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An industry inspired by people power

What is the key to success for a fashion retail business? Product? Location? Exciting store environment? Season-appropriate weather conditions? Luck? The truth is that all of those things - and many more - play a part. But if you don't get one crucial ingredient right, the whole operation could fall apart faster than a T-shirt from... (I'll leave it up to readers to complete that sentence as they see fit). That crucial ingredient is people.

If you don't employ good people or you don't have a reputation for being a good employer of people, you'll have a very tricky time of it. Trouble is, it's not easy to find good people, as one of this week's Talking Shop columnists, Clare Hourigan of Sunday Best, explains on page 16.

Hourigan is right when she says that rather than being viewed as a career by many, fashion retail is seen as just a job. And it's not considered to be a particularly glamorous job at that. Yet none of you need me to tell you what a joy it is to be served by someone who knows what they're doing and is willing to help, and how gratifying a career that person could have if encouraged.

Interestingly, it doesn't necessarily follow that the more expensive the store, the better the people they employ. There's one boutique I frequent where I rarely buy anything - the store is nice, is in a good location and the product is always interesting. The latter is the reason why I pop in, because they obviously have a very good buyer. Sadly, they don't have very good staff, at least not any that I've encountered.

I've bought a few things from there over the years, but always reluctantly, as no one has ever so much as offered to help me. After being left to fend for yourself, the sales staff can barely even be bothered to swipe your credit card if you opt to buy something.

However, experiences like that are, thankfully, not the norm. And despite fashion retail's apparently unglamorous image, it has spawned some of the most inspirational individuals in business today. In some cases these people are so good that they serve as a catalyst for a business's success, such as Stuart Rose at Marks & Spencer, Sir Philip Green at Arcadia and, on the independent scene, Joan Burstein at designer retailer Browns.

Those examples are the most obvious, but I'd like you to tell Drapers who you think has been inspirational in the fashion industry. We are celebrating our 120th birthday next month, and as part of that we will be producing a list of the 120 great British fashion icons of the past 120 years.

You can probably expect to see Rose, Green and Burstein somewhere in there, but we'd like to have your input on who else to include. We're interested in the retailers, designers and patrons of fashion you believe have shaped the sector. To encourage those further down the chain, we'd like to hear your nominations for our industry's rising stars too.

Celebrating the great talent we have will hopefully go some small way to encouraging more top people to come to, and stay in, the fashion industry. So please email us at drapers@emap.com.

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