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Editor's Comment: 'Spring is in the air but retailers aren’t so chirpy'

I may regret saying this, especially as the bank holiday approaches, spring seems to have arrived - at least in the south of England.

The hedges near my home are about to burst into leaf. Blossom is out on some trees. The many birds that descend on my garden every day are in the mood for courtship andnest-building. And I haven’t had to scrape ice off the car windscreen for a few weeks.The clocks go forward this weekend, which is a practical reminder that the days are getting lighter and longer.

Usually the arrival of British Summer Time would be a moment of optimism for fashion retailers and their suppliers as the new season gets into gear. Yet I detect a lack of upbeat feeling across the sector. Talking with contacts at all levels since the start of the year, the word most often used to describe trading
is “tough”. Several industry leaders commented before last week’s budget that the reported improvement in the economy has not been seen on the high street and that sentiment certainly chimed with me.

Just for a change, even traders in central London have been complaining. For obvious reasons, high-spending Russians are in short supply and tourists from the eurozone are staying away due to the relative weakness of that currency. Although not a widely held view, some people have said business outside London is more encouraging.

A few independents too have told me that full-price trading has been positive since the start of the new season; especially satisfied are those in the wedding party and special occasion business. It behoves the sector to adopt a steady-as-you-go approach in these uncertain times. True retailing skills will be at a premium. Marketing your offer effectively will be key to ensure you win whatever market share you deserve. Nothing can be left to chance. You will have to be all over your business to make whatever savings you can, while reacting sensibly to trading conditions. It would be good to see some more creative
responses than a big red Sale sign.

Interestingly enough, our friends at John Lewis were in pretty confident mood on Wednesday about prospects for the coming year. In a very slick resentation of products for autumn 15, fashion, home and furniture were brought together in five distinct groups that reflected, I was told,not “trends” but “consumer mindsets”. The first one presented by Paula Nickolds, JL’s director of buying and brand, was Indulgence, which includes a sub-group called
Cashmere Head-to-toe. The premise is that as we move out of austerity, many consumers (at least the Partnership’s!) are ready to spend on life’s
little treats again. I hope John Lewis is right. It usually is.

Also encouraging is the thought that an entire new retail offer will be hitting the high streets (of market towns at least), thanks to the confidence of the team behind value chain Pep&Co. After meeting with Andy Bond, Adrian Mountford and Cathy Haydon in Kettering this week (see pages 2 to 3), I came away impressed by their enthusiasm and vision. I am pleased that fashion retailing continues to offer a platform for innovation and newness.

Finally, I seem to have agreed to run around Hyde Park with some Drapers colleagues on Sunday May 17 in order to raise funds for the Fashion & Textile Children’s Trust, of which I am a trustee. If this isn’t weird enough, I will be doing so in the outfit of a superhero. Your financial support for this slightly madcap scheme will be much appreciated. Please go to Mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/victoriahart1

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