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The unstoppable rise of fashion’s uncommon people

The revolution that has happened within the fashion business in the UK over the last decade, spurred by the rise of digital, the demand for fast fashion and the spending squeeze, has touched every part of the sector but none more so than the people who work in it.

Gone are the days of two buying seasons with room to breathe in between; most fashion workers are now working constantly, longer and harder than ever before, just to stand still. And the revolution has meant the skillset needed by fashion businesses has also changed.

With technology and customer preferences advancing almost every month and online having stolen a march on bricks-and-mortar stores, the skills most in demand are those associated with digital development and overseas expansion. In fact in many cases the roles being created have not existed before so the skills must be brought in from other industries, many from outside the UK.

At a time when the industry is going through such a fundamental change, most companies are still experimenting with the roles and skills they need and no two are structuring their teams the same, so there is a lot of movement in the teams behind the big businesses at the moment and a lot of people entering the job market.

But as these areas of the sector grow there has also been a significant fall in demand for those with the traditional fashion skills that were the basis for most careers up until the last 10 years. One chief executive told me last month that he and his board colleagues had taken a look at their own skillset a few years back and realised that not a single one of them had any experience running an online business, so they bought in the skills they needed from a digital business in the US.

This is likely to be a situation many senior execs now find themselves in and the process is changing the mix of roles in fashion. You only have to look at arguably the biggest success story right now, Asos, to see how its structure and indeed the people at the top are not typical of the fashion old guard. Chief executive Nick Robertson cut his teeth in advertising, in fact, and in my view it was this ability to look at his business from an outsider’s perspective that enabled him to break new ground.

Likewise anyone working in fashion now in a buying or merchandising role will need to ensure they hone their skills in a multichannel environment and also potentially gain experience outside the UK - knowledge that will become invaluable when they then choose to return.

Either way the fashion leaders of the future look set to be a very different breed to those at the helm today and buyers and merchandisers wanting to move up are going to need to look outside the UK or move sideways to get the experience they will need to progress.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I think it's vitally important to encourage increasing levels partnership working between industry, training establishments and colleges.

    Graduates being turned out now - in some cases still do not have these 'new' skills needed in addition to the ability to pick and negotiate a good product as a buyer or design a good product as a designer.

    The course content needs to be adapted fast, in consultation with future employers to ensure the right mix of necessary skills is being developed. Meaningful work experience (not unpaid internships) needs to be part of all courses, to develop these wider skills and give students insight into different routes available on graduation.

    I suggest recruiters should be working with trainers and colleges along with the employers to bring about this change and to highlight as you have here, where the skill gaps are clearly.

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