By 1998, it had eight shops and a business supplying its own designed t-shirts – including the characters now known as ‘Withit’ – to over 200 independent stores.
Its move into licensing proper came in 2001 with its first appearance at Brand Licensing, where it signed licences for nightwear and mobile phone covers. A deal with WH Smith for a back to school stationery line followed in 2002 and, today, the brand comprises 16 characters with 60 licensees in over 20 countries.
The most popular characters in the UK are Mad Cow, Glamour Puss and Cheeky Monkey, while the likes of Happy Bunny, Lost Sheep and Chocolate Moose, plus new character Miss Cheeky, are making waves overseas.
“As Withit is an art-based brand with no broadcast platform, it is able to reach a very broad consumer group,” says Withit’s creative director, Bradley Caines. “The characters are uniquely styled and funny and, as such, appeal across many age groups.”
A number of deals have been inked this year, including an agreement with Santex to supply the Inditex Group, and a new Cheeky Monkey line of stationery and bags created exclusively for Claire’s Accessories stores in the UK and Europe from this month. New UK-inspired ‘trend right’ designs will be launched at Licensing International (the firm is there with its agency partner, Licensing Link), created in preparation for the London Olympics in 2012, plus an online shop is in development for launch later this year.
Although lead categories for Withit are clothing and stationery, there are also plans to move into publishing, music and new media, like computer games and mobile phone apps.
Retail relationships are also key for the firm. Dolph Zahid, MD, explains: “We have consistently worked with Asda/Wal-Mart over the past four years across a wide product offer. The new Claire’s Accessories direct to retail range is exciting, as Withit have not been featured in Claire’s since 2006. C&A have a direct to retail licence for ladies nightwear and socks across Europe, which has just been renewed for a further two years.”
On top of this, Withit is also in discussions with fast food restaurants in France, Italy and Greece following the success of a Burger King promotion it ran throughout 24 countries recently. “We will definitely consider other promotional opportunities to further raise brand awareness and provide our fans with interesting ways to connect with the brand,” Zahid continues.
Part of spreading the brand’s awareness is appearing at trade shows, and Withit has been one of the early adopters when it comes to events in new markets such as Character Dubai and Brand Licensing Central & Eastern Europe.
“Being present at these shows both delivers commitment to existing markets and enable Withit to build the brand in emerging markets, where we always look to start new programmes,” says Caines. “It is important to learn about new markets and new opportunities, and presenting the brand at licensing shows offers a unique chance to do this.”
So where would Caines and Zahid like to see Withit in five years’ time? “With a growing business in new regions, our goal is to develop a successful business in North and South America and the Far East, replicate our success into music and publishing, create some animation for online and new media applications and, finally, have a Withit island in the Caribbean…”