Tilley junior redesigns Tilley Endurables

It takes nothing away from Alison Tilley, vice president of marketing and merchandise at Tilley Endurables, to suggest that she may have inherited at least some of her business sense from her father, Alex.

After all, two decades ago the elder Tilley, a sailing enthusiast, created the indomitable Tilley Hat – and with it an adventure-apparel catalog/ retail/Internet company that today takes in more than $20 million a year. Now Alison Tilley is, as she puts, “shaking the family tree.”

After signing on as vice president last year, Tilley made her first order of business redesigning the catalog. “We make the finest travel and adventure clothing in the world,” she says, “but the catalog wasn’t getting that across.” And while the old catalog won awards, “that doesn’t mean it sold clothing as effectively as it could have.”

So the Tilleys decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Toronto-based company by changing the book’s creative, starting with the October 1999 issue. Costing approximately $1 million, the redesign incorporated a number of elements, including thicker paper stock for both the cover and inside pages, a larger trim size, a new logo, and an overall cleaner look. “It has a lot less copy than before,” Tilley says, “and the headlines are much fresher.” She hired writer Tony Spencer to help enliven the text and three photographers – Rob Ciotka, Harry Rosen, and Christopher Strube – to shoot the clothing in natural, outdoor settings. “In the old catalog, there was a picture of a shirt in a library. How exciting is that?”

Bringing back the personal touch

Alison also brought back some of the elements that had been excised from the catalog over the years, including customer testimonials and photographs, plus pictures of Tilley and her father modeling the clothes. The Tilleys’ own testimonials from their around-the-world travels are featured as well. “My dad’s personality is back in the book,” Tilley says, “and so is mine. We have very loyal customers – 400,000 of them – and they missed that in the old catalog.”

And Tilley’s target market, consumers ages 50 and up, will undoubtedly appreciate the inclusion of older models in the catalog. “We’re showing more of our customers’ age group and models who look like real people. I felt that we had alienated our customer base” by featuring models who were “too perfect.”

While the catalog was being reconfigured, Alison Tilley was undergoing a repositioning of sorts, too. She and Alex embarked on a cross-Canada tour to introduce her to loyal Tilley customers and, hopefully, bring in new ones. “It inspired people to give us another look and show people who don’t know us what we’re all about,” Alison notes.

Although the daughter is clearly being groomed to succeed her father, Alex Tilley isn’t handing over the reins quite yet. Besides, the younger Tilley says that she is in no rush to take them. “I guess I am what you would call a chairman-in-training,” she says with a laugh. “My father is giving me a level of trust that he used to give the creative director, which is nice. It’s a good place to be in.”

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