It was with trepidation that I went up to my CEO’s (Miles Gray) office after being summoned randomly a few weeks ago. I exhaled a sigh of relief as he explained that he had been asked to sit on the judging panel for the World Retail Congress competition alongside a whole host of industry giants such as Sir Philip Green, Sir Stuart Rose and Terry Green from Tesco.
Students from the world’s foremost retail fashion academies had been tasked to create the best new youth retail concept for 2012. It was now down to two teams from London’s Fashion Retail Academy to compete for a place in the final in Barcelona. Ben Sherman and Arcadia joined forces to mentor one of the teams and my mission, if I chose to accept it, was to crack the students into shape and get them ready to present in the semifinal. ‘Sure I’ll do it, piece of cake! SO when is the semifinal? Oh next week… right. ‘Help’ I mouthed at the wall.
Errin my Arcadia counterpart and I went into overdrive with our team, honing their idea and literally whipping them into gear with the aid of our respective brands. Our student’s concept was all about promoting graduate fashion talent alongside existing fashion names within a social enterprise business model. They needed a brand, a look and feel, a 5-year plan and some serious presentation master classes. Imagine every reality TV show you’ve seen all rolled into one, on Monday I was Sir Alan’s ‘Margaret’ by Friday I felt like evil Simon Cowell as we had a requisite meltdown with tears before bedtime. The day before the semifinal we were channeling Trinny and Suzannah as we advised the girls on ‘what not to wear’ when presenting to fashion big-wigs.
When the big day came, our team did brilliantly. They had improved so dramatically that Errin and I were quite choked watching them present. Like proud parents we couldn’t help smiling as they sweetly fended off nasty questions from the judges. For those students vying for a career in the heavily competitive world of fashion, an audience with such prominent figures was the opportunity of a lifetime. Though sadly our girls didn’t go through to the final in Barcelona, to our surprise they did get approached by a venture capitalist who was interested in taking their idea to market. Not a bad consolation prize at all…. I always preferred Will Young to Gareth Gates!