Critical Success Factors of Fashion Marketing: A case study of Biba.

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Glasgow Caledonian University
Last updated on 26 February 2010


Fashion marketing, the science and art of satisfying customers’ fashion needs profitably, has been with us since time immemorial. It’s as old as marketing itself and gained prominence in the early sixties when most fashion designer outfits started to flourish. Fashion marketing is different from fashion merchandising, which is the promotion of clothes sales and the process of distribution of clothings. Fashion marketing is the process of satisfying people’s fashion needs in an environment that ensures profit. It involves, branding, marketing mix, business development, product offering etc.

Fashion marketing is now becoming notorious because fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry that has not been fully exploited. It also has to do with the third most basic thing in the heirarchy of human needs. Human beings aspire for food as the first basic need. After satisfying this need, human beings will aspire to get accommodation over his or her head. The third basic need will be clothing to protect him or her from the adverse effects of inclement weather. The fourth is transportation and the fifth welfare (health, leisure). Fortunately, fashion has to do with all the other basic needs in the modern world. A farmer needs fashion to produce food, in his house and in transport means.

Biba was a fashion outlet established as a small fashion retailer to cater for Ladies clothes in West London. Its success in satisfying the generality of the people with its clothes cutting across all classes made it popular among Londoners and the people far and near. Biba became an household name and at a time, the best thing to happen to London.

In 1970’s Biba had a monumental success story and occupied a seven-storey building on Kesington High Street, London. This legendary “Big Biba” emporium was onced hailed in the Sunday Times as “the most beautiful store in the world”. This was not a story of happy ending in 1976 as the founder walked away of the business.

This report will evaluate the challenges and opportunities of Biba fashion so as to document and recommend the critical success factors of fashion marketing. It will analyse the emergence of Biba as a fashion outlet, the stronghold and weaknesses of Biba.

The Biba Story

Biba was a fashion marketing organisation established by a Polish-born Barbara Hulanicki and rocked the city of London in 1960. Barbara is a fashion freak and started Biba from an hobby just like the House of Matilda by Matilda Marcos, the former Philipines first lady and fashionista. As a student, Barbara’s style was heavily influenced by two stars of the 1950’s – Garce Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

Barbara Hulanicki is a style icon and developed her interest for fashion marketing from her interest in dressing well and her study of Fine Arts. People around her used to commend her dress sense and her colour combination and she decided to offer her design expertise for her clientele to generate income and to satisfy her hobby. She was a freelance fashion illustrator and columnist for Women’s Wears Daily, the Times, British Vogues, the Sunday Times and the Observer.

Biba began life as a mail order catalogue in 1964, and by 1969, the shop was the second most popular tourist spot in the capital – only the Tower of London attracted more visitors. “People would travel from all over the country every Saturday, because the fares were inexpensive”(Babara, 2009).

During its heyday, Biba was to fashion what the Beatles were to pop music. It was also a mecca for the coolest celebrities of the moment…”. Biba’s Postal Fashion Boutique was officially set up and its long evening skirts with draw-string waists sold at affordable price in the Daily Express. There were good markets for other garments too. It was Felicity Green, the Fashion Editor of the Daily Mirror who proposed to Hulanicki to design a dress for a reader’s offer. The product of this design, a pink gingham dress sold through the paper for 25 shillings, and earned £14,000-worth of orders.

The business was run from the flat of Babara Hulanicki until it was moved to a derelict former chemist on Abingdon Road, Kensington. Biba flouted convention in London fashion world by going for dull colours. Her designs were mainly funeral-like blakish-browns, dark prunes, rust and blue-berry hues. Babara wanted a colour that’s affordable to maintain, and a design not too flashy.

Business boomed at a rate unprecetented in fashion merchandising in the whole of England. Abingdon Road shop became smaller for Biba as everybody from all works of life saw it as their last destination for buying fashion products. It became a place of social interaction. Biba moved to a bigger site on Kensington High Street in 1965.

Hulanicki and her husband felt Biba could be bigger and acquired the 400,000 square foot, Art Deco Derry and Tom’s Department store on Kesington High Street in West London. Due to the huge capital outlay, Hulaniscki accepted Fraser group and Dorothy Perkins as shareholders and joint-owners of the business. The building was secured for £3.9 million. Another £1.0 million was spent to decorate the building.

Big Biba became the first new depertment store in London since the second world war. There was restaurant, shopping area, eating and drinking area, hanging out area, rooftop garden lounge etc. A whole entire floor was named the Casbah – filled with Moroccan and Turkish influenced splendour. The restaurant alone was a success. The Rainbow Room Restaurant and Concert Hall served about 1,500 meals everyday.

Fraser group and Dorothy Perkins sold their shares to British Land Company and that was the begining of the end of Biba. British Land Company was a property investor and never appreciated the intuitive and lucrative methods employed by the two previous shareholders yet they were major shareholders. Biba suffered from “Corporate Raiding” as there was disagreements on creative control and catastrophy striked.

Barbara walked away from Biba in 1976 after difficulties with her new business partners. In 1987, she and her late husband wound up in Miami, a city which captured her imagination – thanks, largely, to its once glorious Art Deco architecture, which she has helped to conserve.

Biba’s opportunity that made it a success between 1964 and 1976

Biba opportunity lied in its grotesque building made it an attraction for people. It boasted a large area pf apace for social interaction and customer sometimes had intention of meeting somebody before they ‘bumped’ into products that attracted them. The products were affordable and the designs cut across all classes of people. Biba was a one-stop shop offering different types of products for daily consumption.

The colour combination was perfect and the locaton of the outlet on Kensington High Stree, strategic. The brand were also from a designer who knew the rudiment of the business. As a fashionista, Babara knew what the people wanted.

Biba’s challenges that made it a failure in 1976

Biba refused to branch-out and reached the other areas of United Kingdom. It refused to adopt globalisation which was the phenomenong of succeeding business then. Frasers group and Dorothy Perkins saw it as a local venture and decided to sell their stake. “The emergence of global fashion has trandformed the way fashion is perceived in the contempporary world” (Azuma and Fernie, 2003). Management attitudes can decide where retailers expand.

The new partners in Biba, British Land organisation were not mindful of the contributions of Babara Hulanicki and how she worked. There was no Strategig Plan to guide the operations of the organisation.

The Critical Sucess Factors of Fashion Marketing

Zavrsnik (2007) said that fashion businesses profit a lot if they can (a) Have few middlemen between their products and the end-users (b) Buy in large volumes (c) Have a broad, in-depth knowledge of design, fashion and textiles (d) Buy the right products from the right markets (e) Being cost-conscious at every stage of production (f) Have efficient distribution means. These factors are factors of efficient production.

Zavrsnik (2007) also said that “before establishing stores in a new market, H&M conducts a thorough analysis of such factors as demographics, employment, purchasing power and purchasing behaviour. The shopping style of the catchment area of the outlet must be known as well as the population and the shopping quality. According to Mrs Sarah Brown, the wife of the British Prime Minister, at the Elle Style Award on February 22, 2010, “Fashion is an industry so well known for its creative tensions; it’s larger than-life characters; and the obsessons with each season’s collections”.

1. Marketing Mix (The seven P’s) – (a) Product (b) Price (c) Place (d) Promotion (e) People (f) Process (g) Physical environment.

2. Branding: The Biba logo played a crucial part in Biba’s success, the logo was gold and black, that reflected the growing taste in youth for art deco. Anthony Little designed the logo. Little painted the Biba sign above the shop and blacked out all the windows to create a look for Biba in the first store. The blacked out windows didn’t allow the store’s interior to receive any sunlight which was vital for the Biba’s art nouveau atmosphere.

The Biba logo was reconstructed in various ways to be appropriate for all the different products. Every product carried the Biba logo on it. The labels showing size, colour and price all resembled a similar style. Biba was the first to set a standard for brand marketing and the first high street store to create a look for itself. Everything: from clothes to food, to wallpaper, carried the logo, creating an immediately recognisable identity from any piece sold at the store.

3. The 5 m’s of organisation – (a) Management (b) Mission (c) Money (d) Manpower (e) Machineries.

4. Business Development: There should be adequate attention for business development anchored on a Strategic Plan. The roles of the employees should be evaluated and stated. Conflict resolution methods and how the company should be wound up should be in the strategic plan.


Biba became a success story as a result of the expertise of its founders and the hardwork of the workers. The founders in their development of Biba did not realise the importance of Strategic Plans and did not have any in place. The strategic plan sataes the job descriptions of all employees and how the company would be run. There suppose to be a clause in the deedof agreement between the partners stipulating the type of partners that can manage the company.

While some fashion outlets like John Lewis, George and Top Shop established and are still existing till today, Biba became extinct because of failure of British Land organisation to appreciate the expertise of Babara Hulanicki. She was the custodian of the designs and the person on which the whole idea lied. The company should have evolved a mission statement stating the future aspirations of the organisation.

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Filed under Case Study, Fashion, Fashion Marketing, Marketing

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