Michele on the market

We chat to Michele O’Neill of Chloe and Callista about the changes she’s seen within the bridal industry…

Michele O'Neill

You’ve sat on both sides of the fence, so what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years in bridal?
There have been so many - losing British manufacturing and producing in China was a big step back in the mid-90s and now, with all the discount shops on the high street, business is much more difficult. We are all trying to do something, produce something, that the cut-price stores can’t offer.

Have brides’ tastes changed, or has the market redirected their opinions on design?
I think brides’ tastes have gone round in circles as fashion does every few years, sleeves go in and out of fashion like ballgown skirts do, but I feel brides in general are not afraid to show their personality in a dress now and will step out of the box to be seen. When I first started 36 years ago, all brides wanted made-to-measure… now they don’t even know or appreciate the expertise required to perfect that offering. Also, we are seeing a pattern where brides who can afford to spend some £2,000 want to find the cheapest dress they can, and girls who are struggling pushing the boat out to a reasonable £1,000 so that they can have the dress of their dreams.

What are the biggest threats facing the market today?
Over stock, and discount warehouses.

Callista is a key brand in the plus-size sector; will you be introducing changes? And what are the most popular sizes in the sector?
I am adding a selection for the older bride who wants something a little simpler, and a lightweight collection for less formal weddings. Our most popular sizes are 22 and 24.

Do you think retailers today have got it right? How can they raise the bar and capture those sales?
Sadly, some retailers - despite knowing that they need some well- fitting and specific plus-size gowns -don’t advertise the fact that they carry them on their websites or on social media platforms and wonder why they get so few sales! Brides need to be sure when making an appointment that a shop caters to their needs and have a selection of dresses for them to try. Brides need to be treated to the same width of choice as they would have if they were size 10. Hence the specialist plus-size stores are proving to be a success.

What lessons do retailers need to learn fast?
How to survive - they must embrace social media in their local area and fight hard for every sale - they need to go back to old fashioned values and provide top customer service. They must learn how to keep brides in their shops and bend over backwards for every sale.

How important is it for retailers to visit the big shows, like The London Bridal Show and Harrogate?
Really important, shops need to see the trends coming in; they need to see how to display dresses; they need to continue to learn from the experience; they need to network with other shops, and to exchange ideas.


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