Cath Kidston, feminism and femininity
The women’s section of the Guardian has recently been debating the value of rebranding feminism to make it more appealing and relevant for today. Journalist Laura Marcus noted that an important political movement would be diminished by being “packaged and sold by marketing departments” (tell that to Obama). She continued “the only thing that should be branded is cattle – or people who persist with this ridiculous, annoying way of reducing everything to consumer choice”. It’s a good point, but as a candidate for becoming a brand-ee, I would humbly venture that coverage of Cath Kidston’s business results has been a little sexist…
Kidston has seen profits increase from £2.9m to £4.6m in the year to March, with sales increasing from last year’s £19.2m to £31.3m. All this against a downward trend in the homeware retail sector. And she is, as they say, big in Japan. The success has been attributed to consumers’ nostalgic yearning for home and hearth in the recession, but I’m not sure that’s quite it – I think it’s the fundamentally cheerful aesthetic of her designs which has strong appeal in these dismal days, and the opportunity to buy into a lifestyle brand which is “pretty” rather than slick and cold.
Whether one personally likes her work or not, there is a real talent to creating such a strong and recognisable signature look, whatever the pattern or product in question. But her work is regularly and patronisingly dismissed as “pinnie porn”. I recall Sir Terence Conran and his like being accorded a little more respect for their success.
There are probably a few women who dislike Kidston’s design aesthetic for selling a particular brand of stereotypical femininity, but I’d imagine they would also credit her for her self-made success and for beating the downturn when many others have failed. Gender politics aside, I would guess Kidston’s success brings her brand two challenges: how to rise above the inevitable cheap copy-cats, and how to maintain a premium cachet as her products gain ever more mainstream momentum. Either way, her results can only be cheering.