British retailer Boden was founded as a mail-order business in 1991, two years after Popular Merchandise Inc. rebranded itself as J. Crew. Both companies found success in catalog sales, but J. Crew’s retail store ambitions overtook the company’s catalog-based model early on.
Unlike J. Crew–which went public in 2006, and then was taken private again in 2011, Boden has opted for more organic growth by remaining private, and resisted physical footprints until recently. It has almost always turned a profit, and the decline of malls has had little effect on its business given the company’s limited brick-and-mortar exposure.
According to this Telegraph article, on a revenue of £308 million, Boden made a profit of £26.2 million in 2017. J. Crew, on the other hand, despite its $2.4 billion revenue, reported a net loss of $125 million (but it’s complicated; here are its fiscal 2017 results).
After J. Crew’s haphazard forays into faux haute couture and athleisure, and its discontinuation of the J. Crew Style Guide, Boden, with its affordable staples and styled on-location shoots, now looks more like the original preppy J. Crew than J. Crew.
Sure, Boden has had its struggles (primarily an inability to shake its middle-market aesthetic) and has found most of its recent growth through international expansion (U.S. sales now accounts for 40% of revenue), but what sets Boden apart from the floundering J. Crew of late is how clearly Boden sees its customer: she is “the 35-year-old woman who typically has children, and for whom the most important thing is that the clothes are flattering.” And knowing who your customer is and designing around her needs is perhaps a precondition for success.
I noticed this week that Boden has restocked both the Penelope Embroidered Top and Sylvia Jacket in most sizes. Both are pieces with softer edges, and perfect for those who consider themselves “classic” dressers.
Here are some new arrivals that caught my eye: