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Brotherly love can still be supplied

Dealings with suppliers show Bashir Mohammed the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry

It was with great sadness that I read about the closure of Sheffield menswear independent Brother2Brother a few weeks ago (Drapers, March 24).

I am always sorry to hear about the demise of fellow indies because I feel camaraderie between us, even those I don't know well. Brother2Brother won the Drapers Award for Designer Store of the Year before we ourselves won it, so the store's closure was particularly poignant.

I also read with interest the reasons behind the closure. I have been thinking about what the retailer said and the lessons I can perhaps learn from it.

One point it made was about a shift in attitude among suppliers and agents over the years. I'm not sure I completely agree with this - looking back on the 'good old days' I often remember the good but forget the bad. So although relationships with suppliers may have been more easy going, the downside to this laissez-faire attitude was not getting the goods you ordered on time.

So from the point of view of a customer (I still insist I am a customer to my suppliers and so that is how I should be treated), what are the good, the bad and the ugly of the world of supply?

Starting with the bad, this is what it is like for me. Every time I have a buying appointment it is with a new person who knows nothing about me or my business, and almost as little about the clothes they are trying to sell me. They will be entirely driven by hitting their sales targets and will not be interested in what I could actually sell, or in the aims and reputation of the brand they purport to work for. This is irritating for me, but I worry more about the brands as I'm not sure they know what happens or why in a few years their sales start to fall.

However, I accept this is a legitimate way to conduct your business if you take a short-term view. But there is some much uglier behaviour that I do consider to be beyond the pale. Examples this season include agencies who cancelled my order without telling me because they got an order from a large multiple. I don't so much mind being replaced by a multiple - it happens. But I do object to being left short of stock when it is too late to replace it. I admit I'm secretly looking forward to the large multiple dropping them just as quickly next year.

Another supplier sold a collection that I've bought for more than 20 years to the store literally next door, again without telling me - I just saw it in their window. When I asked my supplier, it just blamed last year's sales guy.

I always like to finish on a positive note, so what do I think makes a good supplier? They are people who stick by their word, take a long-term view of developing our relationship and their brand, and deliver what I ordered when they said they would and at the price we agreed. Happily, these people are still in the majority and every season I meet a few more. They are a pleasure to work with and are one of the reasons I still enjoy working in this industry after 30 years. So thanks to all of you - I've named no names, but hopefully if you're reading this you know who you are.

- Bashir Mohammed is the owner of west London-based designer fashion independent American Pie.

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