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S.Oliver CPO: Provide other brands with a platform to grow

By Ole Spötter


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Business |Interview

Sonja Balodis Credits: S.Oliver Group

A lot is happening within the portfolio of the S.Oliver Group. Following the recent acquisition of womenswear brand Lala Berlin, the German apparel company from Rottendorf is now reorganising the accessories division of its eponymous main line.

FashionUnited spoke with Chief Product Officer (CPO) Sonja Balodis during the latest order period in Düsseldorf. The Group's CPO reveals how the season went, what she learned from the previous autumn for FW24 and what the Group is focusing on to expand its portfolio.

How did the latest order season go for S.Oliver?

We sense a spirit of optimism. It was also evident when we celebrated 50 years of Comma with a fashion show in our showroom. At that point, it became clear to the retailers that we are heading in the right direction.

Comma FW24 Credits: S.Oliver Group

And what is the mood like among retailers?

They are happy to have a dialogue with us. At the present time, it is all the more important to seek an exchange with various suppliers. Especially with the discontinuation of the trade fairs in Berlin, it's great to have a trade fair platform in Düsseldorf.

Which themes have emerged in the process?

The focus is on merchandise management and managing the prevailing consumer sentiment. Everyone had a good first half of 2023, but the second half was challenging due to the warm weather in September. There are plenty of topics that we can talk about and where we can learn from each other.

Which items are right for which month and how much should we be stocking? As an industry, where do we take risks in order to supply our partners with strong items capable of performing well over three or four months? What are reliable, strong products that are relevant for this particular season? Which of our top sellers are we able to provide a backorder for?

What lessons did you take away from last autumn?

We really need to adapt to different weather scenarios and evaluate exactly what we offer and when. We need to think more in terms of monthly capsules that allow us to react more flexibly to different weather scenarios.

That's why we have focussed intensively on the strength of materials and increasingly designed them for transitional phases. Layering is also a key topic: how do you complete a look with and without a jacket? How flexibly can pieces be combined to create different looks? We have also aligned our colour concepts accordingly.

Does hybrid technology also play an increasing role in outerwear?

Even though puffer jackets are still important towards the end of the season, we have strengthened hybrid themes in the outdoor sector. Our approach was very technical and innovative, for example with regard to bondings and heat-tech features.

S.Oliver FW24-Outerwear Credits: S.Oliver Group

Is there still a sense of restraint when it comes to outerwear?

With outerwear in particular, the right timing in delivery is important in order to sell at full price. In the future, we will be more flexible in this regard in order to adapt the timing of certain items or product groups to the weather forecast – even by region. While coats worked really well in northern Germany and Austria, it was simply too warm in the centre of Germany.

We can hardly rely on the previous year's experience when it comes to outerwear. Both in terms of weather conditions, which are never constant, but also in terms of unpredictable supply chain influences. Last year conditions were very stable, but currently they are affected by the situation on the Suez Canal. We have to find a good balance between predictability in procurement and flexibility in delivery.

How has the ongoing situation regarding the Suez Canal affected your supply chain?

Needless to say, we are currently behind schedule due to the developments in the Suez Canal. The delivery of the February collections has been delayed by two weeks and the sale phase has been extended accordingly. Nevertheless, we are still within the delivery window for almost all items. We have also taken the necessary measures for the collections in March and are once again starting to deliver at the very beginning of the delivery window.

S.Oliver FW24-Womenswear Credits: S.Oliver Group

What works well in terms of womenswear for FW24?

For us, it's blouses and finer knitwear. The retailers were pleased that we offered a lot of knitwear options that are less voluminous. They're performing really well.

And in terms of Menswear?

In menswear, we offer beautiful new colorways for polos and T-shirts. Shirts are also gaining in importance for casual wear, for example in beautiful shades of lilac and mint. We are also playing with new colour looks for pants, such as grey-beige - greige - and sand. We also combine chocolate brown with grey. In other words, combinations that have not been seen in recent years.

Did you have to further adjust price ranges?

We were essentially able to maintain our price levels for 2024, given that we have already made adjustments in 2023. In other words, partners can continue to count on entry-level and strong mid-price ranges. The focus is currently more on the direction of our collection, which is geared more towards high quality.

In other words, we are widening the price scale a little and adding value, but always with an appropriate price-performance ratio. We have invested in great blends – for example, a wool blend for a turtleneck in a slightly higher price range.

Lala Berlin has also recently become part of the portfolio of the S.Oliver Group. Are you planning to expand the portfolio further?

With our brands QS, S.Oliver, Comma, Copenhagen Studios, Liebeskind Berlin and now also Lala Berlin, we have a strong portfolio with which we operate in different price ranges, fashion segments and target groups. As a group, we offer these and potentially other brands and start-ups an ideal platform to develop and grow - whether in terms of our supplier portfolio, logistics processing or technology. We can and will continue to develop, for example in the area of accessories and licences as well as in the curvy segment, which we are returning to. But I can't reveal any more about this today.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE.

S.Oliver Group
Sonja Balodis