From mentors to wise words, fashion’s leading lights share their best piece of advice.
Chief executive, Pentland Brands
I have done so many different things in our company and I wouldn’t change a thing. In more than 21 years with our company I’ve designed shoes, checked production, created marketing campaigns, been on the road as a rep, found international partners and bought brands. I’ve loved every minute.
To those looking to progress into management my advice is to learn about every aspect of the business. Work harder than everyone else. Be inquisitive. Ask great questions. Love product. Love getting out into the market.
Keep up with industry news and current affairs. Know the numbers. Stay humble. Know your strengths and support your weaknesses by hiring people better than you.
Owner, The Dressing Room
Progressing in this industry is about giving it your all. Be prepared to do everyday tasks.
On your way up, learn everything about the company. My mentor was Stuart Selwyn [former owner of five French Connection franchises]. I worked with him at French Connection for seven years and he gave me invaluable advice about running my own business. He told me to put my heart and soul into it and always treat people as you would want to be treated.
Joseph Velosa, my co-founder and chief executive, said to me many, many years ago: “First of all you have to have a passion, confidence and such a clear vision for what you are doing. If you don’t have that, then you have nothing really. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, why would anyone else?” That has always stuck with me and I always try to go with instinct and work on things I personally love. If it feels genuine, the process then becomes easier and more enjoyable and I hope others can see that passion in the end product.
Creative director, Browns
The best career advice I was given was “be aware, alert and alive” - advice given to me by my late father Sidney Burstein. I admire my mother’s energy and enthusiasm and her love of fashion. I’ve always also admired [designer] Hussein Chalayan because I find him to be an artist that is always true to himself.
What advice would I give to those looking to progress up the career ladder? Don’t lose faith in yourself.
Owner, Cooper & Stollbrand and Private White VC
You need to be very determined and hardworking in this industry. My training came from the factory and
here actions speak louder than words. To work and survive you need skill and flair, but you can’t succeed without grit and determination. It’s all about perseverance; don’t take no for an answer.
Who do I admire? All the machinists. Some have worked in the factory for 50 years. They’ve dedicated their lives to a British factory. They’re the perfect pin-ups for us all.
Tom [Chapman] and I consistently push ourselves and our team to innovate and be brave in all our decisions, which is at the core of our business. Generosity in how you treat everyone is also key. There is no substitute for hard work. Have a mature approach and set realistic expectations, focusing on short and long-term goals and constantly reassess how you are doing. Always ask people for constructive criticism and then action it rather than being defensive and taking it personally.
Chief merchant, Harrods
I’ve had several talented mentors over my 25 working years. My first and most important one was Leonard Lauder, chairman of The Estée Lauder Companies. He is one of the wisest, kindest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, a good man with a good heart, who lives by what he preaches and lives by what he stands for. His values are instilled and embedded in those close to him: “Honesty, determination, hard work, resilience and integrity in everything you do - always”, and he’s right.
Owner, Concept Fashion
Knowledge is a great weapon but as each sector is forever changing it’s vital to keep your knowledge up to date. Become an avid listener and listen more than you talk and more importantly listen to the people smarter than you. Help your boss and be accommodating, be a motivational force as he or she determines your future.
I always tell people not to hide, be bold and follow your gut. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that you have to take enormous risks. They will pay off if you know your stuff. Sound good, look good and look as if you care and present with passion and power. Most of all be positive and stand out through your energy and desire
Managing director, Berwin & Berwin
The fashion industry is sadly no longer fashionable because it is undoubtedly very hard work and there are better rewards elsewhere. However, if you have the passion for the industry there is nowhere more exciting to work. The industry is about the two Ps - product and people. To understand product you have to have vision and look around you. To understand people you have to listen and be prepared to be a chameleon to work with the different temperaments of designers, producers, financiers and chief executives.
Ecommerce director, Reiss
Depending on how ambitious you are and what you are willing to sacrifice, there should be no limit to what you can achieve. Work-life balance is something I have always advocated: happy on the outside and you’ll be happy on the inside (work that is).
To be the very best in ecommerce you need passion, common sense, an obsessive thirst for technology and newness, being able to adapt to change whether it be product or shopping habits. I feel the best way of doing this is working and learning from people or your mentors every day. Being self-aware, knowing what makes people tick and never taking yourself too seriously. After all it’s only fashion.
If you want to set up your own business you need to do your homework, check out the competition, make a very detailed business plan, look at who your customers are and what the margins would be. Think about what will make your business different. Think outside the box. Your business doesn’t have to be the cheapest. It could have a better service. You need a can-do attitude, and you’ve got to be willing to take a risk.
Former managing director, Clarks
My mentor was [Kenneth] Bancroft Clark, who built Clarks to the leading international footwear business. He persuaded me to join the business and was an exceptional leader. His brilliant innovations from the children’s fit to the Cema vulcanising of children’s shoes rather than stitching them together and his obsession with quality and design of the product were inspirational.
A life in the footwear industry has been immensely rewarding with constant change and many interesting friends around the world. My key advice for anyone looking to enter the footwear industry would be to make sure you have a passion for shoes.
To start your own business you need to understand your product and your market.
You need to do the research to ensure that there is a big enough market there to launch your business and that the opportunity is great enough to achieve what you set out to achieve.
Finally have complete belief in what you want to achieve, whether that’s a promotion, seeking an investor or securing a brand, it’s amazing how your passion and belief can help the conversation or situation.
Ronald Scherrer, who I worked with in the cutting room at Kilgour French, was a constant support to me. The way he spoke and instructed… he had this authority about him. When designing and making clothes it’s very important to have that authority and upper hand about you. One of the guys made a remark about my accent and Ronnie took me to one side and said, “you are a talented person, you’re not here for elocution lessons. You will be dressing pop stars and aristocracy as clients”. I tell my young apprentices this story. It puts them at ease.
The thing that underpins what I have achieved in life is having a strong set of principles. My mother taught me the importance of morals from a young age and this has stayed with me throughout my career.
Joining Littlewoods at the age of 21 was a huge learning experience. Not only did they teach me the fundamentals, with regular written and verbal exams, but also over the four years I learnt business and design skills that are still with me today.