British clothing company makes Martha's Vineyard home base for summer
Seasonal business and visitors from abroad are common in the summer on Martha's Vineyard, and for six weeks this summer, British lifestyle brand and clothing company Jack Wills will be both. The company has enlisted five Brits, called "seasonnaires," to work as brand ambassadors to the Island, promoting Jack Wills clothing and connecting with and learning about the lifestyles of young Americans.
Marketing manager Freddie Wyatt said the main reason the Jack Wills crew chose the Vineyard as its headquarters is because the Island is a summer destination for many college kids, Jack Wills's key demographic. "We really felt that our target market hangs around here," he said. "There are lots of 16- to 25-year olds who are affluent, and it's a hot spot of a lot of college networks. We're a niche brand, and we aim at the top end of the market in terms of college kids, so Martha's Vineyard was an obvious choice."
Jack Wills was founded in 1998 in a small fishing village in Salcombe, Devon, on the south coast of England. The company was named in honor of the founder and managing director's grandfather, who is a resident of the town.
"Salcombe is a summer destination in England," Mr. Wyatt said. "I suppose that it's quite similar to Martha's Vineyard. We are also a tight-knit community, and we have the waterfront, and the beach, so it's quite a cool place to be."
According to Mr. Wyatt, Jack Wills is an established, high-end brand amongst British university students, and the company now has 35 stores across the United Kingdom. He said that while the company's management has no plans to open an American outpost as of yet, the purpose of this promotional tour is to spread awareness about the company and to assess whether a physical presence in the States would benefit future operations.
Seasonnaires work to increase familiarity of the company among young people, and to build a personal relationship with potential future buyers. In the past, Jack Wills has employed winter seasonnaires at various ski resorts throughout Europe and North America, but this is their first year using this promotional technique in the summer months.
"The Jack Wills seasonnaires are about being and leading the most aspirational lifestyle," Mr. Wyatt explained. "They go out to cool places in the world and hang out with people in socially tight networks. We have brand ambassadors living in these resort destinations, and they blog for us about their experiences and host parties."
In the U.K., Jack Wills has held numerous parties, called silent discos, where party-goers wear wireless headsets, and tune into one of two radio frequencies that are DJ-ed by a seasonnaire. The Jack Wills crew has hosted two silent discos so far this summer, and hopes to host a future silent disco on the beach.
Seasonnaire George Yandell, 26, is a London-based fashion photographer who has been involved with Jack Wills since the company's inception more than ten years ago. This is his first time as a brand ambassador, and he said he has been amazed by the Vineyard's sense of hospitality, and thrilled that seasonnaires have been so well received by Islanders and businesses alike.
"Everyone's been so, so welcoming and interested," Mr. Yandell said. "We definitely knew we were treading on other peoples' turf, and we didn't want to push anyone out of any business. But, that doesn't seem to be the case at all. It seems to be that we can provide people with something, and in the meantime, create more business for everyone else."
Although the Vineyard is the established headquarters for their promotional tour, the seasonnaires will also travel to Nantucket and the Hamptons to spread the Jack Wills word. Of the company's first summer tour, Mr. Wyatt said, "For the first phase, we've decided that we should start off on the east coast and see how it goes. It's a learning curve for us."
Seasonnaires can often be spotted cruising Island beaches or throwing parties in Island bars, and doling out promotional Jack Wills tee-shirts and party pants (underwear with the Jack Wills name printed on the band) in bright pink and neon yellow. Mr. Wyatt said that many young people have taken notice of the marketing initiative, and have started to recognize the seasonnaires, and Jack Wills clothing as a result.
One such observer is 19-year old Kate Bancroft, a seasonal Edgartown resident who works at Espresso Love. She has noticed more and more people coming into the eatery sporting Jack Wills clothing, and she said she thinks their marketing strategy will be successful because the seasonnaires provide a memorable message.
"The buzz is definitely out there," Ms. Bancroft said. "Attractive English kids giving out free stuff at South Beach are going to get noticed, but the clothes are also cool and very Vineyard appropriate."