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The league of extraordinary business minds

What does success look like in the fashion business?

This week we held the Drapers Fashion Awards and Fashion Summit, both of which spotlighted the individuals and companies leading our industry, and it got me thinking about what makes a business or individual successful.

Having chaired all three of our judging panels this year and had the privilege of interviewing some of our Summit speakers live on stage, there are a few things that struck me about the fashion industry’s top players.

The first is their single-minded focus on the customer transaction. Regardless of whether they operate a retail giant or a start-up, the fashion industry’s winners are those who have an almost pathological obsession for the exact point that the customer parts with money. What drives them to buy, who exactly are they, when do they shop, where do they shop and what do they want to buy?

These business minds are constantly flicking through their options and choosing the path they believe will prompt the maximum positive response from customers. They have one eye on the balance sheet, sure, but know that ripping costs out, or slashing prices to sell off excess stock, is not a long-term strategy and that only getting everything right for the customer will really lead to growth.

The second notable similarity is that they rarely look to the past or even the present in any fine detail; their eyes are firmly on the horizon and they focus on what the consumer will be buying in a year, three years, five years time.

The phrase that Reiss founder David Reiss uses is ‘future proofing’, a process that is just as relevant to other top leaders like Nick Robertson at Asos, for example.

Asos has constantly moved forward. If you talk to Robertson, his interest is in how the consumer of the future will shop and how he can prepare for that.

Another quality shared by the trade’s leading lights is bravery. The companies that succeed are not those that obsess about their direct competitors and launch knee-jerk reactions to sales and promotions. By the time a competitor is catching on to one of their ideas they’ve already moved on, with the focus always on what’s right for their customer. Primark chief executive Paul Marchant is a clear example of this – he’s led an immensely successful strategy without online. Where everyone else has gone digital he held off, arguing it’s not currently right for the Primark business model. The results show that bravery has paid off.

It’s an honour every year to be able to recognise the best of this industry through our Drapers Fashion Awards but more than that it’s vital that we as a sector recognise the fine business minds driving fashion forward.

Fashion is not for the faint-hearted, it’s a highly complex business, and to succeed in such a competitive market shows a focus and ability well beyond the normal.

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