How Supré has survived 35 years in fast fashion

Founded in 1984 by Hans and Helen van der Meulen, and acquired in 2013 by Cotton On Group, fashion retailer Supré has undergone many changes during its life.

“I was five when the brand was founded, and in those early years, I recall market stalls selling fleecy jumpers, with loads of different prints, tights and muumuu dresses,” recalled Catherine van der Meulen, daughter of the brand’s founders and former international brand manager. 

“1997 was another pivotal time, as we were in the midst of going into voluntary administration, and I had just left school and entered the business. This time saw many shifts with Supré moving from large, big box warehouse-style stores to smaller boutique stores in shopping centres.

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“We were catering to a different market to the one Supré is known for today. I’ve loved watching what the brand has been up to over the years.”

And after almost 40 years of change, the brand has undergone yet another shift in the last six months – a “reset”, according to general manager Jodie Bongetti – welcoming a new head of product and a restated focus on delivering both quality and value in its products. 

“We’re 35 years old this year, and I feel really excited about the journey we’ve been on, and the future as we take the brand into its next phase,” Bongetti told Inside Retail Weekly

Sparking the passion

“There are lots of exciting things happening, and the last six months have really been a reset on what we stand for, and what we want to be known for, and it’s really been underpinned by our product strategy.

“We’re using better fabrics, creating better fits, ultimately seeing better quality in the ranges, and really focusing on that great affordable, effortlessly cool fashion in denim, but always ensuring that we’ve got that value price in mind as well.”

Much of this change is driven by consumer feedback, Bongetti said. With the brand’s target audience of girls aged 17 and up becoming more and more socially aware, it made sense to align the brand with what their customers expect.

“[Our customer is] socially aware, and passionate about causes and issues that affect her. We have surveys and ask for feedback on our Instagram daily about what our customers are interested in, and we know she’s really passionate about quality, sustainability and the environment,” Bongetti said. 

“Body positivity is also something that she tells us is important, and we’re delivering on that. We have one of the widest size ranges in the market, catering to size 4 to 18.”

Additionally, in some of the brand’s top-performing stores, Supré has swapped out its old, basic mannequins for more inclusive versions that display a wider range of body types and ethnicities. 

The customer is able to see themselves more easily in the mannequins, Bongetti said, and the initiative has delivered “outstanding” feedback from customers. 

“We are really passionate about this area, and our customer tells us that she’s passionate about it. To be honest, it’s one probably one of the areas that we’ve had to really focus on to change the perception of how Supré was perceived in the past,” Bongetti said.

It isn’t only Supré’s customers who are making their wants and needs heard, but its staff as well. In fact, one of the largest changes Bongetti has seen in her 30 years of retailing is the shift in how the business looks at its staff, and seeks to support them in more ways than just their performance at work. 

Forging an engaged team

“For us, we’ve got an extremely engaged team, and we’ve got longevity in the business. We’ve got girls in their late 20s who have been with the brand for over 10 years, and I think that’s really exciting,” Bongetti said.

Part of this longevity stems from the brand’s willingness to let staff undertake the activities that they want outside of work – for millennials, this largely means travel. 

“That’s just part of what they do. They go to university, they find a job to earn some money, and then a couple of years later, they want to travel,” Bongetti said. 

“If I think about 10 years ago, you had four weeks of leave a year and if you wanted to take more than four, you had to resign.

“We’re definitely more flexible than that now. We actually encourage our team to take more leave than the four weeks a year because we know that time off is important.”

This involves open communication between employer and employee, with staff giving as much notice as possible – sometimes as much as six months in advance – to allow Supré to put someone in their role during their leave and prepare for their return. 

“And we do find that that happens because we’re supporting them in their lives, not just work,” Bongetti said. 

“We’re thinking about our team members more holistically, not just about what they can bring to work from nine to five.”

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