Beauty & Fashion

White Stuff update – and can you help?

Another new season try-on today with a look at the continuing evolution of White Stuff. A few of you have been saying that you’re missing the retail insight posts that I ran back in the autumn so I’m going to go a little deeper into the the brand background on this one. As you know, I’ve been following their progress for a while now, ever since they undertook what they called their “quiet” rebrand in 2021. As a retailer that doesn’t make a big fuss with noisy PR, this was the first sign that new things were happening. All we could see from the outside however was the change of logo and the removal of florals from store interiors in favour of a sophisticated teal refit. Now though things have moved on further and it’s time for a White Stuff update.

White Stuff is one of the few British brands to be trading up on the high street. So who’s behind it all? Well although the company is still privately owned by George Treves and Sean Thomas who founded it in 1985, the leadership team is driven by three particularly strong midlife women. CEO Jo Jenkins, Design Director Paula Bonham-Barter and Trading Director Tracey Verghese who all came to drive White Stuff forwards after years of working at M&S .

Tracey Verghese and Paula Bonham Carter

Soon after their arrival, Covid hit and that, of course, was a bad time for all retailers but they took it as an opportunity to really get to know the brand and its customer, ensuring that their plans for the future would be well founded. The rebranding came first, followed by a new website last year and then something very unusual – a store refurbishment and expansion plan. At a time when most stores on the British high street are starting to resemble Miss Haversham’s wedding feast you’ll notice that White Stuff’s are shining like a new pin. As well as the makeover of their existing sites, large new shops have been opened in Glasgow and Edinburgh, a brand new flagship has launched in Liverpool One and there are plans for more new stores across the UK.

White Stuff update

White Stuff Liverpool

And the great thing is that it’s working so we have a very rare story of success for a British retailer. New figures are due out soon but last year sales rose 13% with a 25% increase in new customers. There are various different reasons for this, obviously new branding, website and stores will have contributed but there’s also the fact that White Stuff sells through brands such as M&S, Next and Very too. When this marketplacing model first began there was a concern in retail that it would lead to cannibalisation of brands’ sales. However Tracey Verghese explains that it’s introduced the quality of White Stuff’s products to a broad new customerbase that hadn’t tried it before. The result is that they’re now shopping direct for the full experience. As always, I can agree that you can’t beat White Stuff for quality at a mid-high street price. The designs continue to be quite classic but the beauty is in the detail – the fabrics, the make-up of products and the extra flourishes such as contrasting trims, small embroidery decals and beautiful buttons.

It’s great to see a brand like this flourishing, not only in this country but in new territories too. Because it supplies through wholesale as well as its own stores, White Stuff is booming in small boutiques across the UK and in France too. They’re also doing well in New Zealand and the US is next. They have one of the most positive stories in UK retail at the moment and I like to think it’s because they’re led by a group of midlife women who have used their experience to make changes slowly and thoughtfully.

Life, Stuff, Style

One thing you might not have picked up on is their strong focus on knowing the customer and creating a broad, diverse community of all kinds of people who love the brand. One section of the website that I particularly love is Life, Stuff, Style where each month they go out and meet a new group in the UK who are doing something a bit different. They call it ‘a celebration of people who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd by living their own lives and doing their own stuff’. I love the fact that they go and spend time with them and then treat them to new outfits.

Here we have the “Women Shed-ers” from Frome – a group of 70 women who have turned the concept of the ‘man-shed’ on its head and launched their own. They do all kinds of things there from renovating garden furniture to making quilts for children in hospitals to take home with them. You can read all about them here.

White Stuff update

And here are the 2B Or Not 2B Collective, a group of Londoners who are making life drawing more accessible and inclusive. They look incredibly cool here and yet in the interview they talk about the art of embracing silliness. And isn’t it interesting to see people styling White Stuff in such completely different ways?

White Stuff update

I’ll finish with the DJ Mums in White Stuff, they’re a group of midlife women who started playing around with being online DJs during lockdown and now run a festival called Carma together in memory of one of their friends.

White Stuff update

All in all it’s a fascinating series that really gets across the inclusivity of White Stuff. They’re a brand that seems to be achieving cross-cultural appeal, persuading people to wear their clothes according to their own look and of course I especially appreciate their approach to ageless style. So, to continue the theme of their Life, Stuff, Style series, they invited me to wear White Stuff my way and this is what I put together.

White Stuff My Way

You’ll notice that I’m back in Spain here enjoying a few sunny days in March. As soon as I saw this dress I knew it would be one of the pieces I selected – I love a long-sleeved shirtdress in light cotton for summer, especially when we’re spending it in the UK as we will be this year. The button front means you can style it as you want to – it was hot here so I had it open as much as possible but you could wear it fully closed. Summer is one of the few times that I wear pattern, it’s so much easier than in winter when there are so many different pieces to co-ordinate. Somehow with bare legs and/or arms I find an expanse of pattern is punctuated and not as overpowering.

White Stuff update

Cotton shirtdress

It comes with a matching belt but I’ve added a wider one here because I found the size 12 to be quite generous so perhaps get a couple of sizes to try if you’re ordering it. Regular and petite fit available.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic, White Stuff

Cotton shirtdress

Moving on, I’m continually on the look out for versatile summer pieces, especially those that are easy to pack and these trousers would have been handy for Thailand. They’re made from a light, breathable crinkle viscose with an elasticated waist and a tasselled toggle detail and they’re also available in a blue wave pattern. They don’t need ironing so you could literally throw them in the bottom of your bag and they’d come out ready to wear. You could use them as beach trousers over a swimsuit or for a daytime outfit like this.

The linen blend t-shirt with its lace trim (also available in white) has unfortunately almost sold out already but there are still some sizes if you’re quick. This notch neck version would work just as well though. Again I think it’s worth sizing down, I’m wearing a 10 here and it’s plenty big enough to balance out the wider trousers – White Stuff leans towards an oversized fit.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic, White Stuff

Lace trim tee; Crinkle trousers; Crossbody bag; Wooden soled sandals; Necklaces

One of the areas that they’re busy expanding is accessories. As you can see I’ve used orange to add a summer pop of colour to this monochrome outfit and I particularly wanted to show you this two pack of necklaces which I know is going to be a great value piece that works hard for summer.

White Stuff update

Two pack beaded necklaces

The crossbody bag continues to be hugely popular and of course the neat freak in me was deeply satisfied by the fact that the orange with pink stitching worked so well with the pink and orange necklaces. If you prefer to keep things neutral though there’s a plain raffia colourway too. The strap is adjustable and a lot of people wear it higher than I am here but I’m always happy to have something breaking up my midriff line!

Last of all are the suede sandals – I’ve had a few comments from people who say they love wooden soles but most 70s style shoes are so high that they worry about twisting their ankle. These are much lower than the ones you usually find, I have narrow feet and they were a little bit wide on me but they’ll be comfortable if you need a bit of space. They’re a great way of updating your existing outfits if you’re trying not to buy too many new summer clothes.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Lace trim tee; Crinkle trousers; Crossbody bag; Wooden soled sandals; Necklaces

The final outfit is a navy classic. I use navy as the base colour of my wardrobe and there always seem to be new variations to add. This time it’s a skirt with a shirred waistband – the shirring means that it doesn’t flare out too much in the first tier, keeping the volume for further down – great if you like to keep things leaner around your midriff area. It’s what Me+Em would call mixed media so the jersey tiers alternate with a layer of broderie anglaise which is a really interesting effect. One little feature that’s particularly good about the skirt is that you could also use it as a strapless knee-length beach dress over a bikini – the shirring has been designed with enough depth to work as a bodice too.

The navy t-shirt is a simple basic in slub cotton but with the added details that White Stuff does so well such as pink stitching on the side seams. I like the fact that it has a neat fit on the sleeves, something that’s really hard to find with simple tees and yet it makes such a difference to the overall look of your outfit.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Navy tee with stitching detail; Navy mixed media skirt; Crochet bag; Wooden soled sandals

I have to say though that the thing I love most about this outfit is the bag. I’ve been slow to introduce the crochet trend because so many of the pretty tops are cropped but this will do the job beautifully. It makes me think of my grandma who was forever making these little crochet squares and leaving them all over the house which used to drive my mum mad – she could have done good business with them now!

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Navy tee with stitching detail; Navy mixed media skirt; Crochet bag

So that’s my White Stuff update – I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s really good to see a British brand doing well in this climate. I like to think that it’s their down to earth, humble approach that gets people behind them – as well as the good quality clothing of course.

Now, before I go there’s a little something I’d like to ask you to help me with.

Can you help me with something?

As you know, I’ve been approached by a publisher to write a book about midlife. We’re still going through the stages of getting the contract signed so it may not happen yet but even if I just use them for future blogposts, I’m keen to get my thoughts in order. I have an outline of what I’d like to write about but I know that there’s nobody better to use as a sounding board over the next few months than all of you and so I’m going to ask for your help every now and then.

Today I have one single question for you but it’s a big one. Your answers will be completely anonymous, I have no way of knowing who you are so it would be great if you could be honest and open. I’ll be using the information you share to make sure that I’m covering everything I should. You see I’m aware that there’s a broader experience of midlife to be had than mine and my friends’ alone so this will help me to know if there’s anything missing.

Please tell me as much as you feel able to, it’s completely confidential and for my eyes only. Thank you so much for whatever time you’re able to give to it, I will, of course, credit the great generosity of the Midlifechic community in the acknowledgements should that dizzy day ever come.

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