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Simon Berwin's Brexit warning

Simon Berwin

Berwin & Berwin managing director Simon Berwin on the changing face of supply, the importance of loyalty and partnerships and the impact of Brexit

I was in Athens on business recently. My host questioned which was more difficult: Brexit or everyday life in Greece, observing that our generation is lucky not to have actively lived through a war. Instead, we’ve worked through a period where many businesses have experienced significant growth. We both agreed all of the above could change at any time.

Berwin & Berwin is a fourth-generation family tailoring business. When I joined in 1973, it was making around 800 suits a week. Last week, that number exceeded 16,000. When I’m asked where that growth came from, I always say people and product. The prime drivers were the people in our teams, but also our partners and, dare I say, loyalty. Then there were some of the legendary buyers, such as Brian Hill, Simon Gash, James Perring, Lee Hamilton, John Jellineck and the evergreen Charles McKenna.

Nowadays, many people tell us that the words “partnership” and “loyalty” are outdated, and the only thing that matters is margin. This situation has been exaggerated by the outrageous Brexit situation which has, not surprisingly, killed sterling pound. Most tailoring is bought in dollars and, if the value has changed by 20%, then normal people would expect prices to change by 20%, too. But, of course, margin is king and nobody will play ball.

Let’s spell out what most people think about Brexit: Brexit, just like the general election, brings uncertainty, which is the one thing none of us needed. Let me put down on paper what many people are saying. Brexit happened because David Cameron, now happily in the Sunday Times Rich List, wanted to secure one more term in Number 10 and then read the situation wrongly before walking away.

As someone who owns businesses abroad and travels extensively, I am saying, please be under no illusions: we are now rated as second-class citizens, and many customers are seriously questioning whether they want to deal with UK companies. However hard we all think this process is going to be, it will in fact be 10 times harder. Thank you David, Boris and, sadly, Lord Wolfson.

When will buyers realise that special product works better than cheap product?

Suppliers – and I don’t just mean my business – are in the main disillusioned, losing money and, in many cases, losing team members to ways of life that are easier and more rewarding.

When will basic common sense and good manners return, and buyers realise that special product works better than cheap product, and investment in product leads to full-price sales plus happier people?

Our own retail business, which is mostly concessions in department stores, is up 12% in like-for-like sales for the year to date. When discussing this with our team, they echo my interpretation: it’s down to people and product. We have people in our departments who are focused and engaged through a lot of communication from our head office team.

Currently we have a situation where one of our shirt brands is flying off the shelves at £89, while another costs £30 less and is creating no interest … our fault for chasing margin by de-speccing the product and not listening to our designers.

Look at one of our country’s recent successes: Ted Baker – led by the charismatic, innovative Ray Kelvin, who is proud of his people and his product. It has certainly found the right balance between success, relationships and excitement.

Sometimes the old ways do work, so let’s focus on partnerships, people and product, rather than trying to beat suppliers into submission by archaic methods including bullying, threatening and withdrawing. This is a road to nowhere.

Of course it’s hard out there, but talking to each other – not by email – and working together has always been the way forward. That’s certainly the way my dad would do it.


Readers' comments (7)

  • Spot on!

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  • hear, hear!

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  • Simon Berwin highlights the issues which Brexit poses for fashion companies.

    Thinking about the issues ( and planning how best to deal with them will provide a way forward for many.

    Stephen Sidkin
    Fashion Law Group
    Fox Williams LLP

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  • Well said.

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  • A perfect summation of the disasterous Brexit saga !

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  • What outrageous Brexit saga !! The trade is in a mess for many reasons not just exchange rates and Brexit negotiations have not even started yet ! Totally agree with product being key, that will never change, the customer will always spot good product and provided margin is falling in line then always product product product. Relationships are being tested, but be under no illusion with the multiples there is no loyalty, independents, yes, much more of a partnership with the few that are left. I also travel extensively , as a supplier i have done for the last 30 years and i have been in this industry all my working life. Why should we stay still, i have sourced out of China (HK quota) , Turkey, Greece, Philippines, SL, Bangladesh and India. Anyone of these countries can be better off under Brexit in terms of UK duty, obviously it will come down to a trade deal. All of a sudden we could see a situation where India has a UK trade deal and Bangladesh doesn't and once the dust settles the pound will rise again, like it already has, in the meantime UK manufacturing across the board is rising. In the end most of this is semantics, in all the years i have worked in this industry it always always bounces back to the same thing when it comes to success, so i'll use that word again, product, so all in all i pretty much agree with Simon but not in terms of Brexit. It's time for a shake up, the strongest survive and the next generation will bring new energy and new ideas on a global scale, in the meantime stick to product and stick to your margin and don't let the buggers get you down.

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  • The article, quite rightly, mentions the importance of partnerships. When you have good retail/account manager/brand relationship for example, who understand each other and their needs, it is almost always successful. But this is the more often the exception, rather than the rule. The normal behaviour in this 'relationship' would be for the account manager to take an order, for items that the retailer does not always want and certainly not for time frame they want as the Industry works in counter productive and dysfunctional season patterns. Representative then disappears without contact for 6 months (doing ?) until they want another appointment for the same flawed process to happen again. That is not a relationship, it's a dictatorship. Is this good business? - No.

    While there is much to agree with in this article, BREXIT is huge opportunity for this country and our industry to get its act together, but some commentators won't let it go. So will we change for the better or remain the deeply flawed industry it is today?

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