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Ann Milson

Delmod UK and Ireland manager tells Alex Hudson the reasons behind the womenswear brand’s popularity with indies.

What is the mood like in the womenswear market?
It’s not good. It’s tough at every level, but our sector is quite lucky – we’re marginally better off than some others because our customers are more mature and more affluent, so are less affected by swings in the economy.

What are the big buying trends at the moment?
Even though grey is strong again, our customers are always looking for a little bit of colour. We try to combine styles because it’s better to have garments that are mixed with grey rather than just grey on grey.

What can brands do for retailers during periods of tough trading?
We help as much as we can. We already run support days, with brochures and giveaways, but we also have a concession in Allders in Croydon. If retailers are really stuck with something, then I can take it back and try to sell it for them.

What is the biggest challenge facing womenswear as a whole?
A big issue facing a lot of brands trading at this end of the market is modernising themselves so they appeal to slightly younger customers without alienating those they have had for years. We have a big collection that allows us to show some programmes aimed at our core customers, and others at a younger clientele.

How did you get to where you are today in your career?
A lot of failed relationships with men caused me to throw myself into the business, and when I did that I always seemed to get a promotion, so it’s down to hard work really. I’ve always been completely immersed in the business. It’s taken up a lot of my life but I really enjoy it.

How has the fashion industry changed since you started out?
Brands have to support the retailers a lot more now than they used to. I’m not sure if the brands were arrogant, but they weren’t very flexible and I think that’s changed a lot. Also, there’s also a lot more competition. Every week I read about another brand launching in the UK.

Why is your brand so popular with independent retailers?
We give customers individual attention and a lot of time, especially if they are starting up – they really do appreciate it. I try to visit them in between seasons to make personal contact and to show we are there if they need us.

What has been your biggest achievement during your career?
Opening a French Connection store in Basingstoke in Hampshire in 2003. Getting the shop, negotiating the lease and hiring staff was hard work and very stressful. Looking back, I can’t believe I did it. The shopping centre had to open and they didn’t care if we had a builder or not. I think we started the shopfit before we had the lease. The lawyers were still negotiating, but we had to start or we’d have never got it done.

What one thing would you change about the fashion industry?
I’d sell summer clothes in the summer and winter clothes in the winter. This has been the biggest bugbear for everyone in the industry for years. It means we’re always complaining about the weather. We used to buy everything in advance, as did the customer, but that’s changed.

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