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China trip supplies me with excitement

After 37 years of owning my own independent retail business, Limeys (now owned by Cruise), I never thought that nine months later I’d be investing in another fashion venture. I had lived and breathed retail, so why move to the supply side? It has to do with ownership and excitement.

For the first six months after selling Limeys I just spent time with my family and didn’t even read a fashion magazine. But then came the opportunity to get in at the start of a new project.

Limeys had a significant turnover, but over time I found that I had less control over the business, as suppliers increasingly dictated terms. Although I had an excellent relationship with the brands, some even became retail competitors.

So when Nick Griffiths of tailoring supplier Van Niklas rang me with his proposal, I took a look. Nick, who has manufactured suits in China for the past five years, said: “Come to China and have a look – you’ll be surprised.”

So I did, and I was overwhelmed by the infrastructure, quality and competitiveness of the production and logistics. Halfway through the week I was in. The project offered me ownership and excitement.

Fashion is always challenging, but this creates opportunities. The customer wants everything – choice, quality, design, selective distribution and value, and that is why so many so-called established brands do not look so interesting. We are in a period of radical change, and at Van Niklas we want to work alongside those retailers who welcome this.

If you had asked me six months ago if I’d ever get excited about fashion again, I would have said ‘no’. But now I’m thrilled to be back.

Roger Wilkinson is director at tailoring supplier Van Niklas

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