Stanley/Stella founder Jean Chabert talks to Images about the brand’s UK presence, his ambitions for its global growth, and ensuring the cotton used is organic

You said six years ago that you had unapologetically positioned Stanley/Stella (STST) at the premium end of the market and that the brand was targeting around 1-2% of the imprint market – how much of the market is STST targeting now?

At STST our main goal is to remain selective when choosing our dealers we want to work with – setting our high standard and making sure our dealers live by it and guarantee the quality we want for our garment and the end consumer. Of course we are growing, but we don’t intend to take over the whole imprint business. Our main focus is high standards and quality. Let’s say we are targeting about 5-8% of the market.

How do you seeing the UK garment decoration market developing in the UK, and what are STST’s strategy and ambitions in the UK for the next five years?

We believe the UK market is developing more and more towards sustainable offerings. Adding up the high-quality standards UK decorators have, our main ambition is to grow the brand awareness around who we are and what our values are. To do so, we believe a local approach is crucial. 

Having a collection offering that speaks to the UK consumer and a close dealers network that knows how to decorate to our standards will make the difference. We only work with partners who are committed to delivering the highest quality end results, and who share our vision and values. The mutually beneficial relationships we cultivate with them are based on open dialogue and creative exchange, and we learn as much from them as they do from us. 

The Creator is a popular style with UK decorators

The Creator is a popular style with UK decorators

As we all adapt to the needs of a more sustainable tomorrow, and to the demands of customers seeking garments they can be proud of, we grow stronger together day by day.

And globally?

Our goal is to open in the US market. It’s a market with huge potential in our business, but also one where sustainability is coming more on the agenda. It will require a different approach as the local needs are completely different from the European market.

What advantages will it bring to our readers that STST now has a warehouse in the UK?

As we think the main objective is to have the best decorated garment in the market, we think it’s also our responsibility to be as close as possible to our consumer. We have a great collaboration with Ralawise, but building our own network of dealers will give us the possibility to be able to pass our values to the consumer. We believe that selecting partners with the same beliefs, and having them changing mindsets can only accelerate our goal of changing the perception in the fashion industry. We aim to inspire our suppliers and be inspired by them in equal measure.

Having our local warehouse there will also give us the possibility to have a better range available to the UK consumer, more speedy delivery, adapted services for the market, etc, and grow customer excellence as we should do.

The UK warehouse currently has around 1.6 million pieces in stock

The UK warehouse currently has around 1.6 million pieces in stock

In 2016, you said the brand was based on three pillars (create a strong connection, create a strong image, create a worldwide dealer network) – has this changed?

Our brand is based on four pillars: excellence, innovation, sustainability and people. Our strategy as a company, which you are referring to, hasn’t changed. Our vision is clear, the way to go there remains the same: Having the best collection for decoration, building a strong brand image, and developing a strong dealer network.

How has Brexit affected the growth and approach of STST in the UK?

Our approach didn’t change, but Brexit speeded up the decision to open a local warehouse for sure.

Is the brand still perceived as being at the pricier end of the market, or has that changed as more brands have started offering organic/recycled garments that may be more expensive than their ‘regular’ styles?

There is a general acceptance in the market that high quality and organic material come with a certain price. Currently we are perceived definitely as having the highest quality on printability. Research shows also that results on average are better and using STST brings efficiencies on several levels. In addition, we are only offering a sustainable offering, none can compete with us in this area.

With a wide range of ‘sustainable’ garments from a variety of brands now available, why do you think decorators should choose STST?

For the same reasons mentioned before. Sustainability is our core, it’s our choice, we only offer garments made in a responsible way and have no conventional cotton or cotton-in-conversion options as we stick to our beliefs. We make no exceptions. Add on top of this a better result on printability, broad collection, stock availability, etc – people buy into STST not only based on price and short-term vision, but also because there is a long-term story we are building together.

With more people wanting to use organic cotton, there is a pressure on supplies. Is STST able to source enough organic cotton to support its growth plans? How do you ensure that the cotton is truly organic, given the problems there have been with cotton being falsely certified organic?

We are able to source enough organic cotton and will continue doing so. It’s becoming indeed a competitive market, prices increase exponentially on organic cotton, other options start to be offered in the market as cotton in conversion, better cotton etc. However, we stick to our choice of organic cotton. 

How we do this is basically based on building long-term relationships. Our collaboration with our suppliers, alignment and being close to them is crucial. We have people in the field who are there for a day-to-day follow-up, being top of mind and being able to act quickly when necessary. We diversify our sources too, not to be too dependent on one or a couple of suppliers. 

Guaranteeing cotton is organic is indeed a hot topic in the whole industry. There are certifications, but we know this is not enough. For sure it’s needed, but we learned that taking our own actions to ensure we meet our own standards is key. Therefore we don’t only want to depend on an external entity. We have a local field worker that goes in the market every day to do checks on the barrels we buy. On top of this we have installed sanity checks to control the purity of the cotton we buy. Only this way we can assure the cotton is clean.