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Indies: what do we do with a problem like the high street?

The news last week that the rate of indies opening in the UK slowed in the first half of this year compared to 2011 was yet another indication that all is still not well out in the world of fashion retail.

As our Hit or Miss reports over the last few weeks have shown, even large companies with notable resources, sophisticated supply chains and established branch networks can still get the fashion formula wrong, so what chance do our industrious indies have? Yes, it is broadly positive that we have a net gain rather than net loss but there’s still a long way to go before we’re in a position to give our beloved sector’s retail a clean bill of health.

So what to do? The Portas review sadly appears to be, while not exactly on the backburner, tangled so much in the complex world of legislation and implementation that the effect of any changes will be felt slowly and gradually. The high street needs impetus now and, in my own small way, I’ve come up with an idea (I know, who’d have thought?) that may help.

As the country’s main political party conferences wrap up, the cogs deep inside my cranium somewhere creaked into life. What if there was a national conference specifically for fashion independents? There are thousands of you out there, working hard with little support and in relative isolation. Yes, there are local associations that provide a forum for small groups of likeminded retailers to congregate but this plan is no Indies Anonymous in the village hall – I propose inviting thousands of our small independents to assemble in an impressive space to share their tips, discuss their experiences and learn from some of the leading lights in fashion retail, independent or otherwise, all with the aim to arm people with the information and networks to run their businesses better.

Now I can hear your initial response to this, that it sounds a bit pie in the sky and you’ll never get everyone in the same place at the same time. But if it was scheduled in the season, (the vast majority of the UK’s major trade shows will take place over a 3 week period this February for example) indie owners will already be gravitating towards the same places meaning the conference could be bolted on buying trips rather than extra expense of making a special journey. Then, if the line-up of speakers was compelling and impressive, the program of events useful and inspiring and the attendees ready to learn and network, what’s not to love?  

I’d be really interested in hearing your views on whether this could work for you so feel free to comment below or email me directly at ian.wright@emap.com.

Ian Wright
Fashion Director, Drapers

Readers' comments (1)

  • Networking is so important and the usual networking groups are all BtoB which as a retailer is not valuable use of my time. The opportunity to network with other fashion retailers? I'd grab the chance. It's important to me that I keep learning, swapping ideas and gaining valuable information from others but am I in the minority or majority. How many others think like me to make such an event worthwhile to take time out of their business and attend.

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