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My 40 reasons to keep on learning

Curtis Jacoby comes to terms with his age with help from Mary Portas and Graduate Fashion Week

Like most of us, I like to think I’m an individual with my own style. I believe I know what suits me (even if no one else agrees), and although I consider myself to be towards the conservative side of the fashion envelope, that doesn’t stop me expressing my personality with the odd burst of colour - although a recent new outfit was summed up by a forthright customer as “Italian spiv”.

So imagine my surprise at being categorised as part of Mary Portas’ “forever 40s” fashion tribe. This has been a terrible shock to my psyche. I now belong to the last multiple-choice box: 40 and up. Statistically, I’m about halfway through my life, and my fashion options are becoming far fewer.

Whether you agree or not with Mary Portas’ consumer classification, as my fellow columnists have mentioned, many of us have been gripped by a voyeuristic fascination in seeing other people’s businesses laid bare in her BBC2 TV series Mary Queen of Shops. The expose of One One Seven Boutique in Banstead, Surrey, should have clearly resonated with shop owners across the country in the unkindly labelled middle market. Landfills will be overflowing with plastic flowers and urns from redundant window displays, and we’ll all feel like the Queen or Prince Philip, as every shop will smell of fresh paint when we visit.

The central message from the show is that indies must never stop learning. Don’t allow your business to stagnate; keep on stimulating your customers by constantly refreshing part of your offer. This means hard work for most buyers, and getting out of their comfort zone - whether it’s a foreign buying trip, a “yes” to an appointment to see an unfamiliar brand, or taking a look at another part of the industry.

A visit to Graduate Fashion Week in London was a fabulous way for to expand my horizons and keep on learning. Not only is it great to see UK industry putting up the money to make this possible, but the personal commitment of River Island’s Richard Bradbury and the Hearst Corporation’s Terry Mansfield to support fashion graduates is inspiring.

Although they could have simply delegated the task to others, both were meeting and greeting guests at the final GFW Gala Show and Awards, while at the same time remaining accessible to the students. Their support provides a potential route into the industry from the hundreds of fashion and fashion-related courses around the country - as well as providing welcome free education for the rest of us.

Whether you need a refresher on marketing, stand design, print and colour direction, inspiration on accessories, illustration or fashion writing, you can find it all on show at GFW. The competition among the fashion colleges ensures there is a uniformly high standard.

So if you thought student fashion had nothing to offer the forever 40s, think again. We ain’t dead yet.

- Curtis Jacoby runs womenswear agency the Jacoby Partnership in central London.

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