CEO Letter | Happy New Year! (And a review of Walpole’s 2017)

I’ve always loved New Year, not so much for the parties (though who doesn’t love a party) – but for the opportunity to analyse the 12 months gone by, to think about what has been achieved, what you’d like to do more of, what you didn’t get done, and setting goals for doing even better in the coming year.

When I look back on Walpole’s 2017, I’m quietly proud of all we’ve done to promote, protect and develop British luxury over the last 12 months. I’ll share more of what we have in store for 2018 next week, but in the meantime, I thought it might be worthwhile recapping some of the things Walpole did on your behalf, and on what we achieved.

Brexit, ECCIA & Europe
Brexit is, and will continue to be, a burning platform for business. The business of luxury is essentially a European phenomenon, and it was clear from Walpole’s Brexit White Paper, published last February, that British luxury felt the impact of the vote very keenly, particularly on free movement of people, given that between 30-60% of those working in the sector are EU nationals. Walpole made its submission to the Migration commission in October and our work to protect and grow jobs and skills will continue to be a priority.

When it comes to Europe, Walpole has a substantial advantage. As a founder member of the European Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance, in which the luxury associations across Europe work together to lobby the EU on important legislation affecting high end and luxury businesses, we will continue to have a voice in Europe. I have found the continued support of Altagamma, Meisterkreis, Circulo Fortuny and Comite Colbert tremendously encouraging and look forward to our joint initiatives as we move Brexit from divorce bill to future trading relationships.

In other European news, December saw the final ruling on selective distribution, on which we’d campaigned hard. I’m delighted that the rights of luxury businesses are secured for the foreseeable future on this issue.

Of course, one of the achievements of ECCIA has been to get the EU to recognise that the high end and luxury sector has its own unique business model, with all the protections and privileges that implies: we don’t have that in the same way within the UK government so that’s a focus for 2018 and beyond.

Overseas Trade and Export
Luxury is an export-focused business – 78% of what we produce is destined for export and we contribute 8% of total UK exports, notably to markets where the UK is not traditionally strong – US, China and the Middle East. Walpole’s inaugural trade mission to the US in October, for which we secured government backing, was a huge success. The clear message was that the US, a market worth more than £100 billion, was very much an open door, and it makes sense to make that Walpole’s priority market into 2018 and beyond. The second British Luxury trade mission to the US will take place in October 2018.

I was appointed Chair of the consumer goods group for the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Trade and Investment. Ten member brands have joined me on this group to work closely with government on trade issues affecting our sector – as the Brexit negotiations move on this spearhead into Westminster will help amplify our voice.

What else did we achieve in 2017?
• Walpole’s content programme: we relaunched our website and rebooted our daily newsletter, creating an opportunity to tell the stories of Walpole members from the leaders to the makers. We’ve gone from 800 newsletter subscribers to a total digital reach of 20,000.
• Ten years of Brands of Tomorrow: our flagship incubator programme, unique in luxury, has nurtured 85 brands since its inception in 2007. We celebrated its landmark birthday with ‘Walpole 100 – Secrets of the Luxury Entrepreneur’, a multi-channel media campaign with press in Telegraph Luxury and Vogue, amongst others, resulting in a PR value of £223,750; curated digital and social content; and print advertising in The Economist, Harper’s Bazaar, Times Luxx and more. Celebrations culminated in an event at Mishcon De Reya – Brands of Tomorrow’s programme partner – with the launch of a WGSN research piece, ‘Future-Proofing your Brand’; a thought-provoking panel discussion; and a brilliant party (I mentioned how I love a party).
• Walpole’s Women in luxury network launched last year and fast became an incredibly popular convening event, with the quarterly salons and annual lunch becoming hot tickets. Meribeth Parker was appointed programme chair at the end of last year and in 2018 will take things to the next level.
• Walpole’s British Luxury Awards presented by Catherine Zeta-Jones OBE. We discovered Catherine’s a serious petrol head, and loves her Bentley and her Range Rover. We couldn’t have had a more magnificent ambassador for British luxury. The Awards achieved 37 pieces of press coverage in target media, including the Evening Standard, Telegraph Luxury and ITV London, with the reach exceeding 79 million worldwide.
• Events and Experiences continue to be a standout part of the Walpole work – we welcomed 1,475 members to 28 events in 2017. My event highlights include Tristram Hunt on culture, craft and creativity at our CEO and Creative Director’s dinner; Justine Picardie talking so movingly about sisterhood at the annual Women in Luxury lunch; Meet the Editor events with Jeremy Langmead (best luxury under a tenner? “Coffee and a croissant sitting outside a Parisian café”), Anne-Marie Curtis of ELLE (from intern to Editor-in-Chief) and Lorraine Candy on relaunching Sunday Times Style; our evening at the Tower of London with Royal Mint; cheering on Oxford at the Boat Race with Chapel Down; borrowing amazing hats from Vivien Sheriff and Nerida Fraiman for Goodwood and Royal Ascot; and ending a wonderful first year as Walpole’s CEO not only being named one of Harper’s Bazaar’s 150 Visionary Women, but with the huge honour of reading a lesson in the Chapel Royal, St James’ Palace, at the Walpole & Royal Warrant Holder’s carol service.

Thank you, Walpole members, for making 2017 so special – here’s to 2018. Happy New Year!

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole