse in August, based in Philadelphia.
“At the moment, if you’re a US customer and you buy a product from our site, it gets shipped from the UK. We pride ourselves on being fast, and shipping products from the UK to the US isn’t fast. This will really put us on the map in the US.”
Although PrettyLittleThing operates out of the UK, the US market is now “growing” amounting to around 20% of its sales.
“As it continues to grow, it will be our focus over the coming year,” she said. “It’s a huge, huge opportunity to hit a wider market than we have here in the UK. We have a really strong established brand in the UK, don’t get me wrong I still think we have more to do and more to achieve here, but the US is about the growth opportunity and we see that being big for us over the next few years.”
With 450 staff based at PrettyLittleThing’s Manchester headquarters, surrounded by pink walls adorned with neon signs and blossoms, it’s the heart of its marketing operations too.
Capstick leads an 80-strong marketing team, with 60 of those based in Manchester working across digital marketing, social channels, planning and campaigns. With further teams and offices spread across LA, Miami, Paris, Australia and London, PR staff are always “on the ground”, overseeing influencers, gifting and press appointments.
Almost nine years ago when she first joined the company as a marketing manager, there were just three people in the marketing department. “The brand was really small then. Obviously it’s grown considerably over that time!”
As Umar Kamani has become somewhat of a celebrity himself over the years, now with 1.3 million Instagram followers, it wouldn’t be odd for another celebrity figure to take his place.
First starting out as brand ambassador after becoming a fan favourite on Love Island, Molly-Mae Hague was appointed as creative director back in 2021. Could she be PrettyLittleThing’s next CEO?
“She’s obviously extremely busy in her personal life at the moment so I think she’ll continue working as she is with the brand. We have such a good relationship with her and she’s actually with the team over in France at the moment to shoot her next edit, which is out in a few weeks,” said Capstick.
“She’s very much back to work since having the baby but I think she’s definitely busy with everything that she’s got on at the moment so she’ll continue working in the role that she has, and developing that.”
As questions continue to mount over who could be next in line for the top job, she said the group’s CEO and board of directors are still “in conversations with people”.
Moving trends and influencer model
With revenues in excess of £700m in 2022, one of the keys to the brand’s success is rooted in becoming an “agile business”, reacting to what’s happening in the market.
“We buy very small volumes of products when we’re doing any new purchases. It allows us to react to that consumer demand really quickly. Constantly being on top of that, being very in tune with what our customer wants, and feeding that back into the business has really been important to our success.”
Whether it’s tapping into the latest trends or looking at pricing, it’s an “ever-evolving cycle” as “what worked five years ago isn’t going to work now.”
“When I joined this business, TV advertising was our main form of marketing. That’s pretty much become redundant now because for our girl, their attention spans are relatively small and she spends a lot of time on social media. We use those channels to speak to and engage with her.
“It’s just about adapting to the times and making sure that you’re not staying static, you’re constantly on the look-out for the next thing across all departments.”
The company’s renowned influencer and celeb-driven marketing approach, working with big celeb names from the Kardashians to Little Mix, was almost woven into the foundations of PrettyLittleThing right from the very beginning.
PrettyLittleThing HQ in Manchester
“We’re very fortunate that when our CEO first launched the brand, he was very keen on building relationships in the US. Myself and some of the other members of the team have spent a lot of time out in LA meeting talent managers out there and making connections. It has been built off the back of that – you meet one person, they open up another door.”
Working with influencers can involve hefty sums of cash – with some charging more than £100,000 just for a single promotional Instagram post. Is it worth the return on investment?
“There are a lot of things that we consider when we’re making those decisions on who to work with and what we expect to gain from the campaign. It’s not always ‘we’re spending X, we expect a Y return on cash’ because it’s a long-term investment. You’re making that association with that person because they have a really engaged following that’s hopefully going to become a part of your customer base for a long time.”
With the latest ‘deinfluencing’ trend taking pace across TikTok and YouTube, where creators urge their followers not to buy a product or brand, could it mark the end for the lucrative world of Instagram influencing?
“Instagram and the influencers on there are still a big part of what we’re doing,” she explained.
“We are starting to work with a lot more TikTok influencers. Our girl is very savvy now when it comes to these edits and collaborations, if the influencer or talent that we are working with isn’t a true fan of the brand, they can see through that. We spend a lot of time making sure that we are aligning ourselves with people that actually believe in PLT, so the products actually connect with our audience.”
Sustainability, tackling bad press and the future
As with any fast fashion retailer, PrettyLittleThing has faced its fair share of criticism. There’s now a growing movement towards second-hand clothing apps like Vinted or Depop.
But sustainability is not an issue PrettyLittleThing has shied away from. Actively doing surveys to figure out what shoppers want, 90% of customers recently told the brand they were interested in purchasing more sustainable fabrics.
In reaction, PrettyLittleThing launched its RENEW collection which claims to be 100% sustainable, with a varying fabric composition of a cotton and recycled polyester mix. In September 2022, the brand also launched PLT marketplace, a dedicated app for customers to re-sell and buy unwanted clothes that now has around 250,000 customers. Seen as a positive move by some towards sustainability, the brand was accused of ‘greenwashing’ by others.
“We launched a marketplace to encourage consumers to sell their unwanted or worn PLT items and that’s been really successful. Considering it’s a brand that only started around seven months ago, we’ve had a really positive start into that area and we will continue building that platform.”
In another round of bad press, PrettyLittleThing was accused of being ‘borderline disrespectful’ and trying to cash in on a religious holiday, after a wave of TikTok creators criticised what appeared to be an ‘Eid Edit’ on the website with revealing outfits.
“It was just a category that sits on the website,” she explained. “I think it was spun slightly differently in the TikTok video that initially picked it up. We’re a multicultural brand, we celebrate holidays from all religions all over the world, it was never meant to offend anyone.
“The products that we populate within those categories are always designed to be layered, they’re not necessarily meant to be worn in those certain ways.”
PrettyLittleThing co-founder Umar Kamani
Is there ever such a thing as bad press for a brand that thrives off Instagram likes and PR? “Obviously, there are stories that we would rather not be published and sometimes the narrative is altered slightly,” she said. “There’s two ways to look at it – you hear that phrase ‘all press is good press.’ I guess with some things, yeah, they have ended up spinning in a positive way and gives visibility to our brand and to our website. But ultimately, we pride ourselves on being a positive brand so we’d like to drive that message forward.”
Aside from US expansion, PrettyLittleThing wants to continue building on its vision of becoming a “lifestyle destination,” where customers can buy other items too, from beauty products to home products.
“We’ll continue building on that whole lifestyle piece. From a brand perspective, it’s really just aligning ourselves with the right talent.”
As the brand doesn’t have physical stores and has a purely online presence, it plans to branch off so its customers can “feel like they’re part of the brand.”
“We’d like to be doing more consumer-facing events, that’s probably something that’ll be a little bit different over the coming 12 months. So that our girl can come along and be a part of this unicorn world,” she said.
As Umar Kamani departs, his vision of a fairytale pink-themed world filled with unicorns isn’t going anywhere either.
“The future is really bright for us and we’re really excited to continue building on that.”