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07 Feb 2017

Missguided HQ, Manchester, by Sheila Bird Group

Words by  Photo by Drew Forsyth

This aspirational and ambitious new home for the young staff of online fashion brand Missguided is more like the dream bedroom of a fashion student than a traditional office

Missguided’s headquarters, opposite Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium, was created by the Sheila Bird Group. More like the dream bedroom of a fashion student than a traditional office, the space is vibrant, rebellious, aspirational – and very pink.

According to Atul Bansal, co-founder and partner at Sheila Bird, it’s an “inspirational home” for the young staff at the fashion brand. The office is the base of over 300 Missguided employees and it’s the reward for seven years of success for the brand and a hint of more to come.

The design works within the context of the fast-paced digital era in which Missguided is thriving. Missguided CEO Nitin Passi started the company in 2008 and partly owes his success to his insight into the digital world and harnessing of millennial online culture. It’s the most Instagrammable office project I’ve seen and, whether the sparkle is your cup of tea or not, it’s an undoubtedly clever example of building a powerful brand narrative in the office.

Missguided 2Pink neon sits beside unicorn-themed meeting rooms

The social media buzz around the HQ is massive, even a year on, and it has further strengthened the young and glamorous brand story of Missguided, thanks to proud staff selfies and shots of models posing by elements as if they are fashionable backdrops rather than office furniture. The best spot for this would be the selfie tunnel on the ground floor – and, yes, this is a real addition to the HQ.

The ground floor is the crowning glory: a large, open social space, framed by some very girlie meeting rooms and cosy, purple sleeping pods. “They range from rooms that float to rooms that are shrouded in mirrors; inside the main board room you’re almost having a meeting inside one of Missguided’s packaging boxes – it’s bright pink and it’s got red lips all over it,” says Bansal. “The other rooms have all got different themes and personalities too.

You’ve got lights that look like clouds, unicorn rooms, a room that’s all pink, a room with swings, and there’s chairs suspended from the ceiling so you can sit in them and have a meeting on the phone.”

Missguided 3Inspirational neon signage was inspired by staff suggestions

A real Chinese blossom tree stands in the middle of the floor, between an outdoor space with palm trees and an indoor canteen, under the sign “Get Cake Homie”, run by local coffee bar Takk. There’s model studio the Unicorn Stables and various doors with numbers on in celebration of Missguided’s turnover landmarks.

“The whole space is just full of all sorts of adventure,” Atul beams. “You’ve got stuff hidden below the floor that lights up as you walk past it and you’ve got the external space that looks like Miami – but you’re in Salford!”

“Don’t worry be yoncé,” says one room sign. “Don’t make sense, make dollars,” instructs a neon sign, while “Gangsta rap made me do it” and “Heart of a hustler, mind of G” are some of the lyrics framed in the Rapper meeting room. The language of Missguided’s millennial staff and customers runs throughout the HQ, marking it as their own with the icons and in-jokes of their clan. “All the words came from Missguided, from their members of staff. Them having ownership of that was a great way of showing that this is their space,” says Bansal. “The words are powerful because they’re created by the team and every single one of them is Miss Missguided.”

Missguided 4The ground floor features the office’s own selfie tunnel

The lower ground floor is currently a car park – “but it would be great to turn it into a night time party venue” – and the third floor was originally empty but is now a secret space yet to be revealed. There had to be more traditional spaces too of course – this is a working office and the HQ of a brand on the rise (tipped as one to watch in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 league of companies with the fastest-growing sales). “People talk about what’s happening on the ground floor a lot, that’s what’s in most of the images that you see. But there are actually two floors of spaces that are occupied by the designers, the merchandisers, the buyers etc. They’re not shown online because the things that they are working on are really sensitive,” explains Bansal.

On the first and second floors teams including marketing, finance, HR and IT work in an open-plan format. The second floor houses the designers, buyers, merchandisers and the clothes. “They are in themselves really creative spaces – you’ve got copper booths that reflect and shimmer, kitchen spaces that have skulls on them and things hidden under the floor that light up. These spaces are more akin to what we would call office spaces.”

Bansal’s team took out the ceiling tiles and exposed the grids and decking. Lights were placed inside the grid – some are turned upside down, others fall down above the desks: “So even though they have conventional desks laid out in rows, each looks individual.”

Missguided 5Canteen ceilings are exposed to display a variety of lights

There are also champagne taps, Nitin Passi’s office and a room surrounded by a cage where Passi and staff sign off new products. “This is a space where staff can really focus on what they’re doing. Everybody can see that there’s something really interesting happening but they can’t go in. It’s a great way of everybody working on a selection or product line to feel involved, even though it’s very sensitive.”

Function and aesthetics have clearly motivated the design, but does this aspirational office work because it’s for a young fashion brand, I ask Bansal, or is this the future of the office? “I think there’s two answers for that. Firstly, it does work because it’s a young fashion brand – that’s because we understood the brief. Secondly, it goes back to the question ‘why can’t work be fun?’ It is a serious place of work and staff don’t rush home – they stay late and do whatever they need to do. The space is inspirational in many ways.”

Missguided 6Breakout areas feature comfortable purple sleeping pods

Sheila Bird Group is employed to break habits, he tells me, and the designers begin by asking clients to think of the office as a home. “It takes the client in a different direction and I think that’s what’s fundamentally important. Spaces should inspire, spaces should encourage, spaces should enlighten people.”

Bansal assures me that while it’s a modern and mischievous space, it isn’t the latest in a series of attempts to soullessly Google-up the office. “Cool is a real problem,” he says. “Trendy is a real problem. All those words should be banned from what happens to spaces because they become really uncool, really fast... You can’t do that with buildings; you can’t do that with interiors.”

Missguided 7Shades of pink feature on walls and signage throughout

Instead, when Sheila Bird Group takes on any office scheme, it focuses on “making sure that the customer is empowered to change how that space works”. Already the signage on Missguided’s walls has been updated to match the brand’s changing context and personality – the lips on the boardroom were another later addition and Christmas references currently deck the halls. “I don’t think the space will ever be uncool,” Bansal predicts, “because it’s changing all the time.”

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