Drapers spoke to Cory Burke, founder of Manchester fashion agency The Last Agencies, to find out about finding the perfect brand balance and building a fashion business.
Cory Burke is the founder and director of Manchester-based fashion agency The Last Agencies. With a background working for Pentland Brands, Burke set up his own agency in 2016, and today its brands include Danish trainer brand Woden as well as Copenhagen womenswear label Sofie Schnoor. He tells Drapers about how he balances his selection of brands and works in partnership with them.
What is your background? How did you come to be working in fashion?
Totally by accident. I actually wanted to be an accountant. When I went for my first interview as a trainee at a builders’ merchant, the next day they offered me a role in sales. Eventually I started working for an independent in Warrington called Turnstyle, which had brands such as Paul Smith, Lacoste and Paul & Shark. I spent five years there, but became tired of the weekends and not spending them with my young family.
My first role in wholesale came after that with Firetrap, covering the denim for their northern agency. After two years there, I wanted to develop further and joined Pentland Brands where, over eight years, I started as northern sales rep and became the head of sales.
Why did you set up the agency?
It was something I had always wanted to do after working for an agency earlier on. When I left Pentland, I thought if I didn’t do it now, then I never would so I took the jump. It helped at the time that I found an awesome Danish sneaker brand called Woden (Works of Denmark), which we now stock in around 75 stores in the UK and Ireland, including Accent, Bias, Psyche and The Dressing Room.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you were starting out?
There were plenty. The first and most daunting is the period of time you have to cover without any income. Once you have overcome that, it’s finding a balance of brands that don’t compete, but complement one another. Each brand gives us something different, not just in terms of aesthetic, but also how they give us a return. Some are more financial and immediate in terms of return, and some are more medium-term projects.
What are the latest brands you have discovered?
The first is womenswear brand Sofie Schnoor from Copenhagen, which covers clothing and footwear. The response has been incredible. We only had the high summer collection for a three-week window and out of every account we targeted, there were only three that didn’t buy the collection for budget reasons. And even those asked for us to keep the distribution for them for autumn 18.
The second brand is the new men’s footwear category for Silk Silk, which is completely flying in the UK. There’s a huge appetite for the brand so we can’t wait to get started.
What do you look for in a brand?
There are a few things: strong DNA, a reason to exist in the market, and how they work and what they are looking to achieve. They are going to be our partners and we will spend time working together, so we need to know that our thoughts and expectations are in tune with theirs.
What is the best thing about your job?
It’s so varied, we never get a chance to be bored. We can be presenting brands, posting on our social, driving to see customers, on a flight, or even unpacking boxes. The days just seem shorter now. There don’t seem to be enough hours.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?
Enjoy your hair!
Favourite clothing brand: It would probably have to be Levi’s – I’ve been wearing its denim for years
Favourite places to shop: There are loads of great indies that we visit out on the road, mostly in these
Last fashion purchase: Levi’s
Last holiday: Sensatori in Turkey
Last book you read: Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson
Last film you watched: American Made
First job: Sales assistant at JJB Sports
Dream job: Football manager – I’m too old to play!
Downtime: Watching my sons play football, coaching, then walking my dogs