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Growing a retail empire with an A-lister following

Entrepreneurs 14-07-2017

Retail giants Nick and Jesse Bassi have taken the luxury childrenswear market by storm with a little help from their very high-profile clientele.

It’s not every day you meet someone who is on first name terms with the most famous family in the world. No, not the royal family, but the Kardashians, who between them, thanks to their hugely successful show Keeping up with the Kardashians and subsequent spin-off careers, have amassed over 400 million followers on Instagram.

Arguably, they are the most influential family in the world. Everything they do and outfit they wear is scrutinised the world over. No amount of advertising spend can match the kind of publicity that comes when a Kardashian endorses your product, so for a pair of brothers from Ilford having such influential clientele has been a key factor for their global growth.

Meet Nick and Jess Bassi, owners of Childsplay Clothing. What started as an unassuming children’s clothes shop in Ilford, Essex, has evolved into one of the largest global online retailers, servicing not just the Kardashians, but a who’s who of famous names from around the world, including Beyoncé, DJ Khaled, Amir Khan, Huda Kattan, The Game, Amber Rose, Lionel Messi, amongst many others.

The Kardashian relationship came about when Rob Kardashian’s girlfriend, Blac Chyna, announced she was pregnant on their E! reality show. Since then, they have been on a wild shopping spree, only wanting the finest designer brands for their new arrival. Childsplay Clothing offered them just that!

After Chyna saw their impressive flagship store she asked Nick and Jesse if they’d design their baby Dream’s nursery. Working closely with the producers and the Kardashian family, Childsplay Clothing drafted mood boards and meticulously crafted the look and feel of the nursery. Nick and his team then flew over to LA to oversee its installation.

A gold-star service

Going above and beyond to assist high profile customers is exactly what Childsplay Clothing is all about. The flagship store is not your average clothes shop, it’s about selling a lifestyle. Customers are given the full VIP treatment, with a personal shopper to help navigate them round the store.

You can also book an appointment to visit the exclusive Gold Room. Within the privacy of this magnificent room you can enjoy complimentary champagne and canapés, while a giant screen and state-of-the-art Devialet sound system provide the entertainment. The leather and gold wall murals, spacious Fendi sofa and art nouveau furniture add to the indulgence and exclusivity of the experience. It offers everything you and your little ones need to relax and enjoy, while your own personal stylist curates your children’s wardrobe.

Wandering through the recently refurbished flagship store, you see all the luxury clothing brands, but in miniature form. There’s Gucci, Burberry, Moncler, Versace… to name but a few. Luxury literally exudes out of every pore of the store. From the super-smart floor staff dressed head to toe in black and the subtle scents from Roja which envelop you as you navigate the different departments, to the silver embossed loo roll in the customer washroom, every care has been taken to ensure the customer experience is pure luxury and truly original.

“I believe that attention to detail is everything,” says Nick, 46, CEO of Childsplay Clothing and a man who has an impeccable eye for interiors. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist but I think that’s a good thing. If we’re going to be selling luxury then everything in the store should be of the finest quality.”

Where it all began

It’s a far cry from the clothes shop that the brothers originally set up back in 1986. “We started as a small boutique with two employees. Our parents had set up a clothing factory back in the 1970s, so we’d grown up learning how clothes were made and how to distinguish quality,” explains Jesse, the younger brother, aged 43, and chief operating officer of the company. “Working for our parents, alongside our sister Sab, from a young age gave us a strong work ethic and discipline.”

To begin with, setting up Childsplay Clothing was a lot of hard work. The luxury market is notoriously fickle and the brothers had to press hard for designers to allow them to stock their items. “Designers are very particular from which channels they distribute their brands. When we started, we could not carry any key luxury labels until we had a proven and respected track record,” explains Nick. “It took several years to gain their confidence and get them to even consider us.”

The hard work paid off and today the business employs over 100 staff that ship to over 160 countries around the world. Despite rapid expansion, Nick and Jesse aren’t resting on their laurels. They’re constantly on the lookout for the next big thing and have assembled a team of bright young things, to help the brand evolve and stay ahead of the game.

Two of the younger management team are Nick’s son, Harvey, 20, and the brothers’ nephew, Ricky, 27. When you meet them what strikes is their maturity and undeniable passion for the business. These aren’t kids who have been handed a career on a silver plate, they completely share Nick and Jesse’s vision and are willing to put in the man hours to ensure the company continues to grow.

It’s this focus on family values that is key to its success. Yes, the core team may work long hours, sometimes clocking 18-hour days during busy periods, but they make sure there’s enough time each day to hit the gym together and always sit down to lunch as a family. “Family is the most important thing,” says Jesse. “The business wouldn’t be where it is today if we didn’t have the love and support of each other. Yes, we have our differences from time to time but at the end of the day we’re family and nothing can break that bond.”

Building a public profile

This strong family connection was evident when the brothers decided to let a production company into the business in 2014 to film the series Minors in Designers for ITV. “The response was incredible,” says Jesse. “During the debut episode, our website crashed under the weight of additional traffic. We had queues outside the store for weeks afterwards. It was a crazy time but it really helped to raise the company’s profile.”

The publicity from the show and increase in sales led to a new creative direction for the brand, which is now a bit less bling and a lot more timeless luxury. This is evident in the brand’s new exquisite packaging and the relaunch of their website.

“We always take pride in our customer service, packaging and presentation of our brand. These key elements apply to both e-commerce and our flagship store,” explains Nick. “Some might not think that packaging and presentation is important but it’s everything. It creates the brand experience. When you order an item online it might be your only touchpoint with us, so it needs to exude our brand values of quality, style and luxury – that includes the box, the tissue paper, the signature scent and the hand-written note that goes with it.”

What the future holds

Now that the brothers have comfortably dominated the children’s luxury clothing market, their eyes are on expansion. “We’ve grown our global reach via improved logistics, marketing and the development of dedicated regional websites. We are also in the early stages of establishing localised offices and warehouses in key territories,” says Nick.

Closer to home, the time has come for Nick and Jesse to move their warehouse operation from its central Ilford location to bigger, custom-built premises. “We have just signed a deal that will see work commence on our new eco-friendly, state-of-the-art headquarters and warehouse.” explains Jesse.

The 100,000 sq ft space will boast a huge warehouse, contemporary offices, photographic studios, purpose-built leisure facilities, including a gym, games room and on-site chefs. “It’s part of future-proofing the business and integral to our planned expansion,”

It’s this confidence and unwavering vision that has got the brothers where they are today. From a small shop in Ilford to a global brand, there really is no stopping them, as Nick sums it up: “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit, when there are footprints on the moon!”

Photographs by Kam Parmer

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