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Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a Leeds market stall with its appealing slogan of 'Don't ask the price, it's a penny'. Michael Marks, a Polish refugee, opened his 'Penny Bazaar' in 1884 and ten years later, was joined by a partner Thomas Spencer. Within a decade they had opened their first shop in Leeds, and in 1926 the store become a public company with a store opening in London shortly afterwards. As successive branches were opened in High Streets across the UK, its name became synonymous with good-quality products at affordable prices. M&S now brings in a revenue of over £10 billion, has 790 stores in the UK, 450 branches overseas and employs over 86,000 people.
The main strengths of the company have always been their commitment to innovation and their ability to respond quickly to changing trends and meeting the needs of their customers.
Throughout its history, Marks & Spencer have been at the forefront of new developments, and this is especially true of its fashion brands. Although M&S had always sold underwear, it didn't introduce a clothing line until after the 1st World War. This also coincided with a change in their marketing strategy when it switched from the 'penny bazaar' idea and began to sell more expensive goods costing up to 5 shillings. Their innovative approach included their underwear collection. They soon realised that 1920s fashion needed a bra and became the first retailer to sell them in the UK (1926.) This strategy paid off; it is estimated that 1 in 3 British women now wear their bras. They were also pioneers in selling coordinated sets of underwear.
From the 1930s the company were the first British retailer to invest money in research laboratories to develop new fabrics. The emphasis was on these materials being both long-lasting and easy to wash. This led to changes in the fabrics used in their fashion lines. Synthetic materials like Tricel and Courtelle were both first used in M&S clothes. They were also the first to include Lycra in body-hugging corsets in the 1960s while it was added to hosiery in 1986. The company were a pioneer in adapting materials for the washing machine, developing the first machine-washable wool in 1972 and the first machine-washable suit 15 years later.
Ready-to-wear clothing often used to be seen as the 'poor relative' of made-to-measure clothes. It could be a sizing nightmare for women often requiring costly alterations or domestic sewing skills. In the 1950s, Marks & Spencer carried out two sizing surveys to measure the real sizes of British women. This radical approach to ready-to-wear clothing led to the standardisation of the leg sizes of their stockings (1954) and clothing sizes (1957).
The St Michael brand for M&S clothing lines was first introduced in 1928 by Simon Marks in tribute to his father and founder of the company. A St Margaret brand was briefly used in the 1950s for women's fashion before being put under the St Michael brand. This continued until 2000 when all company brands were restructured.
Marks & Spencer have always watched high couture fashion houses for their women's wear collections. This began in the 1950s when Dior's 'Corolle' collection was the inspiration for their New Look. By 2006, their Limited Collection marketed 'fast fashion' which reached their stores only 4 weeks after appearing on the catwalk. Their 'Per Una' line aimed at young fashion-conscious women was created as a joint venture with the founder of 'Next', George Davies while the new Twiggy Collection has been developed in cooperation with the former model and fashion icon.
By 2010, the store had over 10 sub-brands for women's fashion which had been carefully researched to appeal to different demographics. For example, the Indigo Collection is aimed at young women aged 18-25 who wished for casual/comfortable feminine clothing while M&S Collection targets over 45s who wish for more classic, timeless pieces.