I never set out to work in this industry but it has given me a good career; meeting some great people and obtaining a wardrobe significantly higher than my pay-grade would accommodate. I am often approached by younger people in the industry or students and asked to pass on career advice and I give an occasional talk at a London fashion college. It seems a more popular career choice than it did when I started and if you are thinking of a career or just curious, here are some things I learnt that you won’t find from your career advisor.
Most people in the industry have no interest in clothes
This is the big one. It is just a job for most people and they would be just as happy selling washing machines if the margin was high enough. I have met some kindred spirits along the way, but most have no passion for the product. They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing (apologies to Oscar Wilde). And despite access to clothing at discount prices, they dress really badly.
You will become obsessed with the weather
To justify less than brilliant sales, you will blame the cool summers and warm winters. A heavy storm or an unseasonably warm weekend will be used as an excuse as to why customers didn’t go shopping. After weather, your pet excuses will be sporting events and the school holidays.
Excel will be your closest friend
Despite what you may see on Instagram, if you are not on the shopfloor selling, you will be staring at a spreadsheet. You will grow to hate the small green triangle.
You will be governed by KPIs
Key Performance Indicators are not unique to fashion retail but we make them our own. Average Transaction Values, Conversion Rates, Turnover per square metre…and when you haven’t reached target, you will find a thousand ways to say “we need to sell more stuff” and will take great comfort from any positive message in a poor season. To sound more scientific, you will always give percentages with two decimal places.
Travelling ain’t glamorous
With cutbacks, flying anything other than economy is as rare as having a proper lunch. But despite the discomfort, you will savour the ten hour respite from emails.
It is not unusual to go straight to a meeting from the airport. You will become an expert at deciphering international breakfast buffets and showerheads. And never be tempted to use the whirlpool bath in your hotel room. Trust me on that one.
You are basically a tax collector
With VAT at 20% and all the duties associated with imports, you will sometimes feel like your most successful role is collecting money for the government.
The word “important” will take on a whole new meaning.
You will talk about colours being important. “I think fuschia will be important next summer” someone will say to a roomful of nods. Not in the way other things are important, like Brexit or global warming.
You will find fancy ways of expressing the bleedin’ obvious.
“Next winter we expect a rise in sales of key layering pieces combined with seasonal accessories” is another of saying “it will be cold so customers will buy jumpers, scarves and gloves”.
Your friends and family will not understand your job
They will think you spend all day drinking champagne and hanging out with celebrities. Don’t disappoint them.