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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Pringle chief builds Bond Street castle
Pringle's Bond Street store opens in September 2002
Ms Winser wants to open a castle in Bond Street

As part of a weekly series on women in business, BBC News Online talks to the boss of Scottish knitwear maker Pringle about its transformation from golf jumper manufacturer to hot fashion designer.
Meet Kim Winser, a woman whose visions of the future are both entertaining and impressive - and, obviously, totally unrealistic.

Kim Winser shows off Pringle's children's clothes
Ms Winser has taken Pringle beyond golf
For surely her ambition to build a Scottish castle in London's Bond Street is bound to fail?

And what about her efforts to convince rock star Robbie Williams, footballer David Beckham and actress Julia Roberts to wear the sort of woolly jumpers that even golfers have rejected as passť?

Laughable!

Well, not quite.

Just two-and-a-half years into her job as chief executive of the Scottish knitwear maker Pringle, and the last laugh is on Ms Winser.

Shake-up

In 2000, the Hong Kong-based clothing magnate Kenneth Fang approached Ms Winser during a holiday in Edinburgh with an interesting proposal.

A naked Pringle model in pearls
"Lady in her pearls waiting for her twin set"
"He said to me: 'Would you run Pringle if I bought it?'" explains Ms Winser, who at the time was an executive with the UK retailer Marks & Spencer.

An opportunity was grasped. Pringle was acquired from the Scottish textile group Dawson International and withdrawn from the stock market.

And Ms Winser got to work.

Since then she has spent her time headhunting top designers to reinvent the company's rather stodgy image with new fashion ranges.

She has even launched a youth-oriented advertising campaign - including a poster of a naked lady who Ms Winser describes as "a lady in her pearls waiting for her twin set".

Pringle's path to success
Developing and launching a full lifestyle collection, including shirts, bags, ties and children's clothing
Expanding internationally in several markets via agents
Opening dedicated Pringle stores in London, Tokyo and possibly in other fashion cities in Europe and the US
All the while, Ms Winser insists she has been chipping away at the company's millions of pounds of losses - a claim impossible to confirm since Pringle, as a private company, is not obliged to publish any details about its finances.

"We have repositioned the business, we have employed an extra 100 people since we bought the business in Scotland and London, and we have brought in new design offices," Ms Winser says.

She vows to break even in three years.

Dressing the stars

The changes seem to have worked.

Ms Winser says sales have risen by up to 80% each season, and the company plans to make its first ever appearance at the London Fashion Week on 15 September.

David Beckham wearing a Pringle sweater
One of Pringle's "youth icons" in an itchy top
Dedicated followers of fashion have been taken in by Ms Winser's radical design changes - many a superstar has been photographed during recent months wearing the Pringle range.

The company's marketing material is littered with guest appearances from leading DJs, several rock stars, film directors.

And - in an echo of the 1980s when Pringle was widely worn by football hooligans - footballers.

"We do have a very wide celebrity list of people wearing Pringle," Ms Winser says.

"That has been primarily through purchase," she says, insisting that the firm does not pay these people to wear its clothes.

Scottish heritage

The next step for Ms Winser comes later this month when she flings open the doors of the company's first dedicated retail outlet in the UK - except for its shop at Heathrow.

Pringle stores in the UK
Heathrow
Bond Street
(opens in Sept)
Sloane Street
(opens spring 03)
Pringle's new Bond Street flagship store, which will have a "castle-like" image, is an attempt to take advantage of the company's Scottish heritage.

"There is a love of vintage, there is a love of heritage, there is a love of really true traditional quality," Ms Winser raves.

Which, if correct, is clearly a good trend for Pringle which was founded as an underwear business in 1815 before achieving fame for taking the Argyle pattern from socks to sweaters.

"When we open in Bond Street, I believe we will be the oldest brand there," Ms Winser says.

Woman of the moment

Ms Winser's restructuring of Pringle has earned her a fierce reputation as a hard-nosed businesswoman.

Ms Winser chats to Pringle's archivist
Ms Winser likes to talk to all Pringle's people
One of the first things she did after taking over was to ditch many of Pringle's long-standing licensing agreements with factories around the world and cancel sales to mid-market retailers.

But although Ms Winser acknowledges that she can be quite "firm if things are not moving at the right pace or in the right direction", she is keen to remain "approachable".

"I do like to talk to all the different people who work in the company," Ms Winser explains.

"I don't like layers, I don't like people having to report, I don't like big reporting structures."

Ordinary?

And if any of the 300 people she employs feel intimidated by her, she insists it must be "because of the title".

Advertising material showing youth icons dressed in Pringle clothes
Pringle's brochures are littered with stars
"And then, once people know you, they'll say: 'You're just like anybody else, really'."

Which, in many ways, she is.

As a working mother, Ms Winser's life is marked by everyday struggles, such as getting home in time to give her son a bath.

"I have strong limitations [on how much time I spend working] because I have a four-year-old son," Ms Winser says.

"I don't think it's hurt the business."

Instead, her managers get more chances to represent Pringle at functions, which should be good both for their individual careers and for the firm, she explains.

And although she still maintains long working hours, Ms Winser insists that a healthy private life is important to revitalise people who work in a creative industry.

"I love having people to my home, I love cooking, barbequing or just having people call around for a drink."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Pringle's Kim Winser
"David Beckham bought Pringle sweaters"
Pringle's Kim Winser
"We will be the oldest brand in Bond Street"
Pringle's Kim Winser
"We have dramatically reduced Pringle's losses"

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Scotland
16 Sep 99 | Scotland
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