Following his phenomenal success in the children’s wear market, Boo Jalil is set to launch into the UK & Ireland one of the world’s fastest growing menswear brands based on the sport of kings.
U.S. Polo Assn., is the non-profit lifestyle brand of the United States Polo Association. Founded in 1890, the association’s sportswear spin-off has a worldwide distribution of over 1,000 U.S. Polo Assn. branded stores selling apparel for men, women and children, as well as accessories, footwear, travel and home goods in 150 countries.
Based in Palm Beach, Florida, annual global retail sales are in excess of $1.6 billion with all profits ploughed back into the sport. Growing fast, it opened 100 stores around the world in 2018. “It’s a sports/lifestyle brand, it’s engulfed in history, how many brands can go right back to 1890?” Jalil says, enthusiastically.
“It’s the official brand of polo, ultimately owned by the United States Polo Association and the great thing about the polo association, the body that owns the brand, is, it’s a non profit organisation and it’s really key that all the money goes back into the sport, it goes into helping juniors and taking care of the horses that retire,” he says.
“Each player has to have 10 horses at each game. So, if you have 4 players, there has to be a minimum of, basically, 40 horses. They can only really play for around two minutes minutes due to the speed of the game,” says Jalil.
Born away from the polo field, Jalil, 53, originally from London, started his career in the early 1980s selling children’s wear from a market stall. Today, his business, ‘Brand Machine Group’, licensing branded children’s wear from the likes of Lyle & Scott, Ben Sherman and Juicy Couture, generates annual retail sales of $175 million.
“We’d done such a great job on kids, the next step for us was menswear.”
Boo Jalil, Brand Machine Group
This is his first foray into menswear. So, why now? “We’d done such a great job on kids, the next step for us was menswear. The brands been exceptionally supportive,” says Jalil.
With the license for the UK & Ireland and Scandinavia, Jalil went to Shanghai, Mumbai and Istanbul to look at the concept and how it stayed true to the spirit and brand. “It’s very precise and a 100% licensed brand,” he says.
The licensee follows strict brand guidelines laid down in Florida and plays with the tried and tested preppy greats of those perennial American lifestyle brands. Pure sports is planned for winter 2019 and womenswear in 2020.
The U.S. Polo Assn. menswear goes into Arcadia’s Outfit stores, Next and House of Fraser in March 2019. There are plans for two standalone retail stores in the UK, one north and one south, and one in Ireland, opening around July 2019, and a further 150 points of sale, including digital.
“With all the history its got, it needs to be a very, very clean launch and people needed to really understand it.”
Boo Jalil, Brand Machine Group
“We were going to launch in December, and, I evaluated the market about three months ago, and felt that the issues of the high street were escalating, not declining, and I thought the only way were really going we’re really make sure, brand-in-brand, with all the history its got, it needs to be a very, very clean launch and people needed to really understand it,” says Jalil.
“To launch a new brand with such a history, the retailers felt they would struggle to actually support the launch, and put people behind. For us, the financial side of it is very secondary, it’s always about doing the right thing for the brand. We sat down, we spoke to the retailers and said we’d rather, with their blessing, launch on the 1st of March in store,” he says.
The prices are accessible starting with tees at £20, sweats at £50, denim at £50 and outerwear at £70.
What’s interesting about the US Polo Assn. brand is how international the business is and especially in emerging markets. The current sales split is 27% US, 22% Turkey/Baltic, 18% India and 16% Asia. Europe is a huge growth opportunity.
To raise its profile, this summer, U.S. Polo Assn. was the official apparel partner and outfitter for all polo players at the Duke of Sussex’s 2018 Sentebale ISPS Handa Polo Cup at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club.
It’s fascinating how big the world’s appetite is for a sport few watch and even fewer play. As one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive sports, polo, in this non-profit model, and with its more affordable product, feels much more inclusive without losing much of the aspiration.
“It’s a democratic brand and accessible to all,” says Jalil, and I’m starting to believe him.