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Whether step by step or brick by brick, real progress is being made

One of the best parts of my job is being involved in the various Drapers awards that recognise excellence and creativity in our business.

Last week I spent a very enjoyable Friday morning chairing the judging panel for our Footwear & Accessories Awards, which will be presented at a black-tie dinner in London on May 1.

It is very gratifying for me to see retailers old and new plus brands large and small entering our annual contest for this vibrant and increasingly significant slice of the fashion sector. I send my heartfelt thanks to this year’s expert panel of judges, who undertook their demanding task with enthusiasm and considerable insight. Thanks also go to everyone that entered this year and well done to all that made it through to the judges’ deliberations. The 14 awards do bring into focus all the excellent work that continues to be done in the industry despite the somewhat challenging trading conditions.

There are still a lot of encouraging success stories out there.

Although we generally regard the fashion business in its entirety here at Drapers, we realise there are certain well-defined sectors that see themselves as still separate within the whole. Footwear definitely falls into that category. Although clothing retailers have claimed a huge slice of the footwear market in the past 15 years or so - with a resulting decline in the number of footwear-only chains - there is still a huge sense of community and identity among footwear folk.

The sector keeps people for a long time. Once a shoe person, always a shoe person, is the motto. Long may that continue.

Our other awards this year cover etailing (the awards dinner is on the evening of July 20), the fashion independents sector (celebrated at a lunch on September 17) and large fashion retailers (who we bring together at a dinner on November 20). I encourage any eligible retailer, etailer, brand or supplier to get involved as these are all about the industry recognising and applauding its expertise.

The shortlist for our PayPal Etail Awards will be decided on during the next couple of weeks and I am sure that footwear traders will be well represented, as shoes are proving to be such a popular online purchase. Despite the steady rise of ecommerce, however, our 16-page property supplement is a timely reminder that fashion sales through conventional shops and stores still account for at least four or five times the value of online.

Reading the features in the Property Special, our news stories about Intu’s purchase of three shopping centres and J Crew’s expansion plans, there is a real sense of a lot more activity going on in bricks and mortar, in which developments virtually froze after the financial collapse of 2008. The work going on both in traditional city centres and in out-of-town parks is, of course, a manifestation of the significant change the whole structure of the UK’s retail scene is undergoing. But physical stores, rather than a website, are still the most effective way of getting a retail (or wholesale) brand noticed.

I was interested to read our story that the Trinity Leeds centre - probably the only significant development to have opened since the financial crash - is actively targeting fashion names not already represented in the city to fill its last units.

Coupled with this, however, Trinty’s leasing team is bringing in new food and beverage purveyors, all part of making a visit to a shopping centre more of an “experience” and trying to keep consumers there longer. The battle between online and offline continues.

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