It was in 1991 that Drapers Record launched its annual awards for independent fashion retailers. The prize-giving event was held over lunch at a central London hotel.
On Thursday this week, 22 years later, things came full circle as we held our Drapers Independents Awards lunch at the Waldorf Astoria in Covent Garden.
The original concept behind the awards still holds good today - to spotlight, celebrate and reward the brilliant work done by the often-overlooked smaller operators. The stimulus for the introduction in 1991 has resonance today also. It was essentially to give indies something to be happy about at a time when there was plenty to be unhappy about. John Major had not long replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. The country was in a deep recession and unemployment would hit 2.5 million by the end of the year.
In such circumstances - and those of today - it is too easy to get obsessed with bad news and to be caught up with the negativity it engenders. On Drapers we try to be realistic and honest about what is going on in the trade, which clearly is challenging on many levels, but we also try and highlight the many successes being scored in the industry. There was certainly a lot to celebrate at Thursday’s lunch when 15 awards were presented, ranging from our Best New Business prize for Clare Serjeant of Fox + Feather in Bristol, which has been going for just a couple of years, to our Lifetime Achievement accolade that went to womenswear supplier Irving Goodman, who is still fizzing with enthusiasm after almost seven decades in the business.
In constructing the awards categories we endeavour to reflect the make-up of our fascinating and diverse industry.
This year we had nine retailing categories, four brand awards and one for best multi-brand agency or distributor, plus the Lifetime Achievement. Shop owners will always be at the heart of this initiative, but we feel it is important also to highlight the essential work that brand owners and agents contribute to the well-being and prosperity of the independents’ sector.
The structural changes that fashion retail is undergoing obviously has an effect on its suppliers. In the near future features in Drapers will be looking more closely at how these relationships may develop. Just as we don’t believe independents will become extinct, we don’t believe indie-centred agents and distributors will disappear either, but they will evolve and adapt. The agencies and brands on our finalists list were nominated by their retailers and it has been encouraging to see how good the symbiotic relationship very often is between buyer and seller. Well done to Jane Wilson and Denise Tavernier of Chiltern Street Studio for edging the decision this year in a very competitive category.
Details on all our finalists can be found in the winners’ brochure in the centre of this issue. They all deserve our applause for the great work they continue to perform in circumstances that are not ideal. (As an industry, are we better or worse off now than we were in 1991? I’d love to hear your views).
One interesting aspect of this year’s awards is that the top accolade - Drapers’ Independent Retailer of the Year - went to a relative newcomer, Anne Wright of Young Ideas.
With her husband Colin she acquired this long-established womenswear retailer just five years ago and has since introduced highly impressive business systems, transformed its brand mix, opened a second branch in Derby, set up a transactional website and introduced menswear. It was for these achievements that the judges were unanimous in awarding the Wrights the award for the womenswear category and the overall Retailer of the Year accolade. Since the judging was completed, Young Ideas has been relocated to splendid larger premises a few hundred yards from its previous location in Ashbourne. The new unit, which is shown in the winners’ brochure, is part of a historic coaching inn the Wrights are restoring and they intend to offer small units
to complementary independent retailers to create a contemporary destination. It is initiatives like this that make me feel quietly confident about the future of independents.
Well done to every awards entrant. It’s been an uplifting experience for us all.