An Interview with Matches
Matches is an important name in the realm of London fashion. Matches shops are located in the key areas of the city, from Notting Hill to Wimbledon, and on 23 Welbeck Street you can find a private shopping experience that every customer has always longed for, whether they are a VIP or an inquisitive newbie. The Matches website is a very successful, comprehensive and intuitive online shopping experience, and gets more and more visitors every day.
Matches stocks over 300 brands for both men and women across all their outlets, and their success is all thanks to the lively founders Ruth and Tom Chapman, the most dynamic couple in London’s style scene.
At their recent London press day, I managed to persuade Ruth and Tom to creep away from the influx of guests on the shop floor, and join me in their office upstairs for a quick interview.
‘The Matches ethos means international style, London spirit’ Tom started telling me, as he sat down, and continued straight to the point: ‘My wife and I work very closely in making this happen. Although there’s no official structure on how we work, I tend to look after the marketing aspect of the business, and Ruth concentrates more on the product.’
Tom and Ruth Chapman met on the floor of Tom’s sister shop in Wimbledon almost 25 years ago. After a stormy start to the relationship, Ruth decided to follow Tom and worked in his men’s shop (‘I only sold jeans and t-shirts then’ – Tom added). They married 21 years ago. Since then Ruth and Tom have been inseparable, and they still love each other as they did when they first met.
‘What also keeps us together is the shared love for fashion, Matches, our customers and the services we can give them’ a smiling Ruth said. ‘The way people shop, and their fashion, has changed a lot since we met at Wimbledon, and being together helped us in understanding the whole process’. Then Tom intervened, ‘…we still love the traditional Matches shops: lots of personal attention is given to the customers when they go in, and the clothes displays and the window dressing are very accurate. But now we are really concentrating on shopping online’.
The online retail business is growing at an incredibly fast pace. ‘It’s an amazing platform where you can engage with the customers,’ Tom and Ruth liked to say together, ‘you immediately understand what people want, they way they follow or disregard the trends we promote, and how they respond to the way we buy. At the same time you can direct the customers better, thanks to the immediate feedback we receive, and this is not just in the UK’.
Matchesfashion.com is now present in 130 countries, and it’s a big business in the USA and Australia. ‘It’s all about ‘understanding’ the customers, that is our motto anyway, and we can now apply that to other countries too.’ an energetic Tom added. ‘We are only at the beginning of shopping online. I believe there’s still a lot to discover and so many new ways to play and shop. That’s why I like Motilo, for example. The most important thing is to be ready with the right technology, and invest properly in that.’
I asked Ruth how this process of buying ‘local’ can translate into going ‘global’. ‘Well, the taste level is still based on the same thing, you just have to direct it to the different markets,’ she answered. ‘But this is also happening in designers’ studios. They now understand that global is the way to go, and they are more flexible and open about making clothes that are targeted for certain countries. We ask a few designers to make exclusive collections for us, because we know certain customers would be interested, and they are happy to do so.’ Roksanda Ilincic, Jonathan Saunders, Giles are among the brands that have successfully created capsule collections for Matches, all with great commercial success, and I know there are more to come for the next season.
‘Editing is still the key though. It’s so important. These days there are many more designers around, more collections during the year, and it’s all very tempting. But it’s relevant not to forget who the Matches customers are. From the regular core customers of the physical shops, to the fashionistas who like ‘hot’ brands and mainly shop online.’ Ruth passionately said, while Tom noted ‘it’s all about loyalty: to the customers, to the designers and to each other, naturally!’ ‘When you base your relationship with your customers on loyalty, then you can propose them new brands and new designers to buy. They will trust us. And it’s important and exciting to have new names in the shop list. We look for the new ones all the time.’
Matches has always been a great supporter of young and new designers. In particular the British ones, ‘we love to discover new talents, it gives our job an exciting aspect, and if we believe in someone, we are ready to help them financially, like giving them a deposit, for example. If they succeed, then the loyalty pays back’, on this the couple most certainly agreed.
So what is the future of fashion? ‘It’s important to understand the customers these days, and in the future. With so much information around, the customers are more fashion savvy, and won’t like to have a trend or a silhouette imposed on them. People understand more about quality, and don’t want to buy designers who are derivatives of others. So we are going to concentrate in buying brands who have appeal, colours and a good strong identity.’
That, I would say, is Matches, as a brand itself.