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This week in history...

Marks & Spencer axed 1,000 of its clothing lines, iron-on T-shirt transfers boosted retailers’ coffers, and a national union suggested the government set up a Ministry of Apparel.

5 years ago…

Marks & Spencer axed 1,000 fashion lines for autumn and cut its number of clothing suppliers as part of an effort to streamline its offer and supply base, reported the June 17 2004 issue of Drapers.

The move was a key part of a vision outlined by chief executive Stuart Rose to return £2.3 billion to shareholders and defend the company against a potential takeover bid by Arcadia Group boss Philip Green.

Clothing lines were cut from 10,000 to 9,000, while homeware was slashed from 8,500 lines to 4,500. About £200 million of orders were cancelled.

Executive director Maurice Helfgott said the number of suppliers would also be cut, while discount terms with suppliers were to be increased from about 3.5% to 7.5% from September 1, rising to 10% from April 1.


30 years ago…

“Do backhanders push up prices?” asked Drapers on July 21 1979, after the magazine received an anonymous letter alleging that the practice of a buying team “getting a cut” as a thank you from suppliers was “not uncommon”.

The writer, an employee at a mail-order business, wrote that inflated prices at some retailers were the result of the inclusion of the buying team’s cut.

“Few people outside fashion retailing realise how high the profit margin on a garment can be and so it is easy to hide an extra percentage in the cost,” said the writer. “Most manufacturers are delighted to play ball, with the extra cost paid by the retailer and then passed on to the customer.”

Also this week, iron-on transfers on T-shirts were proving a lucrative source of sales for retailers, who bought the transfers and then ironed them onto plain T-shirts. 

As both T-shirts and transfers were relatively cheap products, the combination allowed retailers to cash in on fads, gimmicks and popular culture, and with the economic outlook gloomy, catered for the public’s “basic wish for inexpensive fun and self-expression in troubled times.”


45 years ago…

Drapers rubbished a suggestion by the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers that the government should set up a Ministry of Apparel in its July 18 1964 issue.

The union believed the Ministry would “co-ordinate development of the industry by ensuring that new firms entering the trade comply with approved conditions and regulations”.

It went on to point out that food and housing was under constant supervision, yet clothing was left only to fashion writers.

Drapers said the proposal threatened the freedom of people to express their individuality through clothing, and that the industry was coping perfectly well as it was, with more clothing than ever being sold, increasing quality standards and wages at a new peak.


79 years ago…

Advice on talking to the customer was given to the readers of Menswear (later incorporated into Drapers) on July 19 1930.

There are many obvious reasons why a trader may lose a customer, the magazine wrote, but one of the “hidden” reasons was conversation.

Politics and religion were considered strictly taboo: “One only has to recall the upheavals these have caused in the world’s history to realise they are hardly topics for debate between a shopkeeper and his customers…for the trader to obtrude his own views on the subject to a shopper whose religious or political views are unknown, is a menace to goodwill.”

“Unreasoning intimacy” was given as another cause of lost customers, whereby a trader discusses other shoppers with the customer. Comments such as “I simply can’t stand that fellow; he hangs about the shop telling me all his family troubles” would leave the customer wondering what the retailer may be saying about them.

Retailers were also advised to not make promises they don’t intend to keep, and not to let a long conversation with one customer leave another shopper feeling ignored.

A picture spread looked at autumn overcoat styles. A less fitted look, belted styles and check patterns were the key trends.

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