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Memo from Musgrave: A nation of shopkeepers – and suppliers

One of the more uplifting aspects of my job is witnessing how much entrepreneurial verve our industry attracts.

Despite the ongoing distraction of an underpowered economy and an undeniably overcrowded market, each week Drapers is contacted by bright people who are opening a shop, an online business or, even more remarkably, a fashion brand. 

A brand launch is always the most intriguing to me, given the complexity of setting up a clothing, footwear or accessories supply chain and the capital needed to fund the venture. It goes without saying that many aspirant industrialists fall by the wayside, largely as a result of a cash flow crisis, but it is encouraging that many fledglings take flight.

There is no shortage of businesses that keep afloat for a couple of seasons, prove their potential and then attract investment from some experienced names in the business. 

This week we report that contemporary womenswear brand Me+Em (see page 6), which has one store, and an online and mail order business, has received a cash injection from Sir Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, who presumably does not throw his money around without good cause. Late last month it was confirmed that former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose was among those backing Hope, a similar womenswear offer created by Nayna McIntosh, a former M&S colleague.

Retailing good news is never in short supply either. Take this week’s confirmation (see page 6) that the venerable Stewart Christie, an Edinburgh bespoke tailor and gentlemen’s outfitter that traces its roots back 200 years, has been acquired by experienced fashion retailers who are a long way off retirement age. They believe that heritage, service and traditional brands can be blended with fresh own-label collections and a transactional website to create a vibrant and relevant business. Good luck to them.

It is interesting to note that most entrepreneurs coming into the industry do not want to rule the world or end up running a monster like Amazon. More likely, they want a job that gives them a good living but also provides them with a level of job satisfaction that working for any money-focused concern does not. One sub-plot to the phenomenon is how many senior executives from large businesses are striking out on their own, taking big-company experience and best practice to smaller concerns.   

My trip to the IMC menswear buying group show on Sunday was a useful reminder that talent, enthusiasm and good financial controls do not guarantee a successful season. As we report on page 2 and page 8, the positive trading for spring reported by some independents was not universally enjoyed. Our old friend the weather was the culprit, predictably enough. The summer selling season has proved a washout, both meteorologically and figuratively, across the North, Scotland and much of Ireland.

What the industry really needs is an entrepreneur who can devise a reliable weather-forecasting device for six or eight months hence. In the meantime, I am looking forward – being the cock-eyed optimist I am – to suppliers coming up with better trans-seasonal products and a more flexible supply chain. Under the existing system, the effect of a poor spring this year is to reduce forward orders for spring 16. And who can blame buyers who still have a stockroom of shorts, short-sleeved shirts, summer blouses and floaty skirts? But they might move in the glorious Indian summer we are likely to have in late September…

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