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In a year in which flights were grounded, hotel bookings were cancelled and suitcases gathered dust, Bennett Winch was an unlikely success story. The British accessories brand, which specialises in robust-looking luxury luggage, increased sales by 50 per cent in 2020, while championing UK manufacturing and sending products to more than 110 countries in the process. The next six months look set to be equally successful, with online sales up by more than 100 per cent at the end of Q1, and a budding network of 40 retailers. So what did they do right?
When Robin Bennett and Robin Winch founded the brand in 2014, they wanted “a bag that looked great, could be used for different occasions, and appealed to those who like well-crafted, understated products”, says Bennett. Their first style was The Weekender, a large yet lightweight carryall made from canvas and military-grade cotton webbing that remains the brand’s bestseller. Today, they have eight bag styles, a leather watch roll and a range of wallets, all of which embody their goal of creating minimalist versions of popular styles.
But despite the focus being on travel, the bags aren’t reserved for the jet-set. Bennett Winch stands for living a portable lifestyle, whether that’s hauling your gym kit around or taking care of a designer suit. “Once you identify the pain points of an object, you can design them out and accommodate more intuitive interactions,” says design director Rupert Shreeve. The brand’s most recent launch, The Cargo Range, includes tall, waterproof carryalls designed to accommodate, among other things, baby gear; the first three runs sold out in a matter of weeks (still available on pre-order at the time of going to press).
What really seems to have cultivated Bennett Winch’s loyal following, however, is the rigorous testing of each product before launch. Prior to the pandemic, samples would be personally tested by the team with six months’ worth of commutes, business trips and holidays. Any issues would then be ironed out before going to market. “If we’ve really put it through its paces, we know it’ll go the distance,” says Winch. “And on the rare occasion that it doesn’t, we’ll pick it up from anywhere in the world, fix it and send it back within two weeks.” Better yet, they’ll also cover the costs.
“They just want the bag to look good and work really well too,” says Permanent Style founder Simon Crompton, who helped to develop Bennett Winch’s Suit Carrier Holdall (from £650), an innovative design that sees the suit compartment wrap around the outside of a duffel. The style features in No Time to Die, the forthcoming instalment of the James Bond series, as a prop to store the spy’s tuxedo. Q, the franchise’s master of special equipment, would surely approve of the product’s design, which allows a jacket and pair of trousers to be stored without a crease in sight.
“There is keen interest for brands like Bennett Winch, with focus upon their back-story, eye for functional details and craftsmanship,” says David Morris, buying manager at Mr Porter, which has stocked Bennett Winch since 2018. “If a brand gets the right blend of design, comfort and practicality, they create loyal and happy customers with longevity. This is what we have seen with Bennett Winch.”
The obvious move now is to bring Bennett Winch’s practical approach to categories beyond bags, wallets, watch rolls and holdalls. And plans are afoot for more products, says Bennett, but he remains tight-lipped on what that expansion might entail. More than anything, the Bennett Winch boys are looking forward to seeing their products “in the wild” again – be that on the road or up in the skies.
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