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Editor's Comment: People moves bring fresh thinking to fashion retail

Keely Stocker

It’s only the third week in January and the people moves merry-go-round is already spinning at full speed. 

Among the appointments are a new chief financial officer at Superdry and a new womenswear merchandising director at Primark (news, p4). Drapers also exclusively revealed this week that Marks & Spencer has asked style director Belinda Earl to head its womenswear and beauty departments on an interim basis, replacing clothing and beauty director Jo Jenkins, who announced her departure for White Stuff in October. 

Earl joined M&S in 2012 and has been credited by the consumer press with some of its more high-profile fashion successes. Previously chief executive of Jaeger and Debenhams, she was awarded an OBE for services to retail in the Queen’s birthday honours last summer. However, she holds a part-time position at M&S, and we assume she will revert to that role once a permanent replacement is found. The challenge will be to find someone else who can match Jenkins’ product knowledge. 

On the subject of interim appointments, last week Shop Direct revealed that group finance director Derek Harding will temporarily assume the role of chief executive when Alex Baldock departs at the end of this month.

There has been a lot of change at Shop Direct in recent months. However, its Christmas trading results showed it is not in a bad place: group revenue was up 6.3% in the seven weeks to 22 December 2017.

It will be interesting to see how Harding moves the business forward this year – and whether his position will become permanent or Shop Direct will look to bring in someone from outside.

Either way, Baldock’s are big shoes to fill. In six years at Shop Direct, he led its transformation from (in his words) a “dusty old catalogue retailer” to an innovative digital business, which says it is now the second-largest pureplay retailer in the UK.

Baldock’s background was in banking, and his success at Shop Direct demonstrates that it can be beneficial to look outside of fashion retail for a fresh leadership perspective. M&S has taken a similar approach by appointing former Halfords boss Jill McDonald to the newly created role of managing director of clothing, home and beauty. 

As some fashion retailers struggle to find the right people to take on senior roles, new ideas and a different perspective are no bad thing. However, it is important for fashion retailers to remember that product still remains key – and product expertise is something no fashion business can live without. If retailers can get the fundamentals right, these people moves can bring fresh thinking in 2018.

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