Interview: Skinnydip's James Gold on design and expansion plans

13th September 2017

Fashion accessories brand Skinnydip is keen to maintain full control as it embarks on an ambitious expansion strategy, co-founder James Gold tells Matthew Valentine

Skinnydip, which has just opened its first standalone store in the North of the UK, in Meadowhall, has big plans and a clear idea of how to achieve them.

Now with ten standalone stores – there will be fifteen by Christmas – and concessions in branches of Topshop and Urban Outfitters, Skinnydip has grown rapidly. And rather than appoint a respected design agency to help form its identity, the brand has resolutely followed its own route.

L-R: Skinnydip founders Richard Gold, Lewis Blitz and James Gold

“We are slightly control freaky,” says brand co-founder James Gold. “We do all our design in-house.”

Product design, store design, and even shopfitting are done by Skinnydip staff. “We even have in-house contractors,” says Gold, adding that the company sees the design of its stores almost as an extension of designing its distinctive products. Such is the internal demand that Skinnydip is currently recruiting more designers.

“For us, the plan is to build Skinnydip into one of the largest lifestyle brands in the world,” says Gold, and using physical stores is key to that goal despite its successful online sales. The brand has opened its first store in the US, in New York, and plans to have 50-60 UK stores in the next couple of years.

“It’s very hard to give brands a personality online,” says Gold. But online sales, and the customer response seen at Topshop concessions, has given Skinnydip a clear idea of where to open stores. The brand’s fashionable designs, low price points  and massive collection of phone cases, has given it a clear fan base among 18-25 year old women, so student centres hold a strong appeal.

“The growth online had been terrific in Sheffield, so when an opportunity came [in Meadowhall] we jumped,” says Gold. Intu Lakeside, Bluewater and the Trafford Centre will all see Skinnydip stores opening soon.

Skinnydip’s stores are small, roughly between 18.5 sq m (200 sq ft) and 74 sq m (800 sq ft). “We want our stores to be completely different to what is to the left and right of them,” says Gold.  Following the brand’s promise of “aspiration, desire and exclusivity,” the stores are bright (often pink) and vibrant.

“Every detail, from welcome mats and playlists to staff, is on-brand and on-trend,” says Gold. Visual merchandising, again done in-house, creates stand out often supported by liberal use of neon signage. Simple fixtures and fittings, including off-white shelving and plain marble-topped tables are used to let the colourful products stand out.

In-store features include photo booths that upload pictures to Skinnydip’s social media feeds, creating an attraction that pulls in visitors and creates buzz even if some participants don’t buy anything.

With the scale of Skinnydip’s expansion plans that level of engagement – either in-store or online – will be reaching many more shoppers soon.