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This week in history...

M&S shook up its buying team, George Davies discussed his plans for Asda, and gangs terrorised shop staff.

10 years ago…

Marks & Spencer was poised to shake up its buying department according to Drapers’ October 16, 1999 issue.

The retailer had scheduled a board meeting to discuss removing a layer of management to speed up decision-making on new product, following proposals by consultancy AT Kearney.

A spokesman for M&S said the changes had been discussed with suppliers, and added: “We are looking at our global buying operation and looking at ways to streamline and speed up.”

A shake-up in March earlier this year cut the number of departments responsible for different categories of clothing, but the retailer denied that these new changes would lead to further job losses.

In the booming value sector this week, retailer Peacocks hit the headlines by announcing it would float its 261-store business by December this year.

Drapers questioned whether chief executive Richard Kirk had got his timing right, but Soc Gen analyst Nick Bubb thought he had, pointing out the “outstanding success” of Matalan’s stock. “Value is currently a sexy bit of the market,” he said.   

20 years…

Retail entrepreneur George Davies spoke to Drapers on October 14, 1989, following the publication of his autobiography, What Next?

Unfortunately the book revealed little about Davies’ dismissal in a boardroom coup from Next, the high street chain he created.

However, Davies did discuss his new role, designing a range of clothing for Asda. Davies was relishing the challenge, as he believed true entrepreneurialism was all about changing attitudes, and the public had a downmarket image of out-of-town, supermarket fashion.

“Retailers like Asda have gained in sophistication,” he said. “Asda has elevated the clothing line and my vision of the future is that they will become departmental. But I am not introducing anything new to Asda. They are doing £150m in clothing already.

“What we are doing is developing the product range and offering people a tremendous deal on a really good product.”

Also this week, rising rents and rate increases were blamed for an increase in empty shops on one of London’s leading fashion thoroughfares, South Molton Street.

A report on UK shop rental growth by real estate firm Healey and Baker showed that rents had risen by an average of 16.4% in the past year. The year before, rents had soared by 26%.

Sydney Burstein, owner of premium indie Browns, said when he opened his shop on the street nearly 20 years ago he was paying £2,250 a year in rent, which had since risen to £120,000. He feared he would be forced to put prices up, which may deter customers. 

Drapers also reported from Italian textile fair Prato Expo this week, where Vivienne Westwood showed a “lampshade dress”, created in collaboration with Italian textile mills.

40 years ago…

“Gangs terrorise shop staff” was the headline in Drapers’ October 18, 1969 issue.

The marauding gangs of youths were racing through stores “terrorising shop assistants” and making off with armfuls of merchandise, the latest trend in “the growing incidence of shoplifting”.

After a number of such incidents in Liverpool, the city’s Stores Committee asked the local police to put more uniformed policemen on the beat.

The Committee told Drapers it believed the problem was on the increase throughout the country, and that rather than targeting specific items, the gangs were snatching handfuls of merchandise in an act of “sheer hooliganism”.

A fashion spread this week identified a new, long casual look for spring 1970. The elegant and easy clothes came in practical, easy-care fabrics in strong, clear pastels, red, emerald, white, black and neutrals.

70 years ago…

Clothing suppliers struggled to fulfil deliveries as stocks ran low after the outbreak of the Second World War, reported Men’s Wear (later incorporated into Drapers) on October 14, 1939.

Although demand for stock was “considerable”, only a minority of suppliers had been able to meet small orders placed before hostilities broke out.

One long-established firm told Drapers that deliveries were running four weeks late. “Trench coats and fleece-lined merchandise generally are subject to much delay,” a spokesperson said.

Another manufacturer said he had been waiting five weeks for about 150 pieces of blue serge coating. The delay in obtaining materials was also hindering the completion of British Army orders, particularly greatcoats. As a result, the Army was being forced to buy up civilian overcoats.   

Ties were the worst hit category, as almost 70% of the cloths used to manufacture them were previously imported from Germany. 

Also this week, Harrods created a small department of Christmas gift ideas to be sent from the UK to men serving abroad in the war.

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