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How I got here: Jess McGuire-Dudley on her balancing act

Wearing two hats means a busy day for John Smedley’s head of marketing and merchandising.

Jess McGuire-Dudley

Jess McGuire-Dudley

What does your typical week involve?

Heading up both the brand and product side of John Smedley certainly keeps me busy. I manage a team of five people internally, as well as people working for the company at PR, creative and retail/wholesale agencies. So in total 12 people.

Following our spring 16 launches at London Collections: Men and Pitti Uomo, I’ve been meeting with the British Fashion Council to finalise exciting new projects we are collaborating on. Alongside the UK Fashion & Textile Association we will be launching an initiative to bring British manufacturing to the forefront of the womenswear industry, working with a selection of designers to form a collective under the banner ‘The British Fashion Industry x John Smedley’. The designers we’re working with are still to be confirmed.

I have also been planning for the launch of our new womenswear concept for spring 2016, called ‘Spectrum’, which will be part of our first showcase at London Fashion Week in September 2016. The collection is a complete reworking of our womenswear and focuses on the refraction of light through luxury fibres, wrapping details and layering pieces. Both the fit and the fabrics featured are entirely new for John Smedley. Our signature DNA has always been the iconic, fine gauge very fitted styles with a shorter body length, but the new womenswear collections will feature a range of silhouettes from boxy, androgynous styles through to very fitted sheer knits and looser, more modern shapes. We’ve also introduced more tactile blends such as cotton/cashmere and merino silks, which allow the product to drape in a much more fluid and flattering way.

As head of marketing and merchandising I’m also responsible for working with our head designer, Pip Jenkins, on the concepts for the coming seasons before any design work begins.

I also work on the roll out of new store fits. I have recently been involved in the roll of our new store fit in Selfridges, which was unveiled in July 2015 as part of their menswear floor moves. This will shortly be followed by the Fenwick Group, Liberty and several international locations, which are as yet unconfirmed. To sum up a typical week for me would be balancing the flurry of new ideas, implementing long-term strategies and working on multiple seasons at once.

How do you balance the merchandising side of your role?

Within the merchandising elements of my role, I have to monitor the sell through of our collections, looking at sales trends, as well as where we can adjust stock and production to increase sales. I also work on the retail and web buy for our own brand stores. We have recently started focusing on a central buy, which allows us to take areas of the business that had previously been acting in silos, such as retail or ecommerce, and create one central product buy that’s based on what our consumers want, as well as our own brand direction for the season. Alongside the design team I’m also constantly working on the pricing structure of our collections and new product launches such as our capsule unisex collection ‘Singular’, which debuted in June.

Are you being affected by the rise of digital marketing?

More than ever digital marketing is taking centre stage and this idea of creating conversation with your consumers via social media and digital means is ever more crucial. These days it’s not simply enough to create an emotive connection with your consumer, you need to converse with them in order to engage. Our main platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram. Our consumers are incredibly visual, so Instagram is one of our most prolific channels in terms of interaction. Later this year we’re also looking at expanding our Google+ activity by launching a series of interviews and live chat sessions with our highly skilled production teams.

How do you keep track of your customers’ needs?

Today the expectation is that you understand exactly how your customer feels and can predict their needs before they realise them. You do this by keeping an eye on the market, trends and our social media feedback. For example, the concept for our unisex line came about from the number of women commenting via social media about how much they loved borrowing their partners’ knits. As we produce everything in-house, we can launch a collection within two weeks of spotting a trend.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?

I don’t know if there is one person I aspire to emulate, as individualism is an important characteristic to me. I do, however, look up to my dad Ian Dudley, group property director at Aurora Fashions. He’s a constant source of calm and if anyone knows the power of hard work it’s him. As he works in property for fashion brands our worlds have collided on occasion and he’s always a source of inspiration.

The other person would be Roksanda Ilincic. I adore her design ethos, but more than that as an inspiring woman she is always elegant, refined and incredibly brand savvy. She’s built her brand with solid core values and stayed true to them.

What have you got wrong and how did you learn from it? 

One of my key learnings would have to be ‘know your audience’ and not in the marketer to consumer sense, although that’s vital. I mean in the colleague capacity. I once got so excited by a concept that was still in very early development stages that I showed it to a senior colleague in my team only for my concept to almost get dropped simply because they weren’t able to understand what the end product would look like. So, understanding and knowing how you need to pitch, even internally, was an absolute learning curve.

If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be? 

I’ve held different roles within the industry, such as more press focused roles, working both agency side and in-house, as well as roles in visual merchandising and honestly think without these different positions I wouldn’t be able to oversee such a varied role today. Take delivering samples, for example. I once worked for a company that refused to use couriers, and had me hand delivering huge bags of samples all over London. However, due to these deliveries I met some amazing people in the industry, several of whom wrote me glowing references.

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

My advice would be to explore more, do more and learn more. My one regret is not having more of a ‘plan’. It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to go career and life wise, so if I could go back I’d make more of that time to absorb as much life, culture and learning as I could.

What are the key skills they need to be acquiring to keep progressing up the career ladder?

The pace of evolution these days is so fast you have to be willing to learn new things each and every day. Languages are also something I’m really keen to embrace, as we continue to expand internationally. One of our largest export markets is Japan, so learning Japanese would be my first goal.

How do you see your career progressing?  

In terms of progression I’m really keen to explore international markets and understand different ways to communicate with consumers worldwide. The idiosyncrasies within different cultures absolutely fascinates me. Ultimately I’d love to be working at director level and overseeing more of the business as a whole. I’m keen to expand our five-strong marketing team at John Smedley and add an internal buyer, which would allow us to really grow as a strong brand team.


2014 Head of marketing and merchandising, John Smedley

2012 Brand marketing manager, Triumph International

2009  Freelance brand development (Pretty Pregnant, London Fashion Week, London Fashion Weekend, Graduate Fashion Week)

2008 Account executive Yellow Door

2007 Press & marketing assistant, TSE Cashmere

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