Bamford is looking for partners. The British organic luxury brand presenting its spring/summer 2009 women's wear collection in Milan has engaged Blackstone Group to help it field investment offers.
"We've come to the end of phase one, and we need a partner with more expertise in other markets," Carole Bamford says, acknowledging the extraordinary luck she has had with a label she founded from her Gloucestershire farm in 2004 on the "intuition that the timing was right to introduce a brand with a conscious." Bamford includes the eponymous women's ready-to-wear brand as well as the men's wear Bamford & Sons and the food and beauty brand Daylesford Organic (but not JCBs, the Bamford business started by her husband's father), and is characterised by its founder as "a way of life".
A more accurate description might be "our way of life". The organic ethos and the products - trapper jackets, trenchcoats and jodphurs in recycled wool, flannel and taffeta - are inspired by the pastimes of the family (the farm went organic in 1978). It is this instant "heritage", she believes, that has enabled the four-year-old brand to establish itself so quickly: 50-55 per cent growth a year for the past two years, now selling in 52 doors. But even she does not think such numbers are sustainable: "35 per cent is probably a more realistic figure."
Interest has reportedly come from the major luxury groups such as Richemont and Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, who have recently explored non-traditional acquisitions. Last month LVMH bought Royal van Lent, the maker of Feadship luxury yachts, while in 2007 Pinault Printemps Redoute purchased sportswear brand Puma. Also in the running are private investors, who have driven many of the sector's deals. Case in point: Labelux, the Benckiser family's holding company, which has bought Derek Lam of the US, Swiss footwear brand Bally and British jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge in the past year.
If any of these companies were to invest in or acquire Bamford, the deal would continue the trend towards expanding the definition of the luxury market, as well as underlining the importance of a world that most groups believe may exert growing influence over their consumer base.
Bamford is the first mainstream luxury brand to make an identity out of its organic stance. Though high street brands such as Gap have added an eco component to their offering, it generally takes the form of a smaller diffusion line. Similarly, London Fashion Week showcased a number of high fashion eco-brands but they were accorded their own niche display. The only luxury brand with an overtly environmental onus is Stella McCartney (part of Gucci Group), which does not use leather products and introduced an organic skincare line last March, but they position this as a personal choice, not the brand identity. Bamford, by contrast, set out to "be as organic as possible and make it part of our DNA".
Thus it sources its cotton in India via two villages it has supported to control the use of pesticides or fertilisers, its cashmere is hand-loomed in Scotland and Tim Field has been employed as organic scientist specialist. But Bamford does use leather and fur.
"I think it's luxury," Lady Bamford says. "I know it's an area where we can be attacked, but we only use Saga furs and they are very carefully sourced and farmed. I've questioned myself about it many times, but I am satisfied." Bamford does not show on the catwalk and often re-uses designs.
Industry observers see this as working both for and against it. Robert Burke, founder of the consultancy Robert Burke Associates, thinks tougher economic conditions may lead to consumers becoming reluctant to pay an organic premium, especially from a young brand. A report from Research and Markets, however, suggests as consumers make harder choices, brands that wear their values on their sleeves could benefit.
As to whether any future partner will appreciate the investment needed to ensure organic strictures, Lady Bamford is not concerned. "I do think I will know whether someone is genuine in their interest and commitment. In the end, it's pretty easy to recognise a greenwash."