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25 years of the Drapers Independents Awards

The Drapers Independents Awards have been recognising the best of the best in fashion retail for a quarter of a century.

Drapers Independent Awards silver anniversary

More than 400 Drapers Independents Awards have been won since the contest launched in 1991. The competition has become a national institution with both the industry and consumers, a standard for and recognition of excellence in all aspects of fashion retailing in the UK and Ireland.

Since June 6, 1991, when around 75 people gathered at the Inn on the Park, Park Lane, to see just five awards presented, the Awards have been a calendar fixture and are regarded as fashion retailing’s Oscars.

Through changes of name, venue, dates, number of categories, type of categories, presenters and trophy shape, the essence of the Awards has been constant: to recognise the best practitioners of independent fashion retailing while invigorating the entire sector. They also bring together retailers and brands.

These were the driving forces behind the launch of the Independent Retailer of the Year Awards in 1991. Sally Bain, who capped 15 years at the magazine with a four-year stint as editor, oversaw their introduction. She says: “There was a bit of a recession and everything seemed to be doom and gloom. We wanted to present something positive for the industry, as well as find another way to engage with readers.”

The marketing message said it all: ‘A unique competition open to UK independent retailers to reward successful businesses which are getting it right in these difficult times.’ It was only six months from the initial idea to the lunch in June, sponsored by lingerie and hosiery brand Charnos, fashion fairs Premier Collections and The London Show, Crowson Fabrics (for the Furnishing Retailer category) and British Telecom. This combination of Drapers, the best retailers, brands and industry sponsors over 25 years has created a virtuous circle of recognition and reward.

The modest launch caught the industry’s imagination. In 1992, the Retailer of the Year Award went to Matches of Wimbledon, founded by Ruth and Tom Chapman in 1983. Then it had four shops; today it has 11 stores and a worldwide ecommerce business.

Tom Chapman tells Drapers: “For a young company selling designer product outside central London, it was a huge honour. It gave us a sense of achievement that we had been recognised for what we were trying to do.” Matches won the top prize again in 2008.

Another multiple winner is the Anne Furbank business in Buckden, Cambridgeshire. It was a runner-up in the Customer Service category in 1999 before taking the top accolade of Womenswear Retailer of the Year and Independent Retailer of the Year in 2000. It also won Womenswear Retailer of the Year in 2005.

Founder Anne Furbank outlines the benefits: “To fill in the form you have to focus on all aspects of your business and it’s surprising what comes out of it. You should also get your team to contribute. When we won in 2000, I wished they could all have been on stage.

“To win is a huge marketing opportunity. To shop at the best fashion independent in the country makes customers feel great as well. We re-entered in 2005, not confident about winning as the standard of entries had really grown, so it was a great thrill to win again.”

Progressive retailers have been encouraged to enter as often as they like. Guy Hudson, owner of two Lynx fashion shops in Harrogate, has entered serially over almost 20 years. His womenswear shop was runner-up six times and his menswear shop twice. The latter won the Menswear Retailer Award in 2013.

Why the persistence? “It is a huge accolade for the staff, I was inundated with enquiries from brands who wanted to sell to me, and it was great PR. Even people in the town who are not in the industry had heard of the Awards and congratulated us.”

  • The 25th Drapers Independents Awards, with 14 categories, will be presented at a celebratory lunch on Wednesday, September 16 at The Brewery, London EC1.

    For entry details go to Drapersindependentsawards.com

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