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How the royal merchandise wars have ramped up

Spreadshirt ceo, Philip Rooke gives his view on how Duchess Inc can co-exist with Prince Charles’ Highgrove and Duchy brands.

Royal brands are becoming like busses; you wait years for one and then two come along at once. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, is launching her own lifestyle brand. But rather than challenge Harry and Meghan, the Duchess Inc brands look set to inhabit the space occupied by the heir to the throne’s more established brands.

Duchess Inc has already mapped out four brands covering premium to QVC. The premium label Ginger & Moss will sell textiles, homeware and wallpaper. The more accessible Duchess Collection will be a range of chinaware, tea, preserves, jewellery, candles and fragrances. Which seems very like the Highgrove offering. Fergie’s Farm will offer a range of organic convenience foods. Duchy Originals anyone? And lastly, which is less likely to trouble the Prince, there are plans for a jewellery collection to be sold via the home-shopping channel, QVC.

So, the question is, can Duchess Inc and Prince Charles’ Highgrove and Duchy brands co-exist?

As licensors know, a successful brand depends on understanding where you sit in the market and having something relevant to say. The brands associated with Prince Charles have built on this over 30 years. Duchess Inc will need to find a corner of the market that does not impinge upon these proven brands.

Prince Charles established his credentials by being a pioneer of organic farming. Shortly after acquiring Highgrove in 1980, he converted the Duchy Home Farm into a completely organic farming system. He was already known for his, then unfashionable, focus on organic produce and was even rumoured to talk to his plants!

In 1990 he built upon this with the creation of Duchy Originals to sell organic food products. This high-end label has become a leading organic and natural food brand. In 2010 the brand went into partnership with the similarly grand supermarket, Waitrose. Ten years later, Duchy Originals still uses oats from Highgrove in its oat biscuits. In the three decades since the creation of Duchy Originals, Prince Charles’s brands have become a byword for sustainable farming and organic food.

The Highgrove brand offering includes chinaware, tea, preserves, jewellery, candles and fragrances.
The Highgrove brand offering includes chinaware, tea, preserves, jewellery, candles and fragrances.

If Duchess Inc wants to enter this space, the various brands will need to be very clear about how they differentiate from the recognised royal labels. They will need something relevant to say.

So how could the Duchess Inc brands distinguish themselves? The Highgrove brands build on their Britishness. Clothing and homeware are inspired by the gardens at Highgrove and the Prince of Wales’s check. The brands have a limited range, hinting at exclusivity.

In contrast to the British, slightly chintzy approach of the Prince Charles brands, Duchess Inc could offer a more modern, international brand image. Ginger & Moss textiles could offer buyers polish and gloss. Duchess Collection chinaware could look more at home in a jet set mansion than a country house. The candles and fragrances could exude confidence, the tea and preserves speak to a contemporary elegance.

The real issue seems to lie with Fergie’s Farm, which encroaches on Duchy Originals now owned by Waitrose & Partners. Organic convenience food is a highly lucrative sector. What will Fergie’s Farm offer that Waitrose doesn’t? Is Fergie targeting the busy mum, the twenty-something in a hurry, or the can’t-be-bothered-tonight glamorous widow? Waitrose & Partners was the first British supermarket to sell organic food in 1983, so it too has established its organic credentials. Will one of the UK’s most prestigious supermarkets accept this challenger, or perhaps it will go the other route and choose to stock it?

To be successful, the Duchess of York will need to cultivate her lifestyle credentials. Unlike Prince Charles she doesn’t have the experience in organic food and farming. So she will need to support her new brands with a lifestyle that reflects them.

And then we wait for the next royal brand; don’t buses always come in threes? Let’s hope it’s not another one focusing on high-end tea and trinkets.

Philip Rooke is the ceo of Spreadshirt, an ecommerce company which offers print on demand for clothing and accessories. Find out more by clicking here.

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