JD Williams’ ladieswear buying director is bringing her home shopping and online retail experience to the high street.
What does your typical week involve?
What I love about my job is that there is no typical week. Monday is all about trading, when the quality control and design teams review last week’s performance and agree actions and priorities for the coming week.
The rest of the week varies but will consist of one-to-ones with my six colleagues who report directly to me, strategy meetings, product sign-offs, supplier meetings, competitor reviews, store visits, trend presentations, budget reviews and board meetings. My favourite thing is getting out to the stores in London or locally in Manchester with my team to assess our competitors such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Zara, River Island and Topshop.
What task are you most looking forward to today?
I am reviewing our high summer range for spring 15, as well as some autumn 15 ranges. I’m looking forward to seeing how the products have developed from the initial design brief. Product development is my biggest passion.
What task do you wish you could postpone?
Necessary administration issues - it can be hard to keep on top of my emails.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always loved retail and fashion. I worked on Saturdays at high street store Chelsea Girl [now River Island] during sixth form from 1981 to 1983. A year later I went to study for a BA in French at Sheffield University, during which I had a placement year in 1986, working in the buying department at women’s and men’s wear retailer Damart in France. I remember being sent to Paris with the buying team to look at department store Galeries Lafayette for inspiration and from then on I was set on becoming a buyer.
After graduating I joined Littlewoods Home Shopping as a graduate trainee in 1987. It was a really good grounding for my career as I spent time in all areas of the business - from delivering parcels to customers, working as an assistant merchandiser and visiting factories and print houses to understanding production and sourcing. In my 10 years there I moved departments regularly, so I was always faced with new challenges.
From Littlewoods I moved to womenswear and homewares etailer Kaleidoscope [owned by Otto Group] as head
of buying in 1997. I loved my time there. The product has a distinctive handwriting and we managed to grow womenswear from less than 40% to more than 60% of the sales mix by the time I left in 2001.
My next challenge was head of buying for own-brand core ranges at Great Universal Stores, now Shop Direct Group, and from there I joined N Brown Group as merchandise manager for Simply Be and Fashion World in 2002. It was an exciting time with a relatively junior buying team. Our focus was on improving the fashionability of the offer by making changes to the buying process and introducing new suppliers.
I enjoyed the constant challenge of new areas of responsibility and was delighted to be promoted to ladieswear buying director in 2012. In February, I celebrated 13 years at N Brown Group and cannot believe where the time has gone.
What has been your career highlight?
Creating new brands and bestselling ranges. Most recently the highlight has been falling back in love with JD Williams’ strategy. We had neglected our biggest brand over the past few years while we focused on newer labels in the portfolio. We realised when talking to customers that while they had moved on, we hadn’t. They perceived our brand to be old fashioned. It was a great opportunity to revamp the brand to create affordable ranges for the 50-plus customer. My focus with the team has been on making the ladieswear product more contemporary, while improving quality and fit.
We have also collaborated with [TV presenter]Lorraine Kelly, who designed the spring 15 range we launched on January 6. Lorraine has been an absolute delight to work with. The collection incorporates a number of key trends, such as bold colour statements, geometric and abstract patterns and floral prints.
If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
I would have worked for a bricks-and-mortar retailer earlier in my career. My background has been very much around home shopping and online retail. However, I have really enjoyed being part of the launch of the dual Simply Be and Jacamo stores over the past few years. We now have 14 around the UK including our Oxford Street store, which opened on September 17, 2014.
How do you see your career progressing?
I always want to be stretched and looking for the next new idea and I always want to be involved with product. I suppose setting up my own womenswear brand would be the ultimate goal.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Risk takes you forward. I always encourage my teams to innovate.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Ian Callan, buying director at Littlewoods, always told me to know my customer and keep them at the centre of everything I do on product, price, promotion and presentation.
If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I love womenswear but my other passion in life is home interiors. I love buying soft furnishings and furniture, so a job allowing me to do that would be really exciting.
- Salaries for this position range from £100,000 to £120,000, plus a sizeable benefits package (estimate provided by Henry Fox Recruitment)
2012 Buying director for ladieswear, JD Williams
2004 Trading manager, JD Williams
2002 Merchandise manager, Simply Be and Fashion World
2001 Head of buying, Shop Direct (GUS)
1997 Head of buying, Kaleidoscope (Otto UK)
1992 Ladies fashion buyer, Littlewoods Home Shopping
1989 Ladieswear outerwear buyer, Littlewoods Home Shopping
1987 Assistant merchandiser, Littlewoods Home Shopping
1987 Management trainee, Littlewoods Home Shopping
1987 BA (Hons) French, University of Sheffield