A former industrial estate on the Oxford side of Cheltenham is fast morphing into the town’s coolest new retail and leisure location thanks to British fashion designer Jade Holland Cooper opening her first flagship store there.
The reinvention of the estate, now called Dowdeswell Park at Charlton Kings began last year when artisan cidermaker Dunkerton’s moved on to the site.
And at the centre of this new and ambitious up market retail destination is Jade Holland Cooper’s store, which has been more than 18 months in the making.
Here, and for the first time since she launched her brand in 2008, her customers can indulge in the full Holland Cooper lifestyle experience which includes clothing perfect for country pursuits, equestrian activities and the ski slopes. The range includes British tailoring, evening and essentials along with a cute new baby range, Little HC.
The store is opening at the perfect time.
“Our biggest season is Autumn/Winter and we’ve opened just in time for Christmas,” said Jade.
And soon after Christmas, if not before, Jade’s customers will be heading there again to buy the perfect outfit for the Spring, including Cheltenham Race Week.
Jade Holland Cooper, 34, has become a hugely successful fashion designer. Over the last 13 years she has succeeded in building a classic British brand from scratch. Holland Cooper is now a multi-million-pound turnover business selling all over the world.
And while the knowledge and experience of her husband of three years, Julian Dunkerton, founder of the global fashion phenomenon Superdry, will have helped, it’s also crystal clear during our conversation that this is her brand through and through – and she knows her stuff. She’s feisty, highly articulate and intelligent, and knows the industry inside out.
Which isn’t surprising when you discover that she learned at the feet of her mother, Miranda Holland-Cooper (well, not at her feet, apparently but while sitting in a bouncy cradle on the cutting table). While her father ran the family farm, Miranda made high couture for rock stars, counting Elton John as a client.
Despite this maternal pedigree, fashion designing wasn’t Jade’s first career choice.
“I was passionate about farming and worked on the farm in Suffolk every summer. I wanted to be a farmer. But when I’d finished school mum said I should apply to fashion college, so despite being offered a place at Central St Martins [the renowned arts and design college], I chose the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.”
She lasted a year. Her mother was right (they often are). You just can’t deny creative talent its true outlet.
After leaving college, her first step into design was making tweed miniskirts, and selling them at Badminton Horse Trials.
“We sold out. It was a very cash generative business. I made skirts. I sold them. I made more.”
It was the perfect way for Jade to understand her customer base. “I saw what my customers were wearing, what they wanted, what they liked and what they wanted more of.”
Her ambition was to create a timeless brand. “I’ve always admired Ralph Lauren who can dress anyone from eight to 85. I want to create that lifestyle 360 collection that anyone feels they can buy into.”
She’s succeeded. The range looks even better against the backdrop of her beautifully designed new store than they do online. “We sell investment pieces which my customers can still wear in five years’ time.”
But’s it’s not been easy building a brand, and despite the support of her parents, early on others told her that she wouldn’t do it.
“I was told ‘you won’t be able to do this. You won’t be able to scale. Can’t can’t can’t’. But it’s just not true. Anything is possible if you want it badly enough. You can do anything.
“I have the creativity and drive of both my parents and grew up within a very creative environment.”
Back to her fabulous new store near Cheltenham. “For the first time our store shows who we really are. People buy from our online store, but not everyone is going to look around the whole website. Here we can curate our collection properly.”
While Jade most loves the design and curating of the range, which is at the heart of Holland Cooper, she’s a retail trader at heart.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than being in a physical store. Online is very transactional. You’re isolated from the consumer.
“Our new store delivers an experience that our customers will be prepared to travel to.”
Jade believes in making clothes for every women, from size six to 18, empowering them and make them look great.
“Not every style will fit every type of women, but here we can tell you what will look amazing on your shape.”
And buying Holland Cooper won’t break the bank. “We offer affordable luxury. I wanted the essentials – knits, jeans to be at an affordable price point. Yes, some of our clothes are expensive, but that’s because they are handmade in our London factory.
“They started as a sample factory making two coats a week. Now we have taken over the whole Hackney factory.”
She also believes that her consumer has changed. “Our customers are far more interested in clothes that will last, that will offer them more. ‘Where will this fit in my wardrobe? What can I wear it with? I can wear it 15 different ways – that’s is useful. This coat will last.’ The super high fashion products are brilliant for the top two per cent of the population. But not many people want to pay £2,000 for something they’ll only wear a few times.”
Holland Cooper goes further for its customers. “We have a continuity range which is never out of stock. And we are bringing clothes in when our consumer wants to buy them.
“We bring our coats into stock in September and sell them until April. We will introduce our Spring range in March and our Summer will be in end of May and early June.”
This is unlike many other brands, which churn their collections every few weeks.
She predicts that fast fashion is already fading. “We all know the value of a human being so it’s no surprise to anyone that a dress produced sustainably with people and planet in mind can’t be delivered to your door for £5.
“And it’s becoming unfashionable to wear products made like that.”
But Jade isn’t about to discredit factories overseas, which she also commissions to make her clothing range. “Fashion and good retailing is about finding the factory that specialises in those products. Our outerwear is made in China. They specialise in that. They are amazing factories – high tech and the staff are well looked after.
“Our denim factory is in Turkey. They are phenomenal at making denim.”
All the wool and tweed which goes into making Holland Cooper’s classic range of garments is bought in the UK and woven in Scotland and Yorkshire.
“I still use the mills I’ve worked with since day one, when I was buying one metre at a time,” Jade Said. “Now we are buying thousands of metres a year.”
And she points out that there are also poorly-run factories in the UK, where employees are still being paid £2 an hour.
“It’s about making in the right products in the right places,” she said. “Let’s buy wisely and make correctly. There are good and bad factories everywhere.”
And the public shouldn’t criticise factories overseas while there are still sweat shop conditions in the UK.
So what’s next for this fabulous British brand, which has been worn by none other than The Duchess of Cambridge.
“We sell online all over the world. The next phase is our wholesale expansion,” said Jade.
“We have around 150 stores or concessions in the UK, and we want to replicate that in Europe. Then into the USA.”
But she says the brand must be operationally sound. “We need to get our warehousing and distribution right. It’s easy to go too quick and make a mistake – you rarely get a second chance.”
Holland Cooper is going places, and Jade is as hungry as she was when the business launched more than a decade ago.
“I don’t believe there is another brand offering this kind of tailoring and product range in the way we do.
“Hunters do wellies. But we do a bigger range and they fit into our wider clothing range. In equestrian technical wear I want to be the globally the biggest range in the next five years.
“I believe the quality of the product, the website, the photography all matter as much as the product itself.”
What about producing menswear?
Jade says she plans to, but it’s been rather a busy year (she gave birth to a daughter last year). “I keep saying I’ll do it next year. My dream is to have a proper Savile row tailor cutting cloth here, and I will within the next two years.”
Holland Cooper is a brand to watch. “We are growing so fast. Everyone’s holding on to the front of the train.
“I’m a workaholic and I’m married to one. Retail is like a drug. I can’t explain it but I love it.”