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The fashion industry's defining forces

Drapers asked key industry figures what they think are the biggest influences on the fashion industry in the last 130 years.

Caroline web version

Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council

Social media has had an undeniable impact on the fashion industry, and continues to evolve the way that all manner of fashion businesses operate. It has democratised access to every area of the fashion cycle, from designer inspiration to the creation of a collection, from backstage to the front row. This immediate and universal access has changed the way designers and brands relate to their consumers. Social media is seen as a disruptive medium – it has put the power in the hands of businesses when it comes to communicating with consumers. We often see that disruption breeds innovation and that is something at which the fashion industry excels.

Ben Barnett

Ben Barnett, chief executive of TFG Brands London

The Marks and Sieff families [who respectively founded and ran Marks & Spencer in the 1970s and 1980s] were visionary entrepreneurs. They democratised fashion and lingerie retail, pioneering the use of new fabrics and setting the standard for quality, value and service. They also built their business on a strong set of social principles and beliefs, including the importance of long-term supplier relationships and employee welfare, that permeated the organisation, and drew it together throughout their tenure. Their success over the course of a century is for me a constant reminder of the enduring importance of business culture and ethics in retail

Paula Nickolds

Paula Nickolds, managing director of John Lewis

The rise and rise of ecommerce and the digital revolution have transformed the way in which shoppers experience fashion. Whether seeking inspiration on the latest trends from social media, having the ability to “buy now” and at any time online, accessing exclusive online brands, or seeking online inspiration from across the globe, today’s shopper literally has the world of fashion at their fingertips.

Amanda Wakeley

Amanda Wakeley, designer

It’s safe to say that the rise of social media in the fashion industry has well and truly torn up the rule book. Social media allows brands to be present in a global market and connect with customers without investing in retail stores – it’s the modern form of word-of-mouth marketing. No longer are catwalks or presentations an exclusive invitation to fashion’s elite, but an opportunity to share with the public via live streams on social channels, creating a buzz around the event.

Click-through to buy-now links are being used throughout these live streams, as well to drive traffic to ecommerce sites. The shift of “see now, buy now” shows places an even greater importance on social media via live streaming and their click-through links.

Social media has also revolutionised talent casting for brands. Not only are the talent’s experiences taken into consideration, but greater importance is being placed on their influence on social platforms. Kendall Jenner, and Gigi and Bella Hadid are first-class examples of this: brands want to be associated with these “Insta It girls” and consumers aspire to be like them – what easier way is there for a brand to reach their customers than through these Insta It girls sharing images of the campaigns to their millions of followers?

Mark Newton Jones

Mark Newton-Jones, chief executive of Mothercare and chairman of Graduate Fashion Week

How disruptive the web has been. Who would have thought pureplay fashion retailers could grow exponentially without a window, a mannequin, a sales floor or a fitting room? Many said, “You’ll never sell fashion online.” How wrong they were. A poignant lesson in the importance of listening to your customer was famously noted by Harry Selfridge: “People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.”

Sarah Murray

Sarah Murray, owner of Edinburgh independent Jane Davidson

For me it would have to be the birth of the boutique in the 1960s. Small, niche, brilliantly curated stores. Followed by the digital revolution, which has changed the way we shop and sell.


Angela Spindler

Angela Spindler, chief executive of N Brown Group

George Davies created and launched the George brand at Asda in the early 1990s. Until that point “value fashion” was really cheap basics. George provided beautiful, accessible and affordable fashion without compromise, the customer relevance of George was born out by its stellar performance. George literally democratised fashion. Over the next five years we saw the emergence of strong clothing collections at Tesco with Florence and Fred (now F&F) and Tu from Sainsbury’s, and the value fashion sector was well and truly born.

It has been taken on to another level and brought to the high street of course by Primark.

James Sugden

James Sugden, former managing director of Johnstons of Elgin

An industry leader who helped me in my early years is Sir Alan Smith, who between 1960 and 2000 built the Dawson International into a global cashmere company, encompassing many of the leading Scottish knitwear brands that we know today.

One of the keys to his success was that he understood and mastered the art of spinning the finest and most level cashmere yarn in the world. He developed the Todd & Duncan mill in Kinross, before going on to become the most dominant and profitable knitwear manufacturer in the UK. A former World War II Spitfire pilot, he led from the front and was a true entrepreneur, who created thousands of jobs in Scotland.

Hamish Carruthers, textile consultant and founder of Carruthers Associates

Fashion 88 and Fashion 90 were seminal events in Scottish textile history. They were created to highlight the manufacturing skills and design talent of the Scottish industry and the events were attended by leading fashion designers, including Donna Karan, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs, Nino Cerruti and Michael Kors. The events led to lasting business relationships, enhancing the national reputation for design and quality manufacturing of luxury goods.

Julie Deane

Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company

A defining industry figure was absolutely Coco Chanel. She created something with such simplicity and purity, and somehow injected enough vision and passion that the brand has been able to keep going forward, looking along the same lines as at the very beginning. That’s really rare and absolutely brilliant.

Within British fashion I would say Mary Quant: those Mary Quant patterns were really bold and impactful – the iconic black and white, Britishness, Carnaby Street old-fashioned style. She gave a lot of fun to fashion.

Colin Temple, managing director, Schuh

As I am not a design guru or true fashionista I would highlight Malcolm McLean, who invented the shipping container in 1956. Global fashion would just not be what it is today without them. I suspect that anybody reading this article is dressed in clothing and footwear that has come from abroad in a shipping container.

Thinking about what will shape fashion in the future, I suspect Chuck Hull has a very good chance of being a name we do not associate with fashion, but he will be a defining influence nonetheless: he is the inventor of 3-D printing.

Juls Dawson, co-founder of Just Consultancies

The crossover of denim from its humble niche origins as a jean used in workwear to becoming a crucial staple fabric in nearly every collection from the high street to catwalk. This single versatile fabric can be ripped, bleached, tailored, lined, stretched, embellished, patchworked the list is endless and can be used from jersey to jegging and from trainer to trouser. It spans all ages, genders and seasons and, yes, it has it peaks and troughs like anything in our fickle game, but I struggle to think of a single garment or textile with such a wide-ranging impact in past 130 years.

Iain McGeoch, non-executive director and former chairman/chief executive of M&Co

Ralph Halpern [former CEO of Burton Group and founder of Topshop] changed Burtons from a tired business selling suits to a vibrant group of diverse multiples. I think his team developed the first WSSI [weekly sales, stock and intake]. He developed a very competitive and successful management cohort, many of whom went on to be directors in other retailers

Judith Bremner

Judith Bremner, brand director, Studio 8 by Phase Eight and Damsel in a Dress

Over the past 20 years I have most definitely been inspired by the work of Dries Van Noten. His inventive and innovative designs have always had an edge that is original and unique. Mixing colour with prints from many cultures, from Japanese kimonos to English chintz, his collections always have an eclectic edge. Not a slave to fashion “trends”, he creates coveted pieces that are timeless, that a woman can have in her wardrobe for many years – feminine but not overtly so.

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