Back to nature – The story of how a premium clothing brand rediscovered the source of its power
Setting The Scene: Drifting Off Course
Whilst the course of any business rarely runs smooth, Denis Hurley worried that this time he’d really lost his way. Although the superb quality of the materials he used in his heritage clothing remained the same and his grandfather shirts still sold well, many of his other lines were ending up on the bargain rail, failing to command shelf space and the attention of his customers.
For clothes designed and produced deep in the heart of West Cork, his garments were in danger of appearing generic and he was losing out to competitors in both his direct-to-retail and catalogue markets. Looking out over the River Lee as it wound its way confidently through the breathtaking landscape of his native county, Denis knew it was time to reclaim his heritage and his profit margins!
Through the Islandbridge website, Denis invited Gerard to travel down from Dublin and work with the Lee Valley team to set a more promising course for the business. Gerard arrived, expecting the meeting to be held at the business premises, and was instead brought on a tour of the area where Denis told him story after story about growing up in Inchigeela and how the land and river together shaped his way of seeing the world.
Standing in the warm sunshine at the bend of the river listening to Denis, Gerard was struck by an extraordinary sense of time and place and reconnected with his own childhood holiday memories of long days spent out on the water. He suggested to Denis that this might prove a rich vein of inspiration for the Lee Valley brand, and one worth further exploration.
It’s all very well messing about on the river but there was still some all-important hands-on work to be done back on dry land. Gerard met with some key Lee Valley retailers in Ireland and spoke with others from overseas, and their feedback gave invaluable insights into what they valued in the Lee Valley offer.
Of course, they wanted clothes that were made of the highest quality and they appreciated the excellent customer care and after service but there was more to it than that. They didn’t want clothes that could have been made anywhere; nor did they want colours and styles that were out of kilter with the river valley landscape.
They insisted that they wanted clothes that were uniquely Irish, rich in memory and tradition.
As Gerard listened to their feedback, he remembered the moment of reconnection he had experienced while down by the river and understood that Denis’ customers were talking about one and the same thing. Putting on that comfortable and superbly made grandfather shirt allowed them “to return to a place they thought lost forever”.
With this vital insight in place, Gerard set about writing a short story ‘A Scrap of A Tale’, one that would serve as a narrative reference to capture the essence of the brand. He developed a Key Message Framework to guide all written and visual language supporting the brand, and worked with Denis to commission a refreshed visual identity, one that reflected the unique sense of place and belonging that Lee Valley Clothing promises its customers.
Under the new brand direction, Denis discontinued any lines that were not uniquely heritage clothing in terms of style or colour. Names of lines like ‘Volvo’ and ‘Melbourne’ (Honey, did we take a wrong turn and end up in Australia?) were replaced by ‘Glenville’ and ‘Kanturk’, ‘Rathmore’ and ‘Clonmel’; names redolent of an Irish landscape and way of life. The grandfather shirt, always the wellspring of the business, took pride of place as the cornerstone line of this uniquely Irish clothing company.
The results of the rebrand have been significant. Website sales were up 60% the year after the re-launch and that trend is still growing. Lee Valley has entered new markets in the U.K where they now supply a large mail order catalogue. Most importantly, the work on brand has allowed Denis and his team to find their niche market and supply happy, satisfied customers with their uniquely Irish product
(Don’t just take our word for it; http://leevalleyireland.com/customer-testimonials/).
As Lisa from Lee Valley puts it: “We originally sold traditional classic garments and then we tried out fashion pieces and this confused our customer base. Since rebranding we went back to where we began (what was right in front of our noses all along) and it is clear we are a heritage lifestyle brand selling timeless, comfortable, casual pieces…. The work we did with Islandbridge showed us we did not need to change direction to grow our brand. All we needed was to take a step back and look at what we already did so well and grow from this”.
Brand Direction: Gerard Tannam (Islandbridge Brand Development)
Design: Owen Barry (Create)