The husband and wife team behind agency Brand National tell Stephen Spear about striking a balance between labels and retailers
Agents are positioned between retailers and brands in the fashion chain. Is that a tough place to be right now?
Darran Harris We do get it from both sides so there is an argument to say we get squeezed the most, but I wouldn’t say it’s harder work than for anyone else in fashion. If you look at retailers they have to work all the hours under the sun.
Are there any advantages in being an agent?
DH Yes, we get out and about a lot more and get to see what’s going on in the industry and we can probably be more nimble in changing our business to suit the times than retailers can be. Retailers can change the way they work but it can be hard - if they kept changing how they operated they wouldn’t be able to generate the loyal custom they need.
You’ve both worked in retail before. If you were to open a store, how would you pitch it?
DH I’d go for directional menswear, because that’s where my passion lies.
Kam Harris In womenswear I wouldn’t worry about the level of market - I’d focus on the customer and provide a certain lifestyle. Say yummy mummies were the customer - you have to offer what they need for lunching, working, days with the kids. It’s not about price but about the use of the clothes.
But would you go back into retail?
KH We’ve looked at retail opportunities but we both like working at the agency.
DH If we ever change direction, it would be a move into consultancy.
You’re married and you work together. How does that work?
DH Everyone asks that but we work on different teams so we’re not too involved in each others’ days.
KH I wasn’t that keen on the idea originally. Darran started the agency in 2000 and I joined two years ago. It was Darran’s idea for me to join but I have to admit I’m really happy now.
DH I knew Kam would love it. It’s hard work but it’s really satisfying.
How has the industry changed since you set up your agency?
KH In womenswear, fast fashion has been the biggest change. Brands have to be quicker getting catwalk looks into their collections, buyers have to react in season and as agents we have to be constantly aware of the market. There’s definitely more pressure all year round now and that’s partly because customers are so educated now - look at all the style magazines and blogs.
DH It’s different on menswear. Trends move far more slowly. But what has changed is that it is much tougher to build a brand than it was, unless you have a massive marketing budget.
Is there anything you don’t like to see retailers doing?
KH It’s a mistake to stop going out there and seeing the brands.
DH We’re not about harassing people into buying - we’ve always opened the doors to let people come in and view the collections. But you have to get out there and see what’s going on. There’s no excuse for not doing it.
Who is your style icon?
KH Easy - Angelina Jolie. She always looks great whether it’s on the red carpet, just out of the house or out jogging. She is effortlessly chic.
What are your most cherished fashion possessions?
DH I think it has to be my Grenson brogues (pictured).
KH I have a Michiko Koshino top that I am never going to be able to chuck out.
Who is your fashion mentor?
DH I don’t have a fashion mentor but I admire Gordon Ramsay - I relate to how he’s come from a tough background and done really well for himself.
Where is your favourite place to shop?
KH I’m very patriotic and think the UK has some of the best shops in the world. For me, Liberty is one of the best - I could spend a fortune in there.