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Retailer insight: You can't avoid leaving a legacy

Pure Collection’s Jo Hooper says that from a company’s overall aims to the impression you leave behind, there is no avoiding the importance of legacies in fashion

Jo Hooper

Jo Hooper

Jo Hooper

Legacy. It sounds like a big, serious subject. Do people really set out to  create one? Just the egotistical, maybe? Is there a difference between your personal and professional legacy? And with today’s pace of change, is it really possible to create one?

In a world where every writer, actor, singer, dancer, artist or director bemoans the fact that they are only as good as their last book, release, production or work - and where our profession is judged on the sales, not only of the last season, period or week, but of the last 24 hours, on a minute-by-minute basis - what can possibly be left behind?

Many of us have worked in large organisations where the term “legacy” and its behavioural impact is writ large in the employee handbook. 

John Lewis, for one, in its partnership leadership behaviours, speaks lengthily of many skills and behaviours it expects to see demonstrated – for example: creating a climate of personal responsibility; sharing knowledge; empowering teams; challenging insular thinking; and working across boundaries. But as we all know, enthusiastic and extensive cascading of employee responsibilities is merely scratching the surface.

So what do we mean, or feel, when we think of legacy? Scanning the newspapers for something that I really want to read, I often turn to the fascinating obituaries. Looking not only for heroic tales of bravery, creativity, dedication, extraordinary feats, books, films but more for the detail – the “human part”. The kind word to an unsuspecting fan, the tales of partying until dawn, the modesty, the love of family … 

I loved learning that not only was Nora Ephron a talented writer of books, stories and screenplays – most notably When Harry Met Sally – but, as her friend Meryl Streep said of her: “Nora  just looked at every situation and thought, ’Hmm, how can I make this more fun?’” 

The human part engages and remains. Because in reality, what do you leave behind? Doubling your turnover year on year?

When Alexandra Shulman recently reflected on leaving Vogue, she said: “I’m not a great believer in legacies. I think you just do it while you do it and then you move on.”

I can’t disagree with that. But what she may not be recognising, or perhaps she is being modest about, is personal legacy – the culture you create, the environment where people feel that, in this extraordinarily fast paced and uncertain retail world we are in, that the “open-ended questions” (Where are we going next? What are we missing?) are not only allowed, but essential, and must be asked every day.

How do we create the best environment, where creativity and confidence can thrive? Is it knowing when to direct or when to delegate? Can we lead by letting go?

Of course, it is the people we work with who make this possible. My professional approach to negotiation was formed in a definitive legacy moment for me – the moment when, as a young buyer, in a smoke-filled, windowless room in India, jetlagged but eager to impress, I pushed and pushed for the best price, only to realise by watching my very experienced boss that I should let it go and return to the conversation when I had something new to offer. 

For what my boss at that time appreciated, and I was to learn, was that even when negotiating with the most hard-hitting international manufacturers and partners, they will only do what they want to do. They need to want to do it for you.

Ultimately, there can be no separation of the legacy ambitions in the handbook and the culture that individuals create. They are worthless when a  culture of inclusion, challenge, respect and, often, fun is not recognised and embraced. We are all social creatures and we leave a legacy behind, whether we intend to or not. After all, actions speak louder than words. 

It’s a trickle-down effect from the top of the organisation, big or small. The importance of the clarity, respect and support that you give out in all your communications, and the legacy that leaves behind, is undeniable.

Jo Hooper is product director at Pure Collection


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