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Head west to surf a wave of opportunity

Surfing during lunch or having a view of the Welsh mountains from your desk are just some of the reasons for working in the Southwest and Wales.

Wales and the Southwest of England are renowned for many things. Fashion isn’t one of them. This is the home of Stonehenge, the pristine beaches of Pembrokeshire and the Cornish pasty. Few realise the area is also home to some of the UK’s biggest fashion retailers, as well as a number of emerging brands.
Clarks, the largest specialist footwear retailer in the UK with sales of more than £1bn, is based in Somerset. Value retailer Peacocks operates from Cardiff and is thought to be mulling an IPO, which could value it at £600m. SuperGroup, which owns young fashion chain Cult and the Superdry brand and pulled off one of the most successful floats of 2010, has its headquarters in the spa town of Cheltenham.

A handful of entrepreneurial brands have also sprung up in the region. Being part of the growth story of the likes of ethical surf brand Finisterre, based in Cornwall, or 13-store nautical clothing retailer Quba, based in Devon, can be just as rewarding as working for a large company.

This is what Beth Hillier, product and design manager at Quba, found when she was hired just over a year ago. Having spent two years working in the US for Abercrombie & Fitch, she saw an opportunity with Quba to put her stamp on a business and help it grow.

Hillier explains: “I wanted to work for a brand that was going somewhere. I was brought on to push it forward, to work on the handwriting. I knew the company from when I was a kid and I liked what it represented. I felt like I had a lot to give.”

It was the first time the company had employed a full-time designer, having previously relied on freelancers. Finding designers in the region can be “very tricky”, according to Hillier. Companies need someone with the right skills who also lives locally, or who will relocate to the Southwest. “That combination doesn’t come about very often,” says Hillier, who has yet to move to Devon. She lives in Nottingham, where her husband is a barrister, and only spends Mondays and Tuesdays at the Quba HQ.

Discovering ethical clothing was a life-changing event for Debbie Luffman, design director at Finisterre. After six years in London working for Kaliko and Austin Reed, Luffman visited South America where she discovered organic cotton and realised she wanted to work with ethical textiles.

After returning to the UK she bumped into a friend who worked for Finisterre and persuaded Luffman to consider the company. When she arrived for her interview, she was handed a wetsuit by founder Tom Kay and told they were going to jump off some rocks into the sea. They then went to the pub. It was only on the train back to London she realised she had never shown them her portfolio: “I think the jumping off the rocks part was my interview.” She says she loves the lifestyle in Cornwall (staff go surfing at lunchtime) but that she still goes to the capital to get her “culture fix”.

No regrets


Those who work for larger businesses also cite the better quality of life as a major draw. Jane Hotz, buying director of womenswear at Peacocks, has no regrets about moving. “I worked in London for 12 years for Marks & Spencer and I don’t miss it at all,” she says.

The main improvement in her life is the commute. Gone are the two hours a day spent on the tube. She now drives 40 minutes from her house in Chepstow to Peacocks’ head office in Cardiff.

Another benefit, according to Hotz, is the working environment at Peacocks. “The company structure is very flat,” she says. “People are here to do a real job; they are treated with respect.”

But for many, making the move to Wales or the Southwest is seen as a major upheaval, despite both regions being relatively close to the capital. The train journey from Paddington to Cardiff takes two hours. Bristol and Bath are under three hours away from London by car, or one and a half by train, closer than Manchester or Liverpool. “There is this perception that Cardiff is miles away, beyond the outer reaches of Mongolia, but it really isn’t that far,” says Hotz.

It is an issue affecting many fashion businesses in the area and is why most will pay hefty relocation packages of as much as £25,000 to lure talented staff.
Other measures include investing in state-of-the-art head offices to create inspiring places to work. Peacocks, for instance, recently moved into new headquarters, complete with a Starbucks cafe and views of the Welsh mountains.

Capital loss


Fast-fashion chain New Look, however, decided being based in Weymouth in Dorset was bad for business and moved its buying, merchandising and design teams to London in 2009.

New Look HR director Lee Evans says Dorset was simply too remote: “Buying teams really need to be in London. Fast fashion is all about being aware of what your peers in the market are doing.”

Another reason behind the move was to facilitate meetings with potential franchise investors, says Lee. New Look is expanding overseas and it wanted to be able to attract interest from international partners. “Weymouth is not the most glamorous place,” he adds.

However, Nicola Wensley, manager at recruitment firm Michael Page Buying and Merchandising, says options for career progression can be as numerous as in London. She says if candidates are prepared to be flexible on location, there are plenty of career gains to be had. In fact, she has seen instances of candidates gaining advantageous moves from menswear to womenswear, into multichannel roles, and even stepping up into heads of positions by being willing to relocate.
“There are great fashion companies in the Southwest and Wales that have to offer good training, development and long-term career prospects to attract the best candidates. The quality of life is also amazing. You can be 10 minutes from the coast, countryside or the city,” she says.

 

Western union

Clarks Footwear brand and retailer
Location Street, Somerset
Number of head office staff 1,200
Departments at head office Design, finance, HR, IT, merchandising, corporate social responsibility, retail operations, sales, sourcing, supply chain
Perks Healthy discount on Clarks products

Quba Nautical fashion retailer
Location Churchstow, Devon
Number of head office staff 30
Departments at head office Buying, merchandising, design, product co-ordinators, finance, PR, retail management
Perks Flexible working hours

Peacocks Value retailer
Location Cardiff
Number of head office staff 470
Departments at head office Design, buying, merchandising, garment technology, allocation, finance, marketing,
IT, HR, shopfitting, distribution
Perks Generous relocation packages

Finisterre Ethical clothing brand

Location St Agnes, Cornwall
Number of head office staff Nine
Departments at head office Everything except manufacturing
Perks Surfing at lunchtime

SuperGroup Owner of Superdry and Cult

Location Cheltenham
Number of head office staff 250
Departments at head office Buying, merchandising, design, finance, HR, marketing
Perks On-site shop, 50% off for employees

Essentials

Southwest
5.2m - Population
£612 - Average cost of living per week*
£260,593 - Average house price**


Wales
3m - Population
£506 - Average cost of living per week*
£167,532 - Average house price**

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