I have just returned from a weekend at The Port Elliot festival at St Germans in Cornwall. For those that don't know, it's a grown-up version of Glastonbury (although even Glastonbury now seems to be a grown-up version of itself).
During my visit, I was able to partake in another favourite hobby of mine - people watching. As Queen of Shops Mary Portas is also fond of saying, it is vital for independents to have an in-depth knowledge of their customers or, as Mary puts it, their 'fashion tribe'. This is one of the ways we can mark ourselves out from multiples.
The Port Elliot festival was full of members of one of my favourite tribes - affluent, metropolitan men and women (of any age) who work mainly in the arts and to whom looking fashionable and, critically, individual is vital. Fortunately for us there is no apparent limit to what they will spend to achieve this.
So what where they wearing? Well, no two people had the same thing on. Women wore dresses or skirts teamed with jeans or leggings and wellies (many of them from Marc Jacobs). The dresses were either vintage or designer, and I recognised several pieces of ours. Men were keen on florals and there were lots of hats. There were also a few 'man skirts', but I don't think this will be a big trend.
So how will I use these observations in my buying? Well, I'm on the lookout for individual pieces. I'm also looking at men's shirts, especially floral styles, while dresses are key for women. I have also bought some interesting hats.
Thinking longer term it is also vital for understanding what customers will be thinking about next year, when the clothes I buy now actually arrive. It is clear that environmental issues will only become more important. I am therefore awaiting delivery of our first eco and fair trade ranges, which I am convinced is a trend that will not go away.
Another key topic is the backlash against large multiples. Many of my customers are no longer shopping in big supermarkets as a matter of principal. They also want to support smaller fashion retailers not just because they think they should, but because it ensures a more individual look for them.
This is all good news for independents. While not everyone has customers like this, the key thing about this tribe is that they are trendsetters and what they do trickles down to other parts of society.
I left the festival in good spirits not just because I had a fabulous time, but because I have seen the future and it belongs to the independents.
- Bashir Mohammed is the owner of independent designer fashion business American Pie in west London.