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How I got here: Begg & Co's Ann Ryley sells Scottish scarves all over the world

Ann Ryley takes pride in her multi-lingual skills, and uses them to foster international customer relations as sales and marketing director of Scottish luxury cashmere scarf manufacturer Begg & Co

Written by Kimberley-Marie Sklinar Green

The first thing I do in the morning is decide which scarf to wear with my outfit. Working for a luxury scarf brand, we like to accessorise well! My favourite scarf is our Wispy Triple Dot in navy. It’s our lightest cashmere scarf, and so is ideal for all the travelling I do (it contains five miles of yarn). Alex Begg [the firm’s original name] has been weaving scarves in the Scottish lowlands since 1866. This heritage is a huge part of our brand story.

That Monday-morning feeling is different every week. I might be driving to Edinburgh Airport for a flight to visit agents and customers or driving to our factory on the west Coast of Scotland. I often work from home, and am in front of the computer by 8.30am unless I have a client meeting or need to visit the office. It’s a two and a half-hour commute from my home in the Scottish Borders to our offices in Ayr, so I often stay overnight when based there.

As sales and marketing director, I operate closely with our managing director, Ian Laird, and, as my role is very varied, I am supported by a sales and marketing executive, and an ecommerce and marketing executive. Much of my role involves being present in the marketplace, selling our products or speaking to our customers. I’m also now briefing designers and planning photo-shoots for our autumn 16 collection.

A typical week includes working on branding, marketing, overseeing the collection’s designs and selling them to our retailers. I work with agents to make sure our scarves are in the right places and being featured by the right press. Sometimes I spend a full week in the factory reviewing wholesale or ecommerce trading with the sales team.

I travel all over the world from Japan, China and Korea to the US and Europe, and trips can also include selling the Begg & Co product range at trade shows such as Pitti Uomo in Florence or Tranoï in Paris. I’ve just finished working on the wholesale sales of our autumn 16 collection, and reviewing the samples for spring 17 to be launched at Pitti Uomo this week.

I’m fluent in several languages, which is an excellent tool for selling to our customers

I’m now working on a project for Alex Begg’s 150th anniversary. We’re organising trunk shows and planning events to mark the occasion. This involves meeting our global PRs to devise the press campaign. We are also working with a branding agency to explore the brand’s next move, which includes reviewing our website content and design. Things have changed a lot online in the luxury sector and we’re keen to evolve with it.

The most challenging aspect of my job is the tiring but rewarding travel between Paris, New York, Tokyo and London, and the factory in Ayr. Convincing retailers that cashmere is an all-season product can sometimes be a demanding task!

I’m really proud of having been able to oversee Begg & Co since its rebranding as a separate, standalone brand. We are receiving great accolades from both press and customer, and seeing our product in some of the world’s most exclusive stores alongside other luxurious names is incredible. The scarves are now available through prestige retailers such as Fortnum & Mason, Mr Porter, and Matchesfashion.com.

I’m fluent in several languages, which is an excellent tool for selling to our customers. I speak French, German and Italian, as well as a little Russian. People are more comfortable working in their own language and it shows you have made the effort to understand both their culture and business. Even in markets where I haven’t formally learnt the lingo, I like to pick up a few words.

At my first job in the luxury woven textiles industry in the 1980s, I was told that women didn’t work selling cloth to the men’s clothing industry but I have always wanted to work in export sales specialising in fashion. After graduating with a degree in languages and economics, I approached various companies looking for work.

In my career I have learnt never to feel intimidated. When I started out, the industry was very male-orientated. It was extremely easy to feel overwhelmed, as I was the only female out of the 120 board directors (and the youngest) at Ballantyne Cashmere, part of the Dawson Group. I’ve also learnt to assume nothing, to be persistent and to trust my instincts.

I really enjoy the people aspect of my job – those I get to work with and meet. Opening a new account I have been targeting is always exciting, and I get the same feeling when we receive a great piece of press from someone I really respect.

If I had another career, I’d be working in the travel business, or as a professional concert pianist (if I had been dedicated enough!).

CV

Education

BA (Hons) French and German with Economics, The University of Bradford

 

Work experience

1983-1986

European sales manager at S Jerome and Sons, Shipley, West Yorkshire

1986-2006

Worked as a globally responsible sales director at Ballantyne Cashmere, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

2006-2012

Sales and marketing director on the executive board at Drake’s in London

2012-present

Sales and marketing director at Begg & Co

 

 

 

 

 

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