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Me+Em Has Big Plans for New York, and the U.S. Market



This story was updated on Feb. 27 at 5:00 a.m. EST.

LONDON — If ever a brand took the modern, overworked, and frequently exhausted, woman to heart it’s Me+Em

The British contemporary label, which just opened its first international location at 980 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, aims to dress women from day to night with a few multitasking pieces. 

Belts are double-sided; trousers have two sets of loops, and sweaters have detachable necklines. The sleeves on some of the blouses have a hidden elastic at the back “so you can push them out of the way when you’re doing the washing-up,” founder Clare Hornby said in an interview.

Hornby may not have a background in fashion, but she knows what it’s like to dash from the office to her kids’ hockey match and then onto a drinks event and still look pulled-together. Early in her career she worked for Harrods, in the marketing department, and has held various jobs in advertising, data and customer insight.

That experience led her to launch Me+Em in 2009 as an online direct-to-consumer business with the aim of making “beautiful, quality” clothing at contemporary price points. Hornby had a lifestyle vision from the start and wanted Me+Em to become a “one-stop shop” for busy women.

The new Me+Em store on Madison Avenue.

Me+Em’s motto is “flattering, functional, forever clothes for modern women.” Hornby puts it another way: She describes the brand’s approach as “fashion Lego,” meaning that pieces should be able to multitask, layer and work together season after season.

She wants to dress women for work, travel and leisure. Since the pandemic, and the boom in video conferencing, Hornby has also focused on “above the desk,” small screen dressing.

Data, and her own instincts, drive Hornby’s decisions on everything from design to retail. She decided to open the three New York stores this year because she could see the online orders clustering in, and around, Manhattan.

The brand does business across the U.S., from Boston and Chicago to Houston and Los Angeles. Unlike many British entrepreneurs and retailers, Hornby sees the U.S. as “many different markets,” and she is proceeding with caution with regard to store openings.

For decades, British retailers have planted their flags in the U.S. without understanding just how large and diverse the market is — and it often ends in tears. By contrast, Hornby is taking it one step at a time.

In fiscal 2023, Me+Em’s U.S. sales doubled year-on-year, and by the end of January, the brand’s U.S. customer base had grown 91 percent compared with 2022. 

Inside the new Me+Em store on Madison Avenue.

In fiscal 2023 (which ended in January 2024) sales are expected to be in excess of 115 million pounds, more than 40 percent higher than the previous year. In fiscal 2022, sales were 82.1 million pounds, while EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 16 million pounds.

Me+Em has eight U.K. stores and concessions in Harrods, Selfridges London and Selfridges Manchester.

It is backed by Highland Europe, which invested in April 2022; Venrex, and Sir Charles Dunstone, the founder of Talk Talk telecommunications group.

Hornby said she’s pursuing the same retail strategy in the U.S. as in the U.K., opening stores where there is a “strong local community and visitors, too.”

The Madison Avenue store, which spans 1,900 square feet, opened softly a few days ago, with bigger launch events planned for the spring. Two further stores, at 111 Mercer Street in SoHo, and on 7 Newtown Lane in East Hampton, are set to open in the late spring.

The Madison Avenue store is located near Vince and Veronica Beard, and near the Carlyle Hotel. Hornby visited the location multiple times, at different hours of the day, to watch the crowds on the street and ensure that she’d picked the right place.

Me+Em worked with the New York-based architectural agency Rigos Mills and local British creatives to create a fusion of British craft and American design across all three stores.

At the Chelsea Flower Show picnic, Kate brought back a two-tone pink ME + EM dress, accessorizing with Castañer wedges and Catherine Zoraida earrings.

At the Chelsea Flower Show picnic last year, Kate Middleton wore a two-tone pink Me+Em dress, accessorizing with Castañer wedges and Catherine Zoraida earrings.

WireImage/Courtesy of Getty Images

On Madison Avenue, an English burr oak and brass entrance table was designed by Edward John Milton Studio while ceramicist Tina Vaia created bespoke works aimed at mirroring the brand’s design ethos of texture clashing, and hi-low styling.

Textiles include a mustard fine corduroy used to reupholster a 1970s sofa and Java cotton velvet fitting room curtains from interior designer Rose Uniacke’s collection.

The store’s color palette features textured plaster in a warm taupe with pops of the brand’s signature pink. Dogs are welcome at all Me+Em stores, and, on Madison, they’ll drink from ceramic water dishes and rest on dog beds from the London-based shop Mungo and Maud.

Based on the data, Hornby said she’s expecting U.S. customers to be shopping much like their U.K. and Australian counterparts.

“They’re buying trousers, separates and everything around workwear and hybrid workwear. It’s about comfort and functional multitasking style,” Hornby said. So what’s not selling? “Pointy shoes with heels,” she said.

Me+Em launched footwear two years ago, and the brand has been expanding the category along with its entire accessories offer. Asked what sort of shoes women have been buying, Hornby didn’t miss a beat. “They want comfortable ‘height-providers’ and a fancy shoe to go with jeans,” she said.

The latest category launch is swimwear, which Hornby said has been like a science project as she and her team hunted long and hard for flattering, supportive fabrics. “The collection is tonal in deep, beautiful colors and we’ve made sure the straps on the dresses line up with the straps on the suits,” to ensure everything looks neat, Hornby said.

The East Hamptons store will be the first major showcase of the swimwear collection.  

Asked about the slowdown in demand from aspirational luxury customers, and how it was impacting Me+Em, Hornby said the trend was to be expected.

“Things are normalizing following the post-pandemic rush, and purchases have become more considered,” said Hornby, whose strategy has not changed in response to the downward trend.

“We’re always looking for gaps in the market, we’re looking at what the brands will be charging a fortune for — and where they’ll be cutting corners. We’re constantly looking at trims, fabrications and how we can put more into our collections,” such as adding belt loops or versatile necklines, she said.

“The customer is discerning and there is no point in trying to fool her,” said Hornby, who has attracted working women — and celebrities — the world over.

A look from the Me+Em spring 2023 collection.

The brand counts the Princess of Wales, Helen Mirren, Amal Clooney, Olivia Colman and Margot Robbie as customers.

Going forward, Hornby’s plan is to expand further in the U.S. market and to pursue more opportunities in Europe. Hornby said there is great potential in Scandinavia, the Republic of Ireland, France and Germany. Australia and Canada are already flourishing.

There are no immediate plans to add wholesale. “Never say never, but this business model is about control, following our data,” and selling in-season collections with a see now, buy now model, Hornby said.

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