Debbie Rix's lingerie career began at DB Apparel-owned Playtex in the early 1990s. She oversaw Wonderbra's 'Hello Boys' ad campaign, then had five years off to have a family before moving into consultancy. She later moved to the US to work for basics brand Hanes before successfully launching half-sized bras for Playtex in the US. Now back in the UK, Rix hopes to repeat this success in Europe.
What makes you get up in the morning?
I get a thrill from the heritage and strength of the brands I work with and I love a challenge. We sold Gossard and Berlei last year so now have Playtex, Wonderbra and Shock Absorber. It'sgood to be able tofocus on the stuff that matters. Lingerie hasn't kept pace as quickly as it could have, but there are exciting things going on. We had the '100 ways' bra from Wonderbra, which generated lots of press coverage. We will also be working with TV show Britain's Next Top Model. It's about refocusing people on the brand. Shock Absorber is like the little brand that could - it's so specialist and niche.
How has the UK lingerie market changed since you've been away?
It's a tough environment. I've been away for four years and the changes in the high street during that time are phenomenal. People who weren't players in the lingerie industry are now really important; Marks & Spencer has recovered and La Senza has gone from strength to strength. In this climate, the business has to be about innovation and stepping up to the mark. When I got back six months ago, the branded industry seemed a bit flat, but we all need to kick back, which we are doing with MySize, our new half-sized range.
How can you make customers' lives easier?
We try to help our customers by providing a comprehensive sales force; we don't use any agents. We have invested heavily in our sales team so that the retailers we work with get outstanding customer service.
Would you consider opening a Playtex own-brand store?
Not at the moment - we've got too many other things to do. We are committed to growing the business within our existing account base and are very concerned about supporting those customers who have stayed loyal to us. We can grow the business by mail order through catalogues such as Grattan, Littlewoods and GUS, which are investing in their online presences. In traditional retail, department stores and independents are equally important to us. We have seen how the more successful independents differentiate themselves through the service they offer - it has to be about service, so indies are critical for us. Having said that, you need toensure your distribution is in place before having a strong department store network.
What is the next big thing in lingerie?
We are working on innovation at the moment, looking at technical solutions to several consumer issues. I can't say too much about it, but technology will play an important role in the future. We certainly haven't explored all the options with glued and seam-free bras, which I don't think have broken through into the mass market. Styles involving silicone and invisible-look products will also be important. The way we market our products will continue to be innovative. Playtex has historically used TV advertising. Lingerie brands don't usually do TV - it's expensive, so I suppose other labels have focused on PoS and in-store promotions instead. We have always believed that if you have a big idea, you should shout about it.
THIS FASHION LIFE
What is your biggest fashion weakness?
Lingerie - how sad is that? I tell myself I have to wear a variety of labels for research.
What was your best fashion moment?
I'd like to think it has yet to come.
And your worst?
The time I decorated my school uniform with Bay City Rollers tartan.
Who is your industry icon?
My former boss and mentor Brian Duffy, who is now the CEO of Ralph Lauren. We launched Wonderbra together and had about as much fun as it is possible to have at work. He taught me the importance of loving what you do.
What would you be doing if not fashion?
I would like to have been in TV or the media.
Who is the best high street retailer?
I have just come back from the US and Hobbs has been a great rediscovery for me. I love what it is doing at the moment - it feels like it is designed just for me. But I shop everywhere, from Selfridges to Primark.
What are you reading?
The last book I read was by Jodi Picoult, but I've also recently read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which is the best book I've ever read.
Who is your style icon?
Who is your pop idol?
I love Gary Moore, the blues guitarist.
Who is on your mobile's speed dial?
My kids and my hairdresser.