The founder of the Westbourne Agency tells Laura Weir how agents provide an essential service for indie retailers
After five years as sales manager at young fashion brand Fullcircle, what prompted you to set up your own agency?
I started the agency [which represents brands including Fullcircle, jersey brand Bobi, premium Danish brand Ganni and accessories brands Black Lily and Agent Provocateur Jewellery] because I wanted a new challenge. I really loved my job but I wanted to push myself further.
It seems that retailers are increasingly going direct to the source for product. Do you find retailers are looking to cut out the middle man, or is there still a place for the fashion agent?
I don’t find they are looking to cut out the middle man. I’m always visiting stores and I make it my duty to know what’s working in store and why, so I’m constantly evaluating competitors. In that respect I can serve my stores well - not just with the information I have but also by sourcing the brands for them, as there are a lot of indies that don’t have the budget to attend many trade fairs.
How has the agent’s role changed in the past 18 months?
You must be so much more proactive and understand what retailers need. The floor should look fresh. They need to rotate their stock and I encourage buyers to always keep budget back for in-season stock.
What do you find retailers expect from brands in terms of operations and product?
Quite simply to deliver good-quality product on time.
How has this changed since the recession?
I would say the standards of quality and delivery have become more scrutinised since the recession. When sales were more consistent you could get away with delivering later - you knew that when Christmas or Easter was around the corner it would boost your sales and save the season. Sales are so inconsistent now, it really puts some of the onus [to perform] back onto brands.
What do you look for from the brands in terms of product and operations?
In terms of product, I look for the whole package - a strong identity, good visual material and a product that reflects its price in terms of quality - so that I can envisage who would buy into it. In terms of operations, a good back office and good IT systems are fundamental in building a brand. I’ve deliberately chosen to work with brands that have this. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t pay not to.
What attracts you to a brand?
I look for labels that won’t conflict with what I already represent and product that I think would work for retailers. That’s why I recently picked up Bobi, as jersey brands are key for retailers at the moment.
What is your favourite part of your job?
What I love is that every day I’m doing something different and I get to travel a lot. I get to go to shoots and launches and currently I’m working with the designers at Fullcircle to do some exclusive lines for one of our key accounts.
Which is your favourite indie?
The Shop At Bluebird [on King’s Road, west London]. It has a bit of everything: design products, books, music, great jewellery and it’s a beautiful environment to be in.
What was the last thing you bought?
A pair of Nicholas Kirkwood shoes for my wedding day. They look amazing but unfortunately I can’t walk in them.
Who in the fashion world do you most admire?
I really do have ultimate respect for Vivienne Westwood, and bought my first pair of her shoes (a classic round-toe stiletto, which she still does) when I left school.
Which is your favourite city to shop in?
Paris. It doesn’t matter what time of year I go, I always love it.
Daniela Avigliano is founder of fashion agent the Westbourne Agency