Licensed apparel is a packed sector, so in order to stay ahead of the competition innovation is key for any business.
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Cooneen is testament to this, as when they decided to add a dress-up twist to nightwear and mix with the popular Disney Fairies range, they came up with the most successful licence to date.

Despite always being firmly routed in apparel, Cooneen has passed through a number of stages as a company. Formed in the 1960’s, the firm started life as a fabric knitting operation, but quickly turned its attention to garment production.

From the early 1970’s the focus turned entirely to children’s fashion, and built a successful business in this area, based on innovative design, quality production and reliable delivery.

The firm currently designs and sells into the UK, Eire and Spain. The UK business has increased 20 per cent over the last year, so the majority of its attention has been directed to supporting this growth. However, Cooneen does have plans to expand into most European markets in the future.

Mike Coles, sales, marketing and finance director, explains the current position: “In more recent years Cooneen has concentrated on kids’ character nightwear, underwear and babywear, investing in character licences and merging these characters into fun and fashionable kid’s garments.”

For a licence to be successful, however, the firm depends largely on consumer awareness and visibility of the brand. Coles explains: “One of the largest categories in apparel is pre-school. Success of any licence depends on TV positioning, time, duration and then signing the right licensees with the right distribution.”

Recent years have also seen Cooneen diversify into new clothing markets with the emergence of the Cooneen Group, which now includes Cooneen Watts and Stone, a major supplier of military and police clothing, and Hawk Protection, which develops and provides body armour and associated products to UK and global markets.

Disney and Warner Brothers Looney Tunes were among some of the first brands associated with Cooneen over ten years ago. Since then, the firm has built up a wide range of strong licences, many of which have opened up the portfolio to new audiences.

Coles explains: “We are already supplying men’s nightwear into a few retailers, this has been a relatively easy transition as we already have a number of licences that are applicable to adults.

“Licensing is key for this category, however, we have to stay closer to current fashion trends as some licenses have a shorter shelf life than they do in childrenswear.”

Perhaps this move into more categories will allow Coles to sign his dream licence at some point in the future: “As a football fanatic from Manchester, my dream brand would have to be Manchester United.”

Appealing to a growing audience may have been part of the firm’s secret to success throughout a particularly difficult period. Despite a number of blows to the industry, Cooneen has managed to come out on top.

Coles explains: “Woolworths were seen as the barometer for licensed apparel and now the industry is looking for a replacement. To date, no one retailer has taken this business completely, but there are signs across all retailers that there are some increases.

“However, despite their demise, we have still increased our business for the first six months of this year in relation to 2008.

Coles admits that the last year has been challenging: “For the first time we have had to worry about who we supply as some of the former and current High Street retailers are high risk. Currency fluctuations have made offshore production more difficult. However, overall we still achieved growth through licensed product.”




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