Donna Ida is the quintessential embodiment of her own namesake label, which she’s nurturing with growing reach alongside her well-respected multibrand stores. We caught up with “Jean Queen” Donna Ida Thornton to shed light on her hands-on business model, and find out how she goes about building strong relationships with retail partners and end-consumers.
You launched your own label in 2012 to sell alongside the likes of J Brand and Frame in your multibrand stores. A few years on, Donna Ida dominates your business. What’s behind the growth?
I think the fact that I’ve done everything myself has helped establish the brand and its identity. I’m behind the design and entire range-plan and I even sit down to do the garment-identifying numbers myself before I hand the collection over to the production manager. When it comes back, I oversee the styling and shooting of the lookbook. Then I wear it all, of course, figuring out if the elastic needs adjusting or if the hem could be tweaked and so on. Only if you’re truly involved in your brand–from creating the collection to wearing and selling it–can you communicate its values and make it into something authentic.
You have a very loyal following. Who is the Donna Ida customer and how does she wear denim?
She’s a modern girl who likes classic elegance and a bit of glamour, with premium denim underpinning her wardrobe. She always seeks out the right fit that will take her from day to evening, making her feel so good that she’ll smile at people in the street. She’ll alternate between the jeans in our core denim collection, which comprises flattering high-waisted styles, from skinnies to cigarette legs. I also think she’ll like the boyfriend fit from our SS18 “Posh Folk” collection – the “Boy Dazzler” jean.
How do you make multibrand retail work in today’s climate? Any news in the pipeline on the store-front?
We have two stores in London, one in Belgravia and one in Chelsea. Our shops will always be multibrand as a good edit will draw customers in. I want the variety it brings when I shop myself, being able to pick up a fun tee or some Hanky Panky knickers alongside the denim I might have popped in to buy originally. Needless to say, personal and precise service is crucial when selling denim. As for news, we may open another store in a year or so, but there is no rush. Not being tied down by too many stores allows us to be nimble, spending more time growing our wholesale network and supporting our retailer partners. We might not have a standalone store in Manchester, for example, but we’re represented by some brilliant stockists there, with whom we can arrange in-store events or even set up pop-up shops within.
Tell us more about how you work with your retail partners.
I like to support them all and be as loyal as I can, helping them with product training and meeting their customers personally. Really get in there–roll up your sleeves and get to know your customers, retailers and end-consumer alike. As the owner of a multibrand retailer myself, I often find that once you’ve received your boxes of stock from a brand and paid, you hear nothing from them. It’s not always the case, but quite often. I don’t think you can afford to have that attitude. You have to support your stockists–they are the people selling and promoting your brand. I always remember when I’ve been treated well by a brand, however small the gesture might have been, so I know that it’s worth the effort.
How do you build loyalty with your end-consumers? Any tricks to share?
Customers love hearing stories behind the collections and individual pieces. Give your designs fun names–a customer will connect more with a piece called, say, “Studio 54” or “You Frill Me” than a jumper or shirt with a plainly descriptive name. I have lots of fun naming every piece! I’ll of course also give my customers tips on how to style the collection. I often hand customers I meet face to face my card so that they can contact me directly with any questions or feedback. It makes people feel connected to the brand.
You’re quite active on social media, often featuring in posts yourself wearing your own designs. Any other brand-building tips in this area?
If you’re trying to push a piece or a trend on Instagram, never shy away from re-posting the same thing several times to get the message across and inspire desire. You can always re-style the piece or post it in a new context. Take red jeans for example… consumers might find it a bit scary to begin with but once they’ve seen it featured a few times, perhaps as part of a wider color story, they tend to warm to it, perhaps thinking: “It must be good if it’s featured so often”.
Which territories are you betting on currently?
The US is our strongest market in terms of online sales at www.donnaida.com after the UK and we’re hoping to team up with suitable retailers there. We’ll be exhibiting in New York for the first time in September, via the tradeshow Brand Assembly. France, Paris in particular, is also an area with great potential for us and we’ll be teaming up with a couple of showrooms there this season, presenting our SS18 collection–"Posh Folk."
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