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My fashion life - Luke Thomson

When he’s not solving the problems of wholesale ordering, the founder of tech start-up Rechannel can be found walking through the countryside.

How do you describe Rechannel?
It’s a wholesale ordering platform that helps brands sell to retailers. If you think of a wholesale brand, you have to call them, ask if items are in stock, get hold of their latest order form, a delivery would have to be confirmed, then an invoice, then it would ship. Having spoken to most of the major department stores in the UK, none of them can place a simple reorder in less than a week because of admin overload. We help brands digitalise wholesale transactions so brands can build digital line sheets and retailers can log on and place orders.

What brands are you working with?
Brands such as Orlebar Brown, Goldie London and others.

Your co-founder Miriam Cooper used to be a buyer. What about yourself?
Yes, Miriam was a senior womenswear buyer at Harrods [until 2001], and before that she was on the sales team at Ralph Lauren, so she’s worked at senior level at a brand and as a buyer and understands the wholesale relationship. I used to work for a venture capital firm until 2012.

Do you have any fashion background?
It was a strong interest. I have three cousins who work in fashion.

How do you approach brands?
We go to trade shows like Pitti Uomo and Who’s Next. We’re also a technology partner of the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT). We are UK-based, so we want to help UK brands sell more efficiently. In many ways our platform is an export tool as well, helping brands get the most out of their sales teams internationally.

What was your first time at a trade show like?
It was fantastic - a lot of fun and brands are a lot more relaxed then, because it’s the start of the season. These shows are hard work for us - at Who’s Next we walked 20km in a day last year. Who’s Next is the beast.

Is there anything about the industry that has surprised you?
I’ve yet to meet a fashion diva in the industry. Most are pretty laid-back and passionate about their jobs. It’s been interesting to see how different people are in their roles. I wasn’t totally aware of all the different specialisms within brands.

Is the industry quite forward-thinking with this kind of technology?
I think because the pain of Excel orders is so prevalent we’ve found it really easy to find empathy among the brands - you can see their heads nodding during our sales meetings.

What about buyers?
The pain exists on both sides. We spend a lot of time showing the platform to the buying community, trying to make sure it’s as painless as possible for the buyers. There are some who are still quite old-fashioned, but I don’t want to name any names.

Does Rechannel work better with brands and retailers that already have a relationship?
No, it’s for forward-orders and reorders. We’re not aiming to become a substitute for showrooms and trade shows, but we want to complement them. It’s important to have a centralised platform because of anomalies or product cancellations. If you handle all of your orders by paper, you need to look at who ordered what and make suggestions, which is time consuming.

What are you working on next?
There are a lot of things from the business-to-consumer world that we’re looking into: related products, abandoned carts and analytics on who is buying what and when. There’s an interesting story for brands to look at why John Lewis clicked on jeans and only bought cords, for example. You’re trying to give a layer of analysis to the brands on top of real-time reporting tools, such as best-selling product, who is buying under budget and so on.

Are you a problem-solving person in general life?
Yes, I’d say so. It’s hugely satisfying finding a particular problem to solve. Having worked at a venture capital firm I enjoyed helping small businesses grow and thinking about what problems they have, and now it’s fantastic to be doing that with my own baby.

Any ideas for other problems that need solving?
I have an idea for another one to do with social media that would be really easy to do, but I’m not going to tell you, because you’ll publish it.

Are there any brands on your Rechannel dream list?
John Smedley, Sunspel and Hunter. They’re awesome British brands: well run with large wholesale businesses, and we know they would benefit from Rechannel. All three have an interesting brand story, which people gravitate to.

In another life, is there an area of the industry you’d like to work in?
I’m pretty happy where I am, but running ecommerce for a brand or digital marketing campaigns would be fun.

How do you spend your time relaxing outside of work?
I’m walking across Wales for my summer holiday, from Shropshire to Aberystwyth, which is 70 miles in seven days. It’ll be really nice, depending on the weather. I also like exploring England - I did the River Dart swimming race last summer.

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