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What close to a decade at River Island has taught its head buyer

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River Island’s Leanne Sabatino believes in trusting your instincts and the importance of face-to-face communication

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Leanne Sabatino has climbed her way up to head of womenswear buying for non-clothing at high street giant River Island. She joined in 2010 as a handbag buyer, and currently manages 35 people across five teams.

Responsible for buying all non-clothing items at River Island, including swimwear and footwear, Sabatino’s day-to-day role involves developing, reviewing and signing off all product ranges.

For swimwear retail prices range from £12 for a bikini brief to £42 for a swimsuit, and footwear starts at £25 for sandals to £120 for knee-high boots.

Items are available via the company’s 300-plus stores worldwide, including the UK, Europe, Middle East and south America, as well as its own website and stockists such as Asos, Next and Zalando.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

I’m ashamed to say it, but I check my Instagram. I’m a social media addict and try to persuade myself that I’m doing it for research purposes. 

What was your first job?

A buyer’s admin assistant at Dorothy Perkins, working across maternity and swimwear.

How would you describe the brand in one sentence?

Designer of the high street: we are a more premium, trend-led retailer than most on the high street, and offer unique designer pieces at a fraction of the price.

What’s your coffee (or tea) order?

A standard cappuccino.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

I love the independent boutiques in Hong Kong, Korea and Tokyo. They’re great for sourcing emerging trends, particularly in non-clothing.

Last fashion purchase? Why did it catch your eye?

A pink camouflage jacket from River Island because I liked the feminine twist on the utility trend.

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Emails or phone calls?

Neither, if possible. I would much rather speak face-to-face and encourage my teams to use Skype when possible, as it’s the best way to communicate and build relationships.

Most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Trust your instinct.

What would be your ideal office/meeting space?

Somewhere open plan with lots of plants and greenery: I’m drawn to natural surroundings. I’m lucky at River Island because we have a large open-plan office, with a lively and creative atmosphere, and it’s very relaxed.

What’s your favourite part of the creative process?

When we review all the latest development samples. The excitement of new products never fades.

What has been your proudest moment since you joined the brand?

I originally started as a handbag buyer and, in my first full year, my team and I smashed all previous annual sales records.

What’s the last book you read?

The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. It’s an audiobook though, as I love listening to them while driving to work.

Last holiday?

Venice – I went for a long weekend during the carnival in February. 

Who in the fashion/retail industry inspires you?

Farida Kaikobad (non-executive director at River Island). She’s been with the brand for 36 years and I’ve worked with her for nearly 10. She’s been a great support and I’m incredibly grateful for that. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion today?

How consumers spend their disposable income and how they shop fashion is dramatically changing. Technology is moving so fast and we need to ensure that we’re ahead of the curve, so that we can offer customers the right product, at the right time and place.

One piece of advice would you give your younger self?

You are good enough! It’s so easy to doubt yourself.

Who do you turn to when you need advice?

My dad. I speak to him daily, and he always manages to ground me and put my worries into perspective.

What would we find you doing at the weekend?

Shopping, brunching with friends, or spoiling my goddaughter.

What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead?

I’m excited about the ranges we have booked for autumn 19, particularly footwear, so I can’t wait to see how they’re received.

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