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TM Lewin MD on website relaunch and post-pandemic formalwear

By Huw Hughes


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Business |Interview

Image: TM Lewin, Facebook

British menswear retailer TM Lewin relaunched its websites last month, six weeks after being bought out of administration for the second time in two years.

Like many formalwear companies, it was hit hard by the pandemic as it faced prolonged store closures and the cancellation of large social events such as weddings and the Royal Ascot.

The 120-year-old business was bought out of administration in 2020 by SCP Private Equity. Soon after the rescue deal, its new owner announced it would close all 66 of TM Lewin’s physical stores as the retailer repositioned itself as an online business trading exclusively in the UK. The move resulted in 600 job losses.

Fast forward to March 2022, and TM Lewin collapsed into administration again, soon after which it was bought by an investment firm owned by Petra Group, its main lender.

Now, with lockdowns firmly in the rear-view mirror and social events back in full swing, TM Lewin is setting out its plan for the future, which includes the reopening of key flagship stores across the UK.

FashionUnited spoke to TM Lewin managing director James Kearns about the retailer’s return after several tough years, the shifting landscape of formalwear, and the importance of physical retail.

Image: James Kearns, courtesy of TM Lewin

“It has been an extremely challenging couple of years, to state the obvious, and it has been a very steep learning curve,” Kearns said. “But it is also incredibly exciting to be able to rebuild the retailer in a long-term, sustainable, and meaningful way under new ownership. I genuinely believe that we have the opportunity to be one of the greatest transformations in recent retail history.”

Embracing casualisation

Commenting on the evolution of formalwear, which has faced increasing casualisation over the last few years as people swapped out suits for more comfortable and practical outfits, Kearns said: “If you go on the Tube on a Thursday or Friday, most people aren’t wearing a three piece suit anymore. But that process started long before the pandemic, it has just accelerated.”

Kearns said the retailer “is well positioned to play into smart casual in a clean and crisp way” thanks to its already well-established and young customer base. TM Lewin’s average customer is between 25-35-years-old, which Kearns notes is younger than some of its main competitors. The retailer recently launched its first Jersey, a more casual look which Kearns said has seen a great response from customers.

He described the updated brand image and website - which showcases TM Lewin’s SS22 range - as “new, young and fresh”, while still tapping into the retailer’s “rich heritage”. He said more of that updated brand image will be revealed with a new campaign set to be launched in the coming weeks.

Rebounding demand for formalwear

Though he didn’t provide figures, Kearns said trading has been “strong” since the relaunch of TM Lewin’s website in May, which he said was more proof that formal fashion is here to stay, and that consumers have a renewed desire to dress up after years of on-and-off lockdowns. “There is a significant market of people who frankly feel better when they dress smart,” he said.

Looking forward, TM Lewin will put an increased focus on its bestsellers, such as a white, single cuff twill shirt, and making sure those bestsellers are available at all times. “Frankly, with some of the mismanagement problems in the last few years, merchandising has been neglected.” Kearns said. “So that means the quality of our inventory and therefore the experience we offer to customers just hasn't been good enough. That needs to change.”

TM Lewin currently has a mix of about 60 percent shirts, which it plans to up to closer to 70 percent as it looks to “rationalise the range but go deeper into the right areas”. Tailoring will then make up about 20 percent, and accessories the final 10 percent. The retailer will offer fewer suits than it did in the past, but with a focus on ones that can be worn for key occasions, such as at work, summer weddings, and winter weddings - or a “less is more approach”, as Kearns puts it.

In terms of marketing approach, TM Lewin has put a renewed focus on its ‘4 shirts for 140 pounds’ deal, which Kearns said was perfect for the retailer’s young customer base who are having interviews and joining the job market. He said that by cutting down on ‘2 shirts for 70 pounds’ and ‘3 shirts for 100 pounds’ deals, the retailer has managed to increase its overall average order value by around 35 percent. “So from a profitability perspective, the new basket economics at TM Lewin looks much more favourable, which is really important,” he said.

New store plans

When TM Lewin collapsed in 2020, its new owners announced the closure of all 66 of its stores as it repositioned itself as an online-only company. But Kearns said the retailer will return to the high street, with plans to open a selection of new flagship stores across the UK. “With formalwear and tailoring, customers want to try on the clothes, feel the fabric, see what matches with what. So physical stores are really important.”

And in terms of what’s on the cards for TM Lewin further down the line, Kearns said: “We’d love to look at rental, made to measure, personalization, alteration services. All of that is our roadmap, but that’s not happening in the next 3-6 months.” He said the company must first walk before it can run, with the priority being to “elevate the brand quite significantly, because so much of the problems in the last few years is that the basics have been neglected”.

TM Lewin