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Memo from Musgrave: Fashion’s conveyor belt keeps a-turning

This is not a book review column, but I can heartily recommend to anyone interested in fashion retailing High Street Heroes by John Timpson, boss of the ubiquitous key-cutting and shoe-repair chain.

Covering every sector from fashion to footwear (his family business ran a shoe chain until 1987), from pound shops to supermarkets, the retail veteran has produced a detailed and very readable history of UK retailing in the modern era.

The pages are peppered with his own observations – he likes good old-fashioned traders who provide good service – and Timpson has the personal experience to draw on: he recalls a young Philip Green making him coffee while working for a shoe importer in the mid-1960s. This will be a splendid stocking filler for many Drapers readers.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the book is the huge number of defunct businesses that get a mention in Timpson’s sweeping overview. With a retired shoe supplier he plays a game whereby they try to name as many specialist footwear chains from the past 50 years that had 10 shops or more – once they managed to list 72 companies.

Like me, Timpson does not believe we are living in particularly unusual times. He makes an excellent point in his introduction: “Those who think we are currently going through a once-in-a-lifetime retail revolution have been misled. The current change in shopping habits is just one more tremor in a long earthquake that was already shaking up the high street when I started work as a shop assistant in 1960.”

Fashion retail is like the conveyor belt in Yo! Sushi: it has no beginning and no end; it just keeps revolving, bringing things round that consumers like or don’t like. Change is one of the few constants in this business.

The same applies in my own world of B2B publishing. After a seven-year gap I returned to Drapers in July 2013 and this is my 108th editor’s column since then. It is also my last, as I am stepping down to return to my career as a fashion industry consultant and freelance writer. Please do keep in touch via eric@ericmusgrave.co.uk.

It is with total confidence and a lot of pleasure that I pass the reins on to my deputy, Keely Stocker. Keely has been working on Drapers for more than 10 years and she completely understands the industry and what it wants. Keely has been my second-in-command since May 2014 and I have relied on her greatly, not least in the area of digital publishing, for which she is our resident expert. The Drapers website, which will be relaunched with responsive capability in a week or so, has been shaped from an editorial point of view almost single-handedly by Keely. The title is in good hands.  

I wish her, my brilliant editorial colleagues and the enthusiastic and devoted squad of Drapers folk in other departments such as advertising, sponsorship, events, awards, conferences, subscriptions, marketing, production and customer services all good fortune for the future. Drapers is a 128-year-old title with a unique position in a unique industry. It deserves to be treated like the market leader it has been since 1887. 

I have been slightly amused by a few contacts who have asked if I am retiring. I am not the retiring type, however you interpret that phrase. Old journalists don’t retire – they just eventually run out of deadlines. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me during what has been my third time at Drapers and my second time as the editor. It has been a privilege. May the work I’ve done speak for me.

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