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How I got here: Claire O'Connor on why you need to get out there

Hitting the road is essential for Hudson’s head of womenswear sales.

Claire O'Connor of Hudson

Claire O’Connor of Hudson

What does your typical week involve?

At Hudson we’re continually juggling seasons. In wholesale seasons tend to cross over, so I can be selling spring 16 and autumn 16 at the same time.

I have mainly finished the sales appointments with the department stores for spring 16, but I’m still meeting with some of the 80 independents we stock across the UK and Ireland, who are yet to buy for the spring 16 season. The sales season started in mid-May and since then myself and the womenswear team, which comprises two people in wholesale and three designers, have been prepping the showroom, booking appointments and visiting potential clients, as well as working with the designers to see which collections should go into the showroom.

Our headquarters in Hoxton, east London doubles as a stockhouse, so clients can come in and still buy stock for autumn 15. We find most clients prefer forward order, although about 10% buy short order from us. In my experience I’ve found independents want to buy more often, maybe four or five times a year and they like trans-seasonal styles in case the weather is unpredictable.

I also collaborate with the design team at our Hoxton head office. At the moment I’m focusing a lot of my attention on a new idea we are working on for a women’s capsule collection. No launch date is set as yet, but we see this being a big focus for the brand. It’s all about picking up on key trends and styles that may have been missed in the main collection. The capsule will act like a resort or cruise collection in that it will sit alongside the main collection and be at the same price point.

I’m also very busy with the planning for Hudson’s 25th year anniversary celebrations later this year. Towards the end of the year we’re planning on setting up branded pop-ups in some of our independent stockists, including Bernard of Esher, The Hambledon in Winchester and Maze in Bristol.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

I would say honesty is always the best policy. That might sound strange coming from a sales person but people always respect and trust you more when you keep your approach based on fact and you’re not just trying to sell them product. My motto in life has always been to treat people how you would expect to be treated yourself.

Who in the fashion industry do you aspire to emulate?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing mentors. One of the key figures who stands out is Jonathan Judah, managing director during my time at multi-brand distribution company Prelude. At the time Jonathan, who is now sales director and partner at heritage brand Speedway, was a very hands on managing director and always involved in every aspect of the business. I learnt a lot from working closely with him.

If you didn’t work in fashion, what other industry would you want to work in?

I have often thought about lecturing as I got so much out of my four years at the London College of Fashion. I really like the idea of sharing my knowledge, so lecturing about wholesale would be a good idea as it’s not taught in universities as much as subjects like buying and marketing.

How do you see your career progressing?

I was brought into Hudson to grow the business five months ago so I’m still quite new. I would like to get involved more online in the development of our ‘Web Specials’, which are special styles we trial on the website and if they prove successful we integrate them into the core women’s collection. This is a good opportunity to test which styles work, especially as we have a variety of quirkier, more premium items which wouldn’t necessarily be picked up at wholesale.

I also want to help develop the womenswear side of the business. While currently the split is 60% men’s to 40% women’s, we’re seeing lots of growth coming from womenswear, which I hope to build on.

Does your role involve a lot of travel?

Working in wholesale, travelling is something that has always been key, but I think this is only growing in importance. You have to get out there and see as many shops as you can, because you need to get a better understanding of the client’s environment. It’s so important to forge good relationships with buyers and store owners. Also, observing what’s going on in-store is essential if you’re going to succeed in this industry, especially if you are going to fully appreciate each individual store’s target client base.

Do you have a preference of working with footwear over apparel?

My passion has always been womenswear fashion. I have a background in premium denim and while I was at Prelude I was involved in bringing ready-to-wear collections over to the UK from America, which was an exciting time in my career. I’ve been doing footwear now for the past five years and I see it as a nice progression. More people are expanding into footwear, but there are still many boutiques out there who haven’t yet tested the water, so there’s lots of opportunity for us to grow our business.

CV

February 2015 Womenswear sales manager, UK and Northern Ireland, Hudson Shoe Agencies

2011 Sales manager, Fashion Edge

2010 Brand manager, womenswear, Lyle & Scott

2006 Sales manager, Prelude London

2001 Brand manager, Guess Jeans

2000 Sales associate, DKNY Jeans

June 1997 Sales executive, Diesel

1997 Higher National Diploma in Business of Fashion Management, London College of Fashion

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