For those who have been reading Cotswold Allure Magazine from the beginning, you will undoubtedly remember our very first Coffee With article, with fashion guru Georges Davies, the man who changed the Face of British high-street fashion, through the creation of his brands NEXT, George at ASDA and Per Una at Marks and Spencer.
Choosing the Cotswolds to call his home, a beautiful area called Broadway is where George Davies introduced his latest fashion brand to the UK: FG4, this time specialising in fashion for the younger generations.
FG4 uses the knowledge gained by George and his team over the past two decades, to create products that customers love and trust.
Three years on, hearing the exciting news that FG4 has now opened a permanent residence in Broadway, we caught up with George to speak about FG4’s journey so far.
Introducing FG4 to local towns and schools first, was a completely different approach to the beginnings of your previous three brands, what was the response like?
“It was very good. The events that we held did two things for me, which were one: ‘testing the water’ for the FG4 designs, and two: any money we made was given to my charity, The George Davies Charitable Trust, which, amongst many other support work, has recently had a great impact at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, where we funded the opening of a new diabetic treatment centre.
The feedback from the initial FG4 events gave me a solid feeling that there is a definite market for FG4 designs in the UK, and shortly after I had an approach from Beales, where we opened ten stores with them.”
What has the response been like for the first stand-alone store of FG4, here in Broadway?
“Oh, very good. Because we’re positioned slightly off the high-street, people have had to learn that we’re here, but a successful launch event helped and word of mouth seems to have spread quite quickly.
Not only do we do the ladies wear, but we also do girls wear from 3-4 up to 16.”
Which brings us on to the demographic of FG4, which seems to be 50/50 between ladieswear and girlswear.
“When I had George at Asda and NEXT, a lot of customers were parents buying children, which was an interesting challenge for me. It was only when I had Per Una that my sole focus was ladieswear, but, I now have roughly fifty FG4 shops in Saudi Arabia selling designs solely for children and another fifty selling ladieswear designs.
Throughout our ten Beales stores, I have mixed the ladies and girlswear designs, so they can be discovered together.
I do have boyswear in the Saudi Arabia children’s shops, which we might introduce to the UK at a slightly later date.”
What is it that makes George Davies brands so successful?
“I’ve always tried to understand the customer before the product. Not just as a total customer, but also where they’re living, cultures and customs, for example in some areas, specific sizes are preferred, in other areas specific colours are preferred.
Here, we have we have found that a lot of size 8 seems to be preferred, rather than the larger sizes, but this The Cotswolds, only ‘a stone’s throw away’ from Broadway, where we have opened, it’ll probably be different.”
What influence over the FG4 designs do you have?
“The way it works is that I will always have discussions on the overall design, as I am continuously researching fashions from around the globe. I’m quite influenced by Italian fashion.
I will give my brilliant design team a brief, who will present ideas, which I will then review. There is no garment that goes into production, without going by me first.”
Taking into consideration your history with Per Una at Marks and Spencer, how is it that you have developed such a good understanding of specifically female fashion.
“I think my mother was the key influencer there, who was a very strong woman who made all of her own clothes. Where when I was very young, we would visit grand department stores in Liverpool and she would buy all kinds of fabrics and patterns.
We were a farming family, not particularly wealthy at all, but my mother was meticulous and had an amazing eye for fashion. You don’t realise at the time just how much influence your parents have on the person you will become, and how you will look at life in the future.”
Does designing FG4 clothing for children come with different challenges to adults?
“Absolutely. So much so that I now always say that there is no such thing as just ‘children’, in the respect that there are so many stages of children.
What I mean is, the first stages of children are ‘New Born’ and ‘Toddler’, where the mother is usually the main decision maker for clothing.
The minute you then move towards 4-5 year olds, a little girl here was a perfect example of this earlier today, the mother liked something but the little girl refused to try it on, liking something she had found instead.
If you could see my children’s stores in Saudi Arabia, the interior isn’t just ‘children’, 4-5-year-old boys and girls are at an age where they don’t want to be considered as babies anymore, so the interior I use for boyswear is open brick (like Cotswold Stone) which helps the boys to feel more comfortable.
Therefore, there is no such thing as just ‘children’ as you need babywear, toddlerwear, boyswear, girlswear, which all change so quickly.”
When you’re looking back on your life so far, you’ve been acknowledged as the most successful fashion innovator of your time, how does that make you feel hearing that?
“In some respects that makes me feel very lucky. Playing soccer in University taught me how nice it felt to win, which gave me an initial drive, but more than anything, success is about team work.
I’ve always taken a different approach towards work, People work with me, not for me. I’m quite anti anybody calling me “Mr” and instead of my own office I like to sit wherever I feel comfortable, just like everyone else who works with me.
If there is anything that I would take credit for, is that I am very good at building teams.”
How do you feel about what is happening to traditional high-street brands throughout the UK right now? The high-street seems to be shrinking.
“I have a feeling where some of retailers are getting things wrong, is that some of the people who are supposed at the top, never actually go out into the field to see the customers, so have no true idea about what is actually happening.
I’m always visiting my stores, because that’s where I learn. For example, when you asked about how I’ve developed such an understanding for female fashion, well every time I speak with a customer in one of my stores, it’s basically free consultancy.
I think some high-street brands are missing this, I’ve always found that it’s how I learn the most.”
How much influence have your Saudi Arabia stores had on the FG4 designs?
“The Saudi Arabia FG4 stores are situated where the weather is much hotter than in the UK, almost guaranteed sunshine all year around, which means that the clothing needs to be a little lighter. We’ve been very lucky with the weather in the UK so far, allowing us to introduce some of the designs here.
However, as the year goes on, we will gradually be releasing designs specifically made for the UK, such as some nice jumpers and jackets.”
George Davies is known for having been a step ahead in the fashion industry, so, what George is creating with FG4 is most certainly very interesting.
Yes, we could speak about the clothing designs of FG4, which are vibrant, elegant and flattering, which we recommend you see for yourselves in the new Broadway store, however, what is equally as interesting is how George Davies, coming from a high-street brand background, is opening FG4 with a much warmer, customer focused feel.
Throughout the UK we have seen drastic changes on the high-street within the past ten years. The news has been doom and gloom about large brand failing and branches closing, however, there appears to be a significant lack of focus on the independent economy, which is currently booming.
With unemployment at a record high, combined with rising living costs, have forced the need for extra incomes for families, which means that self-employment is currently rocketing throughout the UK.
This new age of entrepreneurism is utilising all kinds of digital channels and social platforms, which is bringing a new way of connecting with customers. Instead of the traditional B2B (Business to Business) or (B2C) Business to Customer approach, a new model has appeared and is growing fast: H2H (Human to Human)
This new Human to Human approach is bringing back traditional, caring, customer-first values between business and customer, which is precisely what high-street brands have been lacking.
To survive, high-street brands will have to change. Who better to recognize this need for change and move on it, than the Fashion Guru who is known for always being a step ahead, George Davies.
The new FG4 store is an absolutely charming addition to the typically Cotswolds village of Broadway, however, does this new FG4 store represent the beginning of an enormous change within the British high-street industry? Is George Davies ahead of the game yet again with FG4? Leading the way by being the first large high-street brand to open outside of the typical high-street setting, taking on traditional customer centric values?
Cotswold Allure Magazine would like to thank George Davies for another Coffee With. We wish FG4 the very best for what we are sure will be a successful future. If you would like to visit the new FG4 in Broadway, here is the address:
5 Keil Close,