Jack Wills is still with us, but has the brand’s soul now left the building?
What does the name Jack Wills mean to you? Private education? Preppy university students? An obnoxious sense of entitlement? Whatever comes to mind when you hear the name, I’ll bet my bottom dollar it’s not Sports Direct – the celebrated clothing warehouse and purveyor of the most budget-friendly tracksuits the UK has to offer. And yet, if you peruse the rails of Sports Direct today, you will indeed find Jack Wills clobber nestling there. Everything from their jeans to their shirts, jumpers and chinos can be found, just along from the Lonsdale sweatshirts and the multipacks of Slazenger sports socks. In fact, the owners of Sports Direct acquired Jack Wills back in 2019 when it went into administration, but it’s only recently that I’ve noticed Jack Wills attire being stocked in Sports Direct’s own shops. And it comes as quite a shock.
Not so long ago, Jack Wills was a by-word for public school style. Back in the mid-noughties, when I was at university, the students who wore Jack Wills were nicknamed “raahs”. The company had a shop in Fulham and the founder was on The Rich List. And now… this! It’s an amazingly dramatic rise and fall, all in the space of just twenty years. But perhaps what’s most interesting is what it tells us about the magic of brand image.
When you look at the Jack Wills gear today, hanging there in Sports Direct, there’s nothing remotely tempting about it. It’s not just that you don’t particularly fancy buying it – it’s that you’re actively put off. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sports Direct; it’s an enjoyable place to wander around in and an excellent shop for sports equipment and trainers. But, with this being said, I don’t ever think of it as somewhere to go for nice clothes. It’s purely functional – just one step up from a street market. In other words, it’s not at all an appropriate place from which to sell something that’s supposed to have a bit of social status. By putting Jack Wills in there, you’re not just creating a bizarre juxtaposition; you’re also destroying the Jack Wills image and totally devaluing the brand....
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