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How I got here: Avenue 32 fashion director Stephen Ayres

Fashion director at premium etailer Avenue 32 explains the beauty of using online to boost smaller ranges and the importance of winning customers’ trust on the web.

Stephen Ayres

Stephen Ayres

I started to consider what my next career move would look like after I’d worked at Liberty for seven and a half years. I knew I didn’t want to work in another big store, having already worked at Selfridges and House of Fraser. Instead, I wanted to work in a smaller company and be an integral part of the business.

Avenue 32 approached me in February this year and its business model fitted my criteria perfectly. I like the fact that it’s a young company (founded in 2011 in the UK) with a very strong DNA and also that the groundwork had already been done. The content and editorial of the site is really advanced for such a young business. The team has built a brand portfolio that’s made Avenue 32 renowned for sourcing new and emerging talent (like fake fur label Shrimps and US swimwear brand Kiini), retailing these brands alongside more established designer brands such as Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno.

My typical week is focused on sales. I analyse them on a daily basis, identifying any opportunities and risks for the business, such as looking at a brand, product and category level to see where the best and worst sellers are. I need to react accordingly, for example by repeating a bestseller or looking at ways to drive sales on slower-performing styles. I have to work closely with the public relations and marketing teams to increase traffic to the website and boost awareness of the business in general through social media, press coverage and digital marketing.

The global reach is the most positive aspect of online fashion. We have four standalone websites, operating in the UK, EU, US and rest of the world, which are all currently in English. The largest portion of the business is evenly split between the UK and the US, followed by the EU and Middle East.

Online is a better way to launch smaller ranges. For a single fashion item in a department store, say a great bomber jacket, it would be difficult to display it on its own and it could get lost among all the noise. The garment would be mixed on a rail with other brands, which wouldn’t allow it the time or space to stand out, whereas online you can launch a single great item and make it as visible as you want. For example, if we found a single amazing item that we bought in volume and really believed in we have the flexibility to offer it a focus on the homepage and strong social coverage.

The Avenue 32 website

The Avenue 32 website

When you’re selling online, gaining customers’ trust is vital. You can do this by having really detailed information about the products, which reduces the return rate dramatically. Information on fit and fabrication is key to this. If a customer receives something that’s not as described, their trust is instantly threatened. Another important factor is having excellent customer service. Taking that approach ensures customers are content and will come back again and again. It’s all about the integrity.

I travel a lot. I would say that I am away approximately 10 weeks each year. I travel most often to destinations like New York, Milan and Paris. I attend all the fashion weeks and do other business trips as well, which can include everything from press dinners and sourcing trips to VIP events. We are passionate about finding new talent and helping these brands grow into larger businesses, but we want the site to remain a boutique experience.

I’m determined to continue to grow Avenue 32 and put it on a map as one of the world’s leading etailers. The way to achieve that is looking at the assortment of 155 brands we currently have and finding new interesting labels. Another strategy is to make the ranges wider and bigger, while still maintaining the focus on the customer.

Being promoted to head of fashion at Liberty is one of my career highlights. I was only 30 years old at the time and it was a big moment for me. During that time, I was lucky enough to work with so many talented people and, as a team, we doubled the turnover of the business – unfortunately I can’t reveal figures.

My motto is ‘be nice to everyone’, at least in terms of business. You meet a lot of people every day and you never know when your paths could cross again.

Throughout my career I have met so many great people, but if there was one person I would call my mentor it would have to be David Walker-Smith, managing director at Fenwick of Bond Street. He was my boss when I first started as a senior buyer at Selfridges and he has been one of the biggest supporters I’ve had. He taught me so much about identifying trends and brands, working with suppliers and delivering concepts – everything really that I needed to know about buying. We’re still very good friends.

Work hard, ask lots of questions and listen carefully are my tips for someone who wants to follow in my footsteps. You can learn so much just from listening.

Plan B

If I didn’t work in the fashion industry, I would be a horse dealer. I lived on a farm in Hampshire with many horses when I was growing up. I used to showjump with them from the age of 10 to 18 so I’m sure I would be working somehow in that field.

CV

Career

September 2015-present: Fashion director, Avenue 32

2010-2014: Head of fashion, Liberty

2006-2009: Buying manager, menswear, Liberty

2005-2006: Senior buyer, men’s designer collections, Selfridges

2004-2005: Buyer, men’s fashion brands, House of Fraser

2000-2004: Men’s buying administration and buyer for men’s denim and streetwear, Selfridges

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