Kim Winser, 43, has masterminded Europe's most surprising fashion makeover. In the past two years, she has transformed Pringle, the dowdy knitwear maker long known for its golfing apparel, into a hot-selling label whose fans include such trendsetters as Madonna and British football superstar David Beckham.
Pringle was a money-losing mess when Hong Kong apparel magnate Kenneth Fang bought the company in March, 2000, from Scottish textile group Dawson International and recruited Winser to run it. Winser, who had won plaudits for her marketing savvy as an executive at British retailer Marks & Spencer, quickly brought in a team of young designers to update the Pringle look. They restyled its signature diamond-patterned sweaters and vests, introducing a slimmer silhouette and adding touches, such as bare midriffs, aimed at a young clientele. Pringle also launched new product lines, including men's jackets and women's handbags.
Behind the scenes, Winser proved herself a tough manager. To tighten quality control, she canceled licensing agreements that had farmed out manufacturing to dozens of factories worldwide. She also cut off sales to hundreds of midmarket retailers, training her sights on upscale department stores such as Harrods in London and Barneys New York in Manhattan, where she negotiated deals to set up in-store Pringle boutiques that yield fat margins. The closely-held company doesn't reveal revenues and earnings, but Winser says it is in the black, with sales in its biggest market, Britain, up 80% over the past two years. "We're doing more with less," she says.
The Scottish-born Winser, who joined Marks & Spencer in 1977, tripled sales while running its apparel group in the mid-1990s. She isn't finished with Pringle yet. Now she's launching a network of Pringle stores, with two shops to open in London this year, and one in Tokyo. That doesn't leave much time for her favorite pastime, shopping--unless she does it in her own new stores.