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‘Every brand we pick has to serve a purpose…’

Drapers joined New Look’s branded footwear buying team, Sally Heath and Natalie Wright, at international tradeshow Micam in Milan last week for a lesson in buying.

International footwear tradeshow Micam took place in Milan last week, drawing to a close a busy footwear buying season. The show saw several big-name British buyers in attendance and Drapers joined New Look’s Sally Heath and Natalie Wright for a buying lesson.

“The important thing to remember is that you are buying for your customer, and not for yourself,” says New Look head of multichannel buying Sally Heath. “Some people just think that being a footwear buyer is a bit like going shoe shopping when in reality there is far more to it than that.”

As Drapers follows Heath and footwear and accessories buyer for online brands Natalie Wright around the massive halls of the Fiera Milano exhibition centre, what she means very quickly becomes apparent.

Spring 13 will be New Look’s fourth season in the branded market, having launched online brands back in autumn 11. As well as footwear and accessories the retailer also sells branded clothing, lingerie and gifts on its website.

Drapers joins New Look on the stand of Spanish young fashion footwear brand Coolway. Although not a hugely well-known brand in the UK, it has recently opened a store on Oxford Street and is starting to get more of a presence in the country.

“We bought it last season [spring 12] and it seems to do very well for us,” says Heath. “It is quite a cute, young brand at a good price point so it ticks a lot of boxes with our customers.”

With most footwear brands closing their forward order books for spring by mid-October, Micam – taking place in mid-September – falls relatively late in the footwear buying calendar.

Heath and Wright use the show as an opportunity to revisit preliminary orders before committing to a final amount.

“There might be something we missed when we did the buy in London or we might decide when we look at it all again that certain styles look better than others,” says Heath.

Wright explains that Coolway did not have all the colourways available at the original meeting, so she is here to check she ordered everything she wanted. “This brand also offers drops in-season, so we can add lines in later on if we decide we want to.”

But the pair are also on the lookout for new brands, and still have the budget available should they see something that takes their fancy. The buying team tends to keep about 25% of its budget back for in-season buying, so any new brands cannot eat into that pot of cash, which means they are still highly selective about new additions.

“Every brand we pick up has to serve a purpose and give the customer something different to the others already on the site,” says Heath. “New Look also has a strong own-label business, particularly when it comes to footwear, so there is no point buying a brand that does something our customer can already get.”

Sometimes the pair may see something they like but can’t bring it on board for that season, and this is the case with the next brand on our hit list. Wright tells Drapers that she has been interested in Brazilian brand Lily’s Closet for a couple of seasons but has not been able to work with it so far because of the costs associated with shipping product from Latin America.

But both Wright and Heath are impressed with the footwear and decided to take the plunge with eight styles. “It is always worth coming back to a brand like this again to explore our options,” says Heath. “It looks to me like the product has moved on even further than last time we saw it here. It will definitely do well for us because it has many of the elements the New Look customer likes – lots of glitter and glamorous high-heeled styles.”

“We’re very keen to try and work with this brand for spring 13,” Wright adds. “We are really impressed with the collection and I think the prices have dropped a bit since I last looked, which should offset the higher shipping costs from Brazil.”

Wright spends a lot of time considering which shoes would work well. The team never orders more than eight styles for the first season that they buy into a brand. “Then, if those are well received we can buy more from that brand the following season.”

Most of the brands at the show have at least one or two people working on the stand whose feet are the sample size (UK size 4) and buyers can ask that they try on any of the samples so they can get a better idea of what they look like on the foot.

Wright asks one of the girls working for Lily’s Closet to try on several pairs of shoes before making her decision.

“We’re looking for cobalt blue as we think that will be one of the key colours for next season,” she says. “But we need to make sure it is the right shade and that we’re not just buying it because it’s blue when the style of the shoe isn’t quite right.

The other major factor for Wright and Heath to consider at all times is how something will work online. The details have to be apparent to New Look’s digital customer, and therefore every shoe has to be photographed to ensure they translate.

The New Look team then moves on to Australian women’s footwear brand Senso, which the retailer has already bought for autumn 12.

So convinced are the pair that this brand will be a success they return to buy for spring 13, even though the brand has not yet launched on New Look’s site.

“We found this brand at Micam last season and we are very excited about it. It is at the higher end of our online offer but that is an area we are looking to develop,” says Heath.

New Look also visits Jacobson Group-owned brand Dolcis, Los Angeles-based brand Kat Von D and women’s footwear brand Irregular Choice. At every stop the buy is carefully analysed and considered with Wright even sitting cross-legged on the floor at one point in order to look at things more closely.

“I’ve just been reading [Tesco chief executive] Sir Terry Leahy’s book [Management in 10 Words],” says Heath. “He is constantly talking about making decisions in business that are brave and courageous and I guess that’s what we’re trying to always make sure we do when we’re buying.”

With Heath and Wright’s commitment to making the branded footwear offer at New Look such a success, it is little wonder that they have gone from 11 to 45 brands online in just four seasons, and judging by their choices at Micam, the fast fashion retailer will be a safe bet for footwear for spring 13.

Story in numbers

25% of budget is held back for in-season buying

45 footwear brands on New Look online for spring 13

8 styles is the maximum number bought when trialling a new brand for the first season

4 seasons New Look has been selling brands online

1,595 exhibitors at Micam this season

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