The self-confessed former internet-phobe tells Lauretta Roberts how he became product and trading director at fashion etail giant Asos
How did you get started in retail?
A friend was working at River Island and told me they were recruiting for allocators, and did I want a job? At that time , I didn’t realise there was this huge industry behind the shops. From there I moved to Arcadia.
What attracted you to Asos in 2005?
The phone went and it was a headhunter, who said that Nick Robertson [founder and chief executive] of Asos would like to see me. I’d never heard of Asos, and up until that point I’d never bought anything online; I was an online-phobe in 2005. Nick had this crazy idea to be this authority, a one-stop shop for online fashion.
He said Asos needed someone with retail knowledge to build a team, and handed me a blank sheet of paper.
How big is your team now?
Design, buying and merchandising has 220 people; the company employs 427.
Has Asos’s success surprised you?
I knew we had a great idea. What I quickly realised was that based on the guidelines of unprecedented choice, beautiful presentation and impeccable service, we could take the business to £1 billion.
Does it help that most of your staff represent your target market?
Yes. Nick and I are the two oldest people in the business at 40 and 41 years old. Fashion businesses tend to be young, but we are very young; the average age is 26.
I’m not the one out there going to parties and I shouldn’t be, because that’s not what my job entails now and I wouldn’t be very good at it.
Why did you add premium fashion, petite sizes, kidswear and maternitywear to your offer, and what’s next?
It’s just about understanding the customer’s life cycle. Some people are under 5ft 3in and want petite clothing, and that also gives us access to the teen market. As we’ve added more premium brands the age range of our customer has drifted up. The average now is 25 to 28 and the average age for a first-time mum is 28.
This summer we’re launching vintage and we’re talking to various designers about collaborations. We’re not going down the route of celebrity link-ups; no one is really fooled by that.
The business was founded on celebrity-inspired fashion though?
In the early days we were ‘in the style of’ celebrity fashion. Then it evolved to use celebrities to give authority to trends. There have always been certain people who if they adopt something they give it credibility and the masses follow.
Has the recession pushed more people to shop online?
Evening shopping [as opposed to lunch time] becomes much bigger in the autumn for us, perhaps because it’s dark and people stay in. But last autumn, evenings were even bigger, as were weekends.
I think that’s down to people saying you shouldn’t be out spending as much. If I go to a shopping centre I’m making a conscious statement that I’m going shopping. But if I stay at home and log on for 10 minutes and buy something, I haven’t actually ‘gone shopping’. Also, there is a real cost in time and money to go out shopping.
Which stores do you like shopping at?
I love Liberty, its size and the quality of the selection on the menswear floor. It’s in such a beautiful, iconic building, I just love going into it. Also, it’s the one store where I tend to get good service.
- Robert Bready is product and trading director at etailer Asos
Who is your fashion icon and why?
Paul Smith - I’ve probably paid for his holiday home. He’s iconic and has helped make Britain cool. I love the way he finds beauty and wit in everything. The product is also very versatile, you can either dress it down and be quite safe or mix it up and be quirky. It’s always a beautiful shopping experience.
Sir Paul Smith, who apparently prefers plain Paul, could have pursued a career as a professional cyclist were it not for an accident that hospitalised him for six months. While in hospital he made friends with some young artists, whose cultural world inspired Smith, as did his then girlfriend and now wife Pauline, who was a Royal College of Art graduate.
At around the same time Smith took an evening course in tailoring. A small amount of savings enabled him to open his first shop in Nottingham in 1970 and six years later he was showing menswear in Paris. Expansion into womenswear followed and today Smith has stores across the globe and a reputation as a true icon and innovator.