It is a bold strategy for a changing world. Marking its 25th anniversary, French luxury retailer Zadig & Voltaire has revealed its international expansion policy with goals for 2025, including an intensified focus on China, a new digital strategy and a commitment to sustainability.
The French men’s, women’s and children’s wear retailer, known for its luxury rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, has 400 stores in 30 countries. Its biggest markets are France, the US, Spain and the UK, where it has 16 stores. Internationally, it wholesales to Tmall in China, a luxury ecommerce platform, and high-end Russian department store Tsum in Moscow.
Founded by Thierry Gillier in 1997, Zadig and Voltaire has its headquarters in Paris. Gillier remains the majority owner and chairman of the brand. Rémy Baume joined as CEO in January 2020, from Kidiliz Group, which created childrenswear clothing lines for luxury brands including Kenzo and Paul Smith. European private equity firm Peninsula joined as a minority partner, also in January 2020. Swedish-French fashion designer Cecilia Bönström has been artistic director since 2006.
Womenswear retail prices range from around £90 for a T-shirt to £1,545 for a shearling coat and menswear prices range from £80 for a T-shirt to £1,445 for a shearling blazer. Childrenswear prices start at £45 for a T-shirt and go up to £300 for coats selling. In accessories, handbags range from £285 for a nano leather bag, to £675 for a large suede bag.
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Zadig & Voltaire is best known for its leather items. The Rock clutch bag is its bestselling item. Available in greased, grained, suede or quilted leather, it has studs and chains, as well as the brand’s wings motif. The classic lambskin clutch retails at £350. Other bestsellers include the Tackl military jacket, retailing at £355, the Markus cashmere pullover, retailing at £410 and High Flash sneakers for £285.
Turnover was €350m (£296m) in 2019 for the financial year running from February 2019 to January 2020. This same turnover is Zadig & Voltaire’s projected expectation for the 2020/21 financial year.
Founder Gillier was inspired by the French 18th-century philosopher and writer Voltaire, who wrote about Zoroastrian philosopher Zadig in ancient Babylonia, when he came up with the name for his brand.
In China, Zadig & Voltaire is rebranding itself as “Sàdigé”, and plans to multiply its activity there tenfold. The retailer has already been present in China for 10 years through a 50:50 joint venture with IT Group, but it has now created a wholly owned company for China, Sàdigé. Zadig currently has 16 stores in China and also sells on its biggest online sales platform, Alibaba’s Tmall.
The company hopes to reach 60 boutiques by 2025 and to increase its visibility on Chinese social networks such as Weibo and Wechat, and Chinese ecommerce platforms. Alongside this, the retailer has just announced the appointment of a CEO for China, Jean Lahirle, who has 25 years’ experience in Asia, advising luxury brands such as Chanel, Celine and, more recently, Delvaux on their retail strategies in the region.
Speaking to Drapers from the retailer’s London flagship on South Molton Street, which opened in April this year, CEO Rémy Baume says he believes Zadig has the potential to be very popular in the market because it offers an “alternative to traditional China, as an effortless luxury brand”. This will appeal to younger Chinese consumers who wear clothes as a form of “self-expression”. Baume also says Chinese luxury shoppers are very knowledgeable about French culture and want to buy into it.
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Baume explains the rebranding as Sàdigé in China was to create a name from Chinese characters that consumers could pronounce. This meant that the retailer could take ownership of its own name, rather than having it pronounced in a variety of ways. The name is made up of three Chinese characters, which together mean “stylish, fashionable, good taste.” The name is gender neutral, which Baume believes reflects Zadig’s silhouettes – “The name is phonetically close to Zadig, but is also meaningful,” he explains.
Zadig’s ambitions do not stop at China. The retailer hopes to open 122 stores in France and overseas by 2025, representing a 36% increase in its store footprint. While China will be the main focus in terms of opening stores – it hopes to have more than 45 stores by 2025 – it also wants to expand in Europe and North America. Baume believes the brand weathered the months of store closures because, unlike fast fashion retailers, its customers tend to visit once or twice a season, so it did not make a difference to wait until retail reopened.
At the same time, Baume is committed to a strong digital strategy. Before the pandemic, digital represented 15% of sales. During the lockdowns, digital sales, representing sales on its website and online market places doubled, but they have since stabilised at 25%. The brand aims to reach 30% by 2025. Part of the strategy will involve developing a pre-order policy, where customers will be able to shops clothes online from the day of Zadig’s Paris fashion week shows for autumn/winter and spring/summer.
Crucially, however, Baume wants to achieve all this while launching VoltAIRe – Zadig’s global sustainability programme. It intends to use 100% environmentally responsible key raw materials by 2025: 100% of cotton will be organic; 100% of virgin cashmere items will be Good Cashmere Standard; 100% of its virgin wool items will be Responsible Wool Standard; and 100% of leather will come from Leather Working Group tanneries.
It is a bold new plan for expansion, and there will be challenges in transforming Zadig into a mainstream luxury brand in China and winning over Asian consumers. But it is reassuring to see that alongside the business plan, sustainability is front and centre.