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Memo from Musgrave: The talent is out there, if we give it a chance

Career progression has been on my mind this week. Not my own, of course, but that of the hundreds of impressive students who were manning stands at Graduate Fashion Week in London, hoping to catch the eye of prospective employers.

This four-day festival of creative talent – enthusiastically sponsored by the team at George and championed by product supremo Fiona Lambert – is an annual reminder of the great work done by many of our colleges. Not all the schools are equally excellent, but the best are really very good and it is reassuring to know that many brands and retailers consider GFW a must-see event.

Even in these generally straitened times, I maintain it is the responsibility of major companies and not-so-major companies to give a chance to the next generation of talent. As I judged the new Drapers Fashion Publication Award at GFW last Monday, it was somewhat depressing to hear from so many of this year’s graduates that they were prepared to take unpaid internships just to get half a foot on the ladder. This seems exploitative, to say the least, and scant reward for three or four years of studying. Can’t we do better than that? 

Talk to any successful fashion entrepreneur of any discipline, of course, and they will soon convince you that true talent cannot be learned only from books or websites. There has to be an essential quality within a person to enable him or her to succeed in our industry. Positive proof of what can be achieved by starting at the bottom and working to the top was celebrated on Thursday at the Drapers Footwear Awards when Don McCarthy received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. His story (see page 20) of rising from Saturday boy at Stead & Simpson to executive chairman of House of Fraser should serve as an inspiration to anyone wishing to make a mark on the industry. For more inspiration, see our mini-interview with Paul Costelloe on page 36 – another brilliantly talented old-timer who is always a delight to bump into.

As can be seen in our Footwear Awards Winners’ Brochure, there was a particularly varied list of victors this year, with only the high-flying Ted Baker brand winning two categories. I found the breadth of entrants very encouraging. Despite the continuing challenges on the high street (and digital platforms), the ingenuity and relevance of good operators shines through.

Remember that we are now looking for entries for the Drapers Awards, our annual contest for the largest retailers and their suppliers. The trophies will be handed out at our gala dinner in London on November 26, but first we need those entries. The deadline is Friday June 19 and the categories, entry criteria and online forms are at Awards.drapersonline.com. There are many businesses out there that deserve our coveted accolades, but you have to be in it to win it!

Still on the theme of awards, I enjoyed two days in Ireland last week seeing some of the shortlisted contenders for the Drapers Independents Awards, which this year celebrates its 25th edition. Our first Irish winner was Brown Thomas, which lifted the Department Store award in 1995, and there have been plenty of trophies carried over the Irish Sea since then. Talking to this year’s contenders, I was impressed by the resilience they had shown in overcoming the incredible problems following the financial calamity of 2008. Turnovers dropped between 40% and 50% in barely a year and it has been a long, slow and painful recovery. Happily, everyone I spoke to was filled with confidence after a cracking start to 2015. Long may it continue.

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