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My fashion life - Melanie Smallwood

Ebay’s head of curation and merchandising on how the site is showcasing UK design.

Melanie Smallwood crop 2

Melanie Smallwood

Tell us about your job at eBay as head of curation and merchandising - what does this involve?
My role is helping the 19 million Brits that come to ebay.co.uk each month to find shopping inspiration. In March we launched eBay Collections, which was the biggest product change in our history. Collections enables anyone using eBay to create inspiring shopping content by grouping items together under a central theme. I lead a curation team that produces seasonally relevant, inspirational collections showcasing our wide selection of product and the best of eBay. Another part of my role is using insight from our customers’ shopping behaviour to provide more of what our shoppers are looking to buy. And finally, the third part involves the British Fashion Council. In 2011 we partnered with the BFC in sponsoring the Fashion Forward initiative, providing the opportunity to showcase emerging British design talent including Henry Holland and Holly Fulton.

You recently launched an online shop with the BFC - what is its aim?
After the success of our sponsorship of Fashion Forward, BFC chief executive Caroline Rush approached us about a new initiative. In July we launched BFC Contemporary — a new programme that aims to shine a spotlight on emerging contemporary British design talent. The pop-up online shop on the eBay site features exclusive items by BFC Contemporary designers at accessible prices, some under £100, as well as a curated selection of products from their autumn 14 collections. The programme also includes industry mentoring and business support for the designers to help them achieve their commercial goals.

What’s your favourite piece in the shop?
I couldn’t possibly say - all the designers are very different and equally talented. I love how Georgia Hardinge crafts her designs from paper sculpture. Alexis Barrell has a spirit in her prints, Paper London’s aesthetic is edgy and engaging, while Zoë Jordan and Prism continue to capture the industry’s attention.

Are you an eBay buyer or seller?
I’m both - that’s the beauty of eBay. It’s the complete 360 degrees of retail. I’m trying to be ruthless with my wardrobe, but I struggle to decide whether I can part with classic pieces. The last thing I sold was a Christian Dior saddle bag and I’m about to purchase the exclusive items from the BFC contemporary designers.

What’s the best or weirdest thing you’ve ever come across on eBay?
Ebay is unique in that it’s a marketplace for all, ranging from one-off unique items to popular high street must-haves. Possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen was Jane Birkin’s own Birkin bag which was being auctioned for charity. I did bid, but didn’t win as it was sold for more than £100,000.

Your father was a fashion buyer, so did you always want to follow in his footsteps?
I’ve always loved fashion. My father was one of the first buyers in the famous Way In department atHarrods in the 1960s, which was seen as the place to shop at the time [contemporary department Way In launched in 1967 and was overhauled and renamed Fashion Lab in 2013]. My fashion career really started in Knightsbridge in 1991 when I was working for a wonderful lady, Mrs L Abboud, who owned the Valentino boutique on Sloane Street. After working there for two years I was approached to help with the new Karl Lagerfeld concession store that was opening in Harrods. Harrods was all about theatre, and the opulence of the environment was unrivalled anywhere in London, so when they offered me a role in the fashion division as assistant buyer for international designerwear, I was delighted and that was the start of a long career in luxury fashion.

You’ve worked at Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Everyone has a favourite - which was yours?
I couldn’t possibly pick. I have a fondness for both in different ways. Harrods was where my early career in luxury evolved and I loved my 12 years there. It’s the people that make Harrods special. Most of my closest friends from the past 20 years have been Harrods colleagues. Harvey Nichols presented a fabulous new opportunity. Working in Saudi Arabia, as buying manager from 2005 to 2009, was amazing. While there were challenges in terms of the environment and ways of working it was a great opportunity to learn about international business.

Who do you admire in the industry?
Sir Philip Green from Arcadia Group. The evolution of the Topshop business has been incredible - from a high street retailer to leading fashion house. It has written the rules on how to successfully create and maintain a dynamic brand. Ruth and Tom Chapman, owners of Matchesfashion.com, have managed a seamless transition from a traditional bricks-and-mortar model to a strong online presence. Their clear understanding of how the fashion business is evolving is hugely impressive.

What’s the best fashion business advice you’ve ever been given?
The key to success is innovation. Don’t stay still because your customers won’t.

What’s the most expensive fashion item you’ve ever bought for yourself?
Probably my Prada dress, but I can’t disclose the price tag in case my husband ever reads this.

 

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