Few within the fashion sector have been as outspoken or active on the issue of promoting new talent as Arcadia Group’s boss.
As one of the trade’s highest-profile figures, with the ear of government and a circle of influential contacts, Sir Philip Green uses this sway not only to homegrow talent within his own business but also to win funding and cross-sector support for the Fashion Retail Academy, which trains the trade’s stars of the future. He masterminded the launch of the Academy in 2006 and it now trains more than 720 students every year in practical disciplines including buying, mechandising and visual merchandising.
All this has stemmed from Green’s own 35-year experience in the trade and a belief that it’s not only the best product but the best people that make a business great.
He tells Drapers: “It’s very important to invest in our people – encouraging them to fulfil their potential and be the best they can be. What’s good for them is good for creating a dynamic business environment that people want to develop their careers in.”
So what skills does he look for in a rising star? “An instinct and a good eye and feel for the product is a key skill for those involved in design and buying,” says Green, adding that attitude is vital too.
“Across all areas of retail, you need to have a passion for what you do, and feel that you can implement any ideas and creativity that you have. You have to wake up every morning loving what you do, and believing you can make a difference.”
“I like the old-fashioned way of talking to people; it’s relationships with people at the end of the day that help businesses succeed. ”
He may like the “old-fashioned” paths of communication, but the Arcadia boss has been at the forefront of a rapidly changing retail landscape and dramatic changes in shopping habits for decades. New recruits can’t afford to stand still.
He says: “Fashion retail has become more and more about entertainment rather than merely shopping for clothes and accessories, so having fresh and relevant newness within product is more important than ever.
And alongside this, the growth of online means new recruits need to be as comfortable in the world of internet shopping as they are in store.
“Bricks and clicks is my ideal business model,” says Green. “In addition to purchasing online, so many people now do their research on fashion
retailers’ sites. Arcadia delivers to more than 110 countries worldwide via our brands’ websites, and further international expansion in both stores and via the internet is key to the development of our business.”
So it’s not just about imparting knowledge but about learning from the new generation as well? “For young people coming into the industry, they are more savvy and have instant access to information online worldwide, so tapping into this mindset will help shape the changing face of fashion retail – what retailers have done before is not going to be good enough tomorrow,” says Green.
“The challenge is to create retailers of the future who understand all areas of the business, so that whatever area they want to specialise in, be it buying and merchandising, marketing, store design or on the shopfloor, they have the aptitude and understanding of how a fashion retailer works.”
One challenge is reaching potential recruits early enough to sell them the idea of a career in fashion retail.
Green says: “As the second largest private employment sector, it is key that future generations are encouraged into the retail industry, and that schools, colleges, universities and academies are supported by both the public and private sector to develop this talent.”
And putting his money where his mouth is, through Arcadia Green has also developed a network of contacts in the sphere of education to influence the nature of the training and education students are receiving.
For more than eight years, Arcadia has had a business link with 50 secondary schools, bridging the gap between curriculum and the world of work. This link provides practical support in areas such as CV workshops, fashion shows and presentations, and gives industry advice to students on things such as marketing, design and finance. This relationship with schools also helps to identify at a young age those students who have a desire to work within the business sector, and several of the schools now run Entrepreneurs Societies and Business units.
Green adds: “We have also developed close relationships with 15 key universities and we attend careers fairs, seminars and presentations, and offer support with running skill sessions for the students. We also run speed interview sessions at selected universities to help us identify talent early.”
The next big thing
Arcadia recruits more than 300 graduates every year in areas such as buying, merchandising, HR, retail, finance, ecommerce and international customer care. Last year, more than 20,000 applications were received for these roles.
Since the launch of the Fashion Retail Academy in 2006, it has gained cross-industry support from the likes of Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Next and Home Retail Group and has become a trailblazer for the National Skills Academies network across other industries.
More than 65% of the students who left the Fashion Retail Academy last summer went on to jobs within the fashion retail industry, with 30% going on to further education.
And Green has plans to build on this success with a second Academy in the north of England, as well as discussing options to extend its remit into manufacturing.
“We’re exploring the opportunity of possibly opening an Academy in the North – it’s work in progress,” he tells Drapers. “We’re also talking to industry partners and the Government about developing technical skills and manufacturing facilities in the UK.”
With Topshop among Arcadia’s most successful retail fascias, Green is also keen to promote design talent and for 10 years now, the young fashion chain has been the headline sponsor of the NewGen initiative run by the British Fashion Council at London Fashion Week to support emerging British design talent.
Green says: “We will use this anniversary as a platform to announce some great new initiatives for continuing to develop, mentor and support young British designers.”
And his final word?
“I’ve been in the industry for more than 35 years, and it’s of great importance to me that both myself personally, and Arcadia as a group, remain at the forefront of innovation and we actively engage in bringing on the huge talent and energy that is out there across so many different facets of fashion retail.”