5 Minutes With Gabrielle Sims, Head of Licensing, Fat Face

The relationship between retail and licensing is not just about stocking the latest franchise or licensed property. More and more retailers are now seeing the benefits of licensing themselves as a brand. Fat Face is one such retailer, recently hiring Gabrielle Sims as its new Head of Licensing. She speaks to Retail Gazette for this week's '5 Minutes With' profile.

Various sources and research has indicated that retail sales are falling. But according to the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association, global sales of licensed products in 2016 was valued at $262.9 billion (£204 billion), a 4.4 per cent increase. Why do you think that is?

Rightly or wrongly, we live in a world where consumers are very image conscious and brand savvy. Consumers young and old will tend to buy into a brand that they trust and that says something to and about them; that represents values and/or a lifestyle that they share.

Brand is therefore king. Retailers who pride themselves as a brand in their own right in my opinion are the ones that will succeed long term. They will be able to position themselves with a genuine point of difference and build a rock-solid relationship with their consumers.

Should retailers consider starting or growing their licensing programme?

Not all retailers can – or should – be brands. Those who have a strong story and brand DNA – yes, absolutely.

Why? Because licensing – or brand extension as I prefer to call it – allows you to move naturally into new product categories, and to reach and engage with new audiences; and in turn, open new channels and revenue streams.

Great examples of successful retail brand extension, in my opinion, includes Leon and its range of cookware to help make natural healthy food quickly. The collection is also made from bamboo, which is biodegradable, and sustainable – a great example of licensing a brand correctly in line with its DNA and its consumer‘s values and aspirations.

Fat Face has always been a brand, even in its early days, when it was so different to where we are today. This story and colourful history makes for a great brand – we are not just about bricks and mortar, we are truly a British lifestyle brand.

We also try to understand and empathise with our consumers and we like to give back to them whenever we can through, for example, the Fat Face Foundation and our organic initiatives. We care about our consumers and our consumer continues to be faithful to our brand. That is key.

Describe your role and responsibilities as Head of Licensing at Fat Face.

Within Fat Face I manage all things licensing. My task will be to extend Fat Face into new meaningful categories and new channels. I have already put in place a new and exciting strategy and already, the uptake and response from potential partners has been fantastic.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Fat Face.

I‘ve worked in licensing a long time across many areas. I’ve had the privilege of working for some of the best agencies and brands including fashion brands, sports brands, corporate, entertainment and character.

I approached Fat Face when I was working at IMG on Volkswagen because I thought there were obvious synergies between the two brands, particularly in relation to the way Fat Face started nearly 30 years ago. Because of this partnership, and more so Fat Face‘s commitment to really get behind the Volkswagen brand in a meaningful way, we won a Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Award this year.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

This is my first role in-house and I love it. Working in-house gives you more longevity. It allows you to really understand a brand inside and out. It allows you to have access to all elements. It gives movement and flexibility. It also allows you to have a platform to take licensed products straight into.

It‘s a brilliant time to be at Fat Face because it‘s our 30th anniversary next year and also there‘s a general swing towards people wanting to adopt a healthy, active, outdoors lifestyle and that‘s exactly what we stands for.


How has your previous experience aided your current job?

My experience has allowed me to understand how to build and license brands in the right way. I understand how brands tend to tick and work. I have also worked across all sides of the business, design, product, manufacturing and licensing. My creative and graphic design background has really helped me and my vision for brand development. This is core.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Getting people to understand who Fat Face is – we have changed a lot over the years. We are a very different brand to what we were 15 years ago.

From a licensing viewpoint, it‘s a crowded and challenging market out there. More and more brands are entering into the licensing space and that space is at a premium. The challenge now comes with not enough retailers and space at the mid-to-high end positioning that most brands want. This is where online will be something to watch and a reason why online is growing – more diversity and access to a broader offering of brands for our brand loving consumers.

And the most rewarding?

Seeing product on shelf. Developing it from start to finish – being involved in the whole process is amazing. Being in-house and having access to all the creative/design/marketing and buyer resources is incredible because it allows for closer collaboration with our partners and it‘s really important in licensing that you can develop strong relationships with your partners. They are truly an extension of you.

Can you talk about any other projects that you‘re working on at the moment?

My main focus will be licensing into core categories that have a natural synergy with our brand and consumers. We are looking at taking the brand into what I call three main pillars – home, activities and lifestyle. It‘s about walking before we run. The response so far has been fantastic.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Know your brand and consumer inside out. This is key. Newness and evolving with the times is also a core element to success.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Consumer confidence and expectation. Maintaining price points/margin with the exchange rate as it is.

Finally, can you tell us what you‘ll be doing at Brand Licensing Europe in October?

Yes, I am taking part in a panel on the second day chaired by Richard Pink called “The versatility of a brand licensing programme”. It‘s a good way to get your head around the world of licensing and it’s free to attend.

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