Where’s my crystal ball…….

If you’d told me a few months ago that things would have changed this much, I don’t think I, or anyone else would have believed it. I guess we’re all in a position to say that, as Covid-19 has snatched our everyday life away from us, giving everyone time to reflect on what they’ve lost, whilst trying to find a way to live through the current lockdown. What will life hold for us on the other side, and how much will it have changed from what was considered “normal”?

I am passionate about creating and delivering the best possible product to the customer; I have loved my career in buying, and (almost) everything that came with it – the people, teams and suppliers I have worked with; the product; the travel; the buzz of being in London; the occasional glamour of a fashion show; the trade fairs; the opportunities for public speaking and interaction with other related industries, such as licensing and manufacturing. Whilst spending a few weeks chasing job applications for similar roles elsewhere, however, I began to seriously re-assess my priorities. The retreat I mentioned in my previous post helped me gain some perspective,  and I have come to realise that the elements of the job that were closest to my heart were  based around the people – the young stepping out of college & university onto the buying career ladder, the team I had working with me, and those that I was working closely with throughout the supply chain.  The restrictions we face as a result of the virus have only served to reinforce my understanding that people, and the relationships we build with them during our working lives are what makes for a positive experience.

This realisation led me to do two things. Firstly to re-engage with my inner teacher/lecturer and get back into sharing my knowledge and helping those youngsters onto a path that will lead them to be the buyers of the future. I love their passion and enthusiasm, their determination and their desire to learn. Currently, they have a lot of questions about how the face of retail will have changed when we reach the end of this crisis, and what it means for their job prospects. I can’t answer all of their questions (my buyer’s crystal ball is a bit murky!), but what I can tell them is that a role in fashion buying changes every day at the best of times, so the most important thing they can do to help themselves right now is to use the time to soak up as much information as possible, to work on their innovative and creative skillset, and to concentrate on understanding the immense subject that is sustainability in fashion. I sincerely hope that we come out of this with a more sustainable mindset and take concrete action to deliver on Unicef’s SDG12 when it comes to responsible production and consumption. Coronavirus has stopped fashion retail in its tracks; what emerges will be a very different industry. How many retailers will have survived, and in what form? How will their supply chains have had to evolve, creatively and financially, in order to stay afloat? How many new and groundbreaking businesses will have set up in its wake? How will the balance of online vs bricks and mortar have tipped? Growth in online retail was already far outstripping that of physical stores, and newer, more agile businesses, such as Gymshark, In the Style, Boohoo and I Saw it First were the ones driving that growth.


The second action I took was to create a buying and sourcing consultancy business, with the aim of using my knowledge and experience to empower retailers, brands, licensees and manufacturers to maximise their potential. What is happening throughout the retail supply chain at this moment is incredibly sad for the industry as a whole, and will leave us in a very difficult position when the crisis is over, so I am determined to try and make a difference somehow. Not least in questioning the way fashion retail currently does business;

  • The outdated and restrictive seasonal structure of our buying and selling seasons, and the impact that this has on creativity, innovation and relevance. We have lost an entire spring season, and our sourcing channels have been decimated. How will it impact on the way we plan going forward?
  • The interminable pressure on buying teams to do it faster, bigger, cheaper and in ever greater volume, which, inevitably, leads to over production and increased markdown, and ultimately contributes to the amount of clothing ending up in landfill.
  • The payment terms which are so heavily weighted in favour of the retailer, leaving the suppliers exposed to financial ruin, and foreign factory workers destitute in the turmoil of this pandemic. What some seem to be failing to understand is that, without our suppliers, we have no retail business.

In the meantime, I have designed and built my own website, and had a few sourcing projects underway before the virus curtailed my activity, so, if you think your business could benefit from my experience, check out the website and get in touch! We specialise in buying, sourcing, licensing for retail, and training, all of which can be tailored to each specific clients needs.

This new existence is nothing if not varied, and I have never had to learn so much, so fast. This past couple of weeks has seen me creating lectures and developing seminars to be delivered online, writing an article for Drapers, and marking assignments on global sourcing, sustainability and garment technology. I’ve also been creating tech packs and working with overseas sources to build costing and sampling schedules so that when the world re-opens for business we can get off to a flying start, besides connecting with a wide variety of former colleagues, friends and suppliers – sometimes, when we find ourselves in uncharted territory, it just helps to talk about it. I have also embarked on a training course to gain a teaching qualification, and returned some attention to the book that I started writing a long time ago and never quite finished.

Getting out into our local countryside, across the fields and through the bluebell woods, with the dog, and doing daily zoom pilates classes are also helping to keep brain and body moving!


On tuesday I embarked on a 4 hour stint of delivering online tutorials…… It was the first time I had done this; I had 36 students (although not all of them managed to make it), in groups of 4, at 20 minute intervals. Each student had, in essence, 4 minutes to present their research and summary, on sustainability, for their chosen retailer (of which they had 3 very different global businesses to choose from). Obviously, in order to manage this effectively, I had to also have done the research on these particular brands myself. What I discovered was very mixed, and generally involved the production of huge reports on sustainability which talked a great deal about the aims of the business, what they planned to do, and how their strategy was being developed, but not very much detail on actual action being taken. At a moment in time when every brand or retailer needs to take action right now, acting responsibly and ethically towards their employees and supply chain, it made for very concerning reading. The students were asked to formulate their thoughts on the following:

What are the brands current policy, sustainability approach and practices?

Are they or are they not doing enough, or is it all simply greenwashing?

How do they fare on the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, Higg Scoring and against the relevant Unicef Sustainable Development Goals?

And finally, how would the student develop an approach to deliver improvements in the sustainability practices of their chosen retailer?

This left me a brief opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. Challenging enough, under normal circumstances, but what I have failed to mention is that the majority of these are international students, now relocated as a result of the virus, to multiple time zones, joining me from as far afield as Indonesia, China, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, India and the USA. It was like a bizarre United Nations version of online speed dating – exhausting, but exhilerating, and I loved every minute of it!

With everything that they are learning, and the new ideas they are bringing to the table, this crop of retail buying graduates will be a formidable, global force for change!






Posted in Buying, Clothing, Fashion, honesty, kindness, licensing, negotiation, Retail, Sustainability, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Let it go……..

Sometimes it helps to just ……STOP……

Stop working, stop stressing, stop trying to please everyone, all of the time, stop worrying, stop feeling guilty for your mistakes, and take time out to just breathe, and give yourself the time to think about what you really want out of life.

So that’s exactly what I did, two weeks ago, after a chance conversation with an old friend, who said to me “this could not be a better time to just drop everything and come with me on a retreat in Spain”. Having considered this for all of a few minutes, I couldn’t find a single reason why not, so I did the spontaneous thing and said yes.

A few days later and I was on my way, heading up into the hills outside Marbella, for a week which I now realised was going to challenge me in ways that I had not really taken account of. The price to be paid for spontaneity! I am usually pretty meticulous in my planning, but this week was already full of curve balls.

So here we were – no meat, no dairy, no caffeine, no wheat, no booze……. for a whole week!!!!!!!! Oh my god, what had I let myself in for? Those of you who know me well, will also know that I usually subscribe to something resembling the statement below……heaven help those around me when withdrawal started to kick in!

So, back to the beginning, and for the location of this little gathering of beings looking for some answers, I have only one word…… STUNNING. El Cortijo de los Caballos is one of those places where, the instant the door closes behind you as you enter, a sense of calm descends. It is like being cocooned in a small, private world of peace and tranquility, the only noise being the swishing of the palm trees. El Cortijo is a privately owned residence, rented out for weddings, retreats, family gatherings etc; a beautifully restored collection of traditional Spanish stables which are now very pretty little whitewashed villas, situated in the beautiful gardens, all curled around a beautiful pool. It is both rustic and luxurious, each villa with its own kitchen, bathroom, living room and terrace. The perfect place to unwind.

This week was being run by Kambio Retreats, about whom I can say nothing but good things – when somebody said to me before I arrived, that it could be life changing, I was all a bit “yeah, yeah”, but having been through the experience, I can honestly say that, whilst it might not have turned my life upside down, it has certainly made me see myself, and many different aspects of my life, in a different light. So, having arrived and settled in, it was time to gather for dinner, and meet the other guests and staff, who would be my companions, therapists, chef, beauty technician, yoga and fitness coach, masseuse, “bath butler” (more on that later!), walking buddies, team mates and shoulder to cry on. We were a very diverse bunch, from various corners of the world, including Holland, Spain, UK, Gibraltar and Brazil, but we were soon tucking in to our first vegan meal, and, oh boy, was it delicious!

So, the food! All of it was vegan (other than the occasional organic egg); we started each day with a shot of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice (honestly, very unpleasant, but apparently very good for you!), followed by home made granola, sometimes with a fruit compote, and a freshly squeezed juice or a smoothie. Other days were wheat free pancakes with banana etc. Lunch was a variety of salads (the chef had very kindly taken into consideration my abhorrence of lettuce, cucumber and celery!!!), combined with numerous other plant based dishes, including sweet potato, chick pea, couscous, lentils etc, most of which I would probably never have experimented with, had I not been here. Dinner was a full on, 3 course meal – some amazing curries, moroccan style dishes, wheat free pasta with cheese free pesto. It was all incredible and highly inspirational. My favourite main meal of the week – vegetable Thai Laksa! The lentil and sweet potato shepherds pie was also really good. Dessert – chocolate mousse made with carob (or was it cacao?!?!) & avocado (I hate avocado!), absolutely sensational! Not once during the week did I feel that I hadn’t eaten enough, but I also never felt too full, or bloated after a meal. A few days in, my energy levels were higher, I was sleeping better and I was bouncing out of bed in the morning. My conclusion from all of this……. it’s easy to be vegan when you have the Kambio Retreats chef doing all the cooking and you are miles away from the nearest temptation! It hasn’t made me give up meat, but it has made me re-evaluate how much meat we have in our diet, and I am now much more mindful of where our food is coming from. The contents of my shopping trolley looked quite different this week!

Gradually, we fell into a routine. Our days started with half an hour of quiet reading, followed by yoga and stretching, taught by Geiza, the supremely fit and bendy Brazilian girl with the megawatt smile. After breakfast there followed a series of workshops – now, I was aware of what some of these would involve, but others were really going to take me out of my comfort zone. I am not one to regularly show my innermost feelings, but to get the most out of this experience meant really opening up and being honest, with myself, as much as everyone else.

Our first morning involved a session of clearing; basically, a therapy session, followed by each of us working out, and writing down, what we wanted to leave behind at the end of the week – all the things that we no longer wanted to be a part of our lives, and that had no future relevance. The things that were holding us back, weighing us down and preventing us living our lives in the way that we wanted. It sounds like a really simple principle, but it actually took a great deal of soul searching to admit to the reality, and put it all down down on paper. Oh boy, did I have a lot of baggage to consign to the bin! Hence the title of this post…… in the words of Elsa, from the movie Frozen, “Let it go”, it serves no purpose.

Other mornings included sessions of breakthrough coaching, soul planning, EFT (or tapping), Huna, Jin Shin, the world of essential oils and a morning at the beach. I am not going to try and explain all of these techniques, as the only way to really learn about whether they will be effective for you is to try them…… some of them are still a bit of a mystery to me, but I learnt something about myself from every single one of them. I was a little sceptical before embarking on this journey, but I promised myself I would jump in feet first, and with an entirely open mind. The whole week, besides being very enjoyable,  was also incredibly emotional, and extremely enlightening.

On day 4 I hit the wall! I woke with a horrendous headache and feeling really lethargic , probably largely derived from sugar and caffeine withdrawal. However, with all this support around me, I had an entire toolkit of options to deal with it – a gentle walk on the beach, peppermint oil, plenty of water, another fabulous lunch and an afternoon massage. By dinner time, I felt absolutely back to normal!

I have to give a special mention in this post to my lovely, inspirational friend Rachel (@essentiallyracheluk), our essential oil practitioner and “bath Butler”, without whose encouragement I would never have gone in the first place. Rachel ran some amazing sessions on how to build pure, organic, essential oils into your daily routine, and “detox your life” by using them instead of, or as a supplement to, some of the many chemicals we use in cleaning products, beauty products, medicines etc. Rachel has also made a huge difference to my life, simply in helping me to improve my sleep pattern by using these oils – mixing up different combinations as part of her “bath Butler” service, until we found a mixture which worked.

Our afternoons were spent either out walking, doing some pilates under the palm trees, sitting by the pool, having massages or beauty treatments, before an invigorating dance fitness session with Geiza before dinner.

I have returned with more energy, a renewed zest for life, determination, confidence and  complete and utter belief in myself. I no longer feel guilty for leaving behind something that was making me miserable – guilt, I now understand, is a wasted emotion. It serves absolutely no purpose and is of no benefit to anyone, least of all myself. I have re-engaged with an old friend, made a great many new and incredibly supportive friends, and I left El Cortijo, safe in the knowledge that we will always be there for each other! Good things are already happening since we all returned, and we are all sharing in the joy of seeing our new friends change their lives for the better. That old saying is true……. life is what you make it, and this retreat has given me a newfound sense of inner strength and power to carve out my future the way I want it to be.

So a huge thankyou to everyone involved in making this experience as unique and enlightening as it was – Kathy Hector and Mark Twissell from Kambio Retreats, Jacqui Crooks, Jo Glenn, Rachel Cooper-Kennedy, Susan Zayas, Peggy Boer, Chantal Sanderson, Geiza Nascimento, and Marilyn Devonish.

I am so very glad I went, it was a total privilege to be involved in something so special, and I would recommend a Kambio Retreat to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and change their way of life for the better!



Posted in beauty treatment, essential oils, honesty, kindness, massage, mindful walking, mindfulness, relaxation, retreat, soul planning, Sustainability, tapping, tranquility, Uncategorized, vegan, yoga | 1 Comment

Taking to the stage…….

So, today I took to this stage at Fashion SVP (there was an audience by the time I got up there!) to deliver a talk on the challenges facing the buying community in the current, ever changing and volatile retail market. It’s always a little bit of an unknown stepping into an arena like this, you never know quite who might be in the audience, or at what level to pitch it. However, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and serves to remind me that my many years of experience could be invaluable to those starting a career in buying. I really enjoyed chatting to some of the audience afterwards, and hopefully they were able to leave better informed and full of the enthusiasm that I tried to instill into my presentation.

This edition of Fashion SVP was built around two key areas of development, one being Denim, and the other being sustainable fashion. There were a number of other great speakers and panel sessions  discussing/debating these topics, and the challenges facing us as an industry. I met several truly innovative garment and fabric suppliers, as well as labelling and packaging sources, all of whom are challenging the norms in development and production of clothing. I have learnt an enormous amount in a single day, and attending the show has reinforced the message that we are at a real turning point for the fashion industry and it is critical that we all play our part, however small, to bring about change in reducing waste, generating and using renewable energy, and creating a more sustainable and cyclical fashion supply chain. There was also a huge amount of discussion about how we become truly ethical, and this extends worldwide to include the workforce involved at every stage of the production process. As an industry we have a mountain to climb, but as with every challenge or difficult situation, we can turn this into an opportunity to really make a difference through innovation, creative product development and understanding the new ways in which our customers are interacting with the shopping experience.

#sustainablefashion #fashionsvp #buyerslife #fashionbuyer

Posted in Buying, childrenswear, Clothing, Fashion, Retail, Sustainability, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ransoms, rickshaws and recognition…

MAY 2018

Fresh out of an amazing double win at the Brand and Lifestyle Licensing Awards (B&LLA’s) in April, we are head down in preparation for our next round of overseas supplier visits. The win was for our innovative collaboration with The Military Wives Choirs, in producing a range of home and fashion accessories to help fund the charity in its endeavours to support the families of our military personnel, and the way in which we executed the delivery of this range in store. It is an amazing feeling to be recognised by the licensing industry for the work we have done; they are an incredible group of companies and people, whom I have the utmost respect for. Licensing is one of the most diverse, exciting and fast growing areas of retail, and it fascinates me how we can take a property and work with the licensees and licensor to create something so innovative and special, across a wide variety of product categories. However, there is no time to bask in the glory, or dwell on our success, we have to get on with the planning and negotiation of our core ranges for SS19.

We arrive in Dhaka in the early evening, as dusk descends and the ever present beeping horns, millions of people and uncontrollable traffic are all swirling in the stifling humidity. By the time we have checked in, and descended to the hotel buffet for dinner, we are a man down already…… one designer with a mysterious sickness bug which can only have been the consequence of something eaten en route. It does not bode well for the rest of our trip! The rest of us tuck into our first meal, accompanied by a glass of wine from the duty free we bought in Dubai. You may think this is an odd thing to do, until you read a wine list in Dhaka…. The cheapest bottle on this particular list is around £80 (Jacobs Creek Shiraz), and we cannot bring ourselves to expect that to be acceptable on expenses!

Day 1 starts off following the usual pattern, as the boyswear buyer and I are picked up for the long journey to our first factory. Surprisingly, we arrive in just over an hour, having taken a “short cut” along some very dubious (and very bumpy) roads. Having arrived to meet our colleagues at this first class jersey factory, we proceed to work our way through style after style, which in true Bangladeshi style, takes forever! Negotiation is tough, cotton prices are going up, as are labour rates in Bangladesh, both factors combining to create quite a tense atmosphere. I have been here many times before, however, and under far worse circumstances, although the current state of the market in the UK is creating significant pressure on both retailers and suppliers alike. With numerous retailer administrations & CVA’s underway for some major players on the UK high street, and the looming prospect of a merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s, our suppliers are nervous about what the immediate future might bring. It is worth remembering that, as tough as it is for us in the UK, it is equally, if not more difficult for most of the sources we are dealing with, and in my book negotiation is all about achieving a positive, and more importantly, profitable outcome for both parties. Our suppliers are no good to us if they are in financial difficulty because we have pushed too hard, and this has to be balanced with the need for us as a retailer to maintain profitability at prices our customers are prepared to pay. It can be frustrating, and is often exhausting, but under these circumstances it is critical to keep emotion out of it! I have witnessed, first hand in the past, the effect that an angry, frustrated buyer can have on the process, with it imploding and agreement reached on nothing. I have probably made reference to this quote in the past, but as Marigay McKee once said, when Chief Merchant at Harrods “the most charming buyers get the best deals”. I still believe this to be true, even after so much change in the industry, and that the relationships we build as buyers, with our sources worldwide, have the potential to make or break a business.

After 12 hours, and over 80 styles reviewed and negotiated encompassing boys, girls and babywear, everyone is exhausted, and we pile into the car, along with some of the merchandising team from the factory to head back into the city. Unfortunately we have barely made it 10 minutes down the road before the traffic grinds to a halt, and we are stationary for over half an hour, in the inky black darkness, lit up only by all the traffic headlights. The only entertainment is to watch other, less patient drivers, careering up the wrong side of the road, or a lorry lurching at an alarming angle, in and out of the ditch beside us as it tries to avoid the queue. At one point it is leaning so dramatically over us that I have to squeeze my eyes tight shut, surely it is going to topple? However, disaster averted the truck continues on its perilous progress, narrowly missing other cars, trees and people wandering about in the dark, or,  having just got out to take a leak. There are men peeing everywhere, where do they all come from? And why do they all seem to need to pee at the same time, in the same place…… I shut my eyes, again! A face appears, knocking at the window, making us jump with surprise, but it turns out to be another member of the factory team, who was in a car behind us, coming to apologise for the traffic! I ask if it is possible to turn around and take the “short cut” back the way we came this morning? His response is not what I was looking for. No, he says, it is far too dangerous, as there are many car jackings after dark on that road. On balance, after considering (momentarily!) the likelihood of the company coughing up the ransom money for a couple of buyers missing in action, we stay where we are! Nose to tail amongst the painted and battered trucks! Only at this point does someone mention the fact that commercial vehicles are not allowed into the city during the day; the ban lifts at 10pm, at which point there is a crazy rush of hurtling, beeping, lorries careering along every route. I look at my watch, it is 10.10pm and why, oh why, are they only telling me this now? We eventually arrive back at the hotel just before 1am, stiff from sitting in the car for so long, starving hungry, having had access only to a bag of mixed nuts and a cereal bar since lunchtime. The restaurant is closed & room service will take 30 mins; I give up, take a sleeping tablet and get straight into bed, only to be awoken a couple of hours later by the most incredible storm. Forked lightening, deafening thunder and wind that makes the windows shake as if they are going to blow in, are not condusive to a good nights sleep, even without the jet lag kicking in!

What feels like a very few hours later, and bleary eyed, we are up to meet our colleagues (including a pale, but recovering designer) for breakfast, and are then picked up to meet another supplier, with whom we plan to spend the day. Here too, negotiations are very difficult and at times we seem to be going round and round in circles, making no progress. We park the trickiest styles, and keep moving on, coming back to the most contentious ones later in the day. After a much needed break for lunch in the company flat next door, the pace of the discussions gains momentum. We have made a breakthrough and managed to get some styles agreed. In the meantime, I have had a  discussion with their new CEO about the state of the UK market, and business going forward, which gives me renewed optimism. By the time we come back to the last few remaining styles, we are on a roll, and manage to get everything finalised. It is 9pm, and yet again, we have spent 12hrs locked in discussion. Everyone packs up their laptops, files, garments and phones, and we leave for a late dinner at a Thai restaurant close by, some of us in the car, and the two remaining (local designer and our British account manager) in a rickshaw. After last nights conversations about carjackings, I am a little worried for her safety, but they arrive a few minutes behind us. It is a real treat to be out in a restaurant that is not encapsulated in one of the major hotels, and once the wine has been poured everyone starts to relax and enjoy a truly lovely meal. Exhausted, we arrive back at the hotel at 11.30pm, only to start packing for an early flight to Delhi in the morning. My 2 days in Dhaka has passed in a blur.

We are at the airport by 8am, and as soon as the plane leaves the ground, I am catching up on much needed sleep, waking slightly dishevelled as we come in to land in a very hot, dry and arid Delhi. I leave my mens and boyswear colleagues, who are catching a connecting flight to Bangalore, and head out through the arrivals hall to be met by one of the hotel drivers, in his white suit and hat! On climbing into the car I am offered a blissfully ice cold and fragrant hand towel, bottle of water and in car Wifi, whilst we undertake the short drive to the hotel, and the oasis of calm amidst the chaos, that is the Trident in Gurgaon. We have stayed here on a number of occasions, as it is close to a number of the suppliers we work with, and they welcome me back with friendly smiles and a complimentary room upgrade.

Ten minutes to freshen up, unpack a few necessities, and I am disappearing through the “hole in the wall” into the sister hotel that is the Oberoi, to meet our babywear buyer and head of design, along with one of our suppliers, for a late lunch, and to catch up on progress so far. They have set up camp in a meeting room in the business centre, so having seen our babywear colleagues off to the airport for their early evening flight to Coimbatore, I settle down to talk business strategy in general, and to work on a few styles for boyswear, who will not be visiting Delhi. It is impossible for every team to visit every supplier location on every trip, they would stretch to be unfeasibly long and costly expeditions, so I try and pick up the slack, dipping in and out of one supplier or another in each location, to fill in the gaps and negotiate outstanding prices/review samples etc. This particular supplier is based around four hours by train from Delhi, so it is simply not workable to visit every season. By the time we have finished our meeting, the girlswear team have arrived back from Nehru Place, the Delhi fabric market, filled with inspiration, print ideas, trims and accessories. They arrived in Delhi early that morning, after an overnight flight from home, and are shattered, so we opt for a low key dinner at the hotel buffet, a much needed glass of wine and an early night. I am very pleased to be crawling into bed with the prospect of actually getting a full 8 hours sleep, and still having time for a 7am swim before breakfast!

The following morning one buyer heads off to see a factory nearby, whilst the other buyer and myself, along with the girlswear designer head back to the business centre in the Oberoi for another quick morning meeting. In the afternoon we are heading out into the 42 degree heat and a nearby factory, to begin developing and briefing new designs that the team have been working on. Both girls buyers, and the designer are busy drawing up CAD sketches and swatching, creating a program of samples to put into work, based on our trend boards and colour palettes for the spring 2019 season. Some design packs have been sent out in advance, but in this particular case, most of the development is done on site, taking inspiration from styles and fabrics we have seen here, or samples we have brought with us to work on. It is a very fluid, creative process, which relies greatly on the buyers and designers imagination, inventiveness and product development skills, coupled with their knowledge and experience of what has worked in the past, and is likely to cost into our pricing architecture. I consider myself lucky to be working with such a talented, creative and hardworking team!

I also take a quick tour around the very quiet factory, and stop to greet the pattern master – a couple of our orders are in the finishing and packing department, so I am able to see completed production of these AW18 styles before they leave. It is 9pm by the time we have finished, and again, we head straight out for dinner with our hosts, to somewhere new, The Delhi Club House. The menu is a fusion of dishes from many of the old British colonial club houses around India, and includes just about every favoured dish from a broad selection of cuisines. When combined with a lively crowd and some great music, it really does prove to be a great Friday night out in Delhi!

The following morning is a saturday, and we have an early pick up, heading over to the other side of the city for a visit to a factory which is newer to us. The roads are surprisingly quiet, even for a saturday morning, and we settle down to the job at hand in a really inspiring showroom, full of great new development ideas. We work on through the morning, and stop briefly for a delicious “home cooked” Indian lunch. I am always so grateful for the hospitality we experience on these visits – it still amazes me how much trouble our suppliers will go to to ensure that we are well looked after! I also find it excruciatingly uncomfortable that we rarely manage to reciprocate with a similar level of hospitality when they visit us in London. The afternoon rolls on with a great deal more design and product development, however, it is only a matter of time before we become slightly distracted by events going on back home…… today is the Harry & Meghan Royal Wedding, and it seems our Indian hosts are equally as interested as we are!

Once back at the hotel, we have a brief moment of peace for a quick swim and a Jasmine Martini by the pool, to toast the royal couple, before sitting down for a quiet dinner. It very quickly becomes apparent to me that all is not well! I am hot and dizzy, and feeling very queasy, so I make an early exit and spend a very disturbed night, closely followed by a 6am alarm call. I am feeling very fragile, as I try to consume something for breakfast, before leaving for the airport once more, and the short flight to Bangalore. There is a very long check in queue, and upon reaching the desk, we go through the usual palaver of having to pay for excess baggage; the consequence of carrying all these samples and paperwork, but we are also asked if we have any “batteries, inflammables or coconuts” in our checked baggage!?!? Now that’s one I’ve never been asked before! Apparently they are prone to exploding due to the change in air pressure, but who on earth packs coconuts in their luggage?

Arriving at the Leela in Bangalore a few hours later, all I really need is a light un-spicy lunch and a few hours off to wind down (the only few hours we will get in an 11 day trip), but my day is shattered by some very distressing news from home and the only food on offer being the bottomless brunch buffet and some very questionable, very loud cabaret (Peter Andre meets Tom Jones, Indian style). We eat quickly and leave, meeting the babywear team who have arrived from Coimbatore, and congregating around the pool to catch up on our trip so far, trading information on which suppliers we have seen and the outcomes of each meeting. I depart to FaceTime home, and try to comprehend what is going on from a distance, but it is never easy, dealing with distraught children and partners from a different continent, in a different time zone, and feeling like you really should be there for support, but knowing that even if you were, there is really nothing you can do to make the situation any better. All in the name of clothing….. it leaves me feeling numb and questioning my priorities.

Monday morning arrives, and with it more factory and showroom visits. I am with the babywear team in the morning, visiting a factory which makes soft wovens and dresses.  We have tried a slightly different tactic this trip, in an attempt to drive up hit rate, and reduce the amount of sampling, being much more selective about what gets put into work. The teams have worked on development of new styles/blocks/specs prior to leaving the UK, which have been made up in available fabrics to assess and cost the styles. Having decided which ones are most likely to make the cut, the buyer gets on with negotiating prices, whilst I move on to meet the girlswear team at another factory across town. This supplier has major growth potential for us, but there are some issues we need to iron out. We are not the largest of retailers, and our smaller volume orders are vying for space on production lines which are producing for much larger businesses, who place orders which might be 20 or 30 times the size of ours. In theory, this works for both us and them, as we can benefit from tagging on to the back of much larger fabric orders, whilst the factory is using our small runs to fill in the gaps in their capacity…… It is a symbiotic relationship but we need to re-establish some parameters, in essence, a framework of what, when, why and how to ensure that orders are processed in an effective and timely manner. Yet again, we are at the factory til late, whilst a phenomenal storm rages outside, and the rain descends in sheets, and, yet again, we head straight from the factory to dinner. There really is no downtime on this trip!!!

Day 2 in Banglore and I am back with the babywear team again, weaving our way through the city streets, and the vegetable market (short cut?) out onto the highway to one of our key factories. We are greeted by the team with wonderful bouquets of roses, and get stuck in to a morning of reviewing some fantastic samples, and more price negotiation. This is another factory that always makes a phenomenal effort to create every sample we have requested, as close as possible to our design/colour specifications, which gives them a far better chance of making it through the sign off process and securing orders. Having reviewed all of the samples and made adjustments where necessary, tweaking a fabric base, colour, shape, trim, graphic or embellishment, we move on to negotiating prices, before lunch arrives. This is a “meat free” factory so we tuck into a variety of tasty vegetarian dhals and vegetable curries, and the ever present paneer, which I love! I seem to be talking about food a lot……again, mainly because it can make or break a trip like this. Having had instances of both myself and other team members falling seriously ill on occasions, on these trips, I have a series of rules which I try to adhere to when on these visits! These include a really high potency probiotic, and multivitamin every day; plenty of bottled water to combat dehydration, stick to local cuisine unless in one of the major hotels, and even there it is advisable; never eat seafood unless you are near the coast (I failed on this count but without ill effect this time!) and never, ever, ever eat sushi from a buffet or brush your teeth with tap water!

We leave the central sewing and processing factory we are based in, and head out to see a brand new unit a short distance away. As is to be expected with this particular company, it is immaculate and exceptionally well organised, has every available technical advancement, and the workforce are happy and well looked after. I am in awe of this business, and its owner, whom I first met in my previous role, when it was one factory. Over the past 9 years, I have watched it grow into a vast, well run operation, with 7 production units, its’ own brand of childrens clothing, and a retail network extending right across India. Having viewed this new site, we think we are heading back to the main factory, but our hosts have other ideas. They are keen to treat us on the way back, with a visit to McDonalds, Indian style! I don’t ever eat McDonalds when I am in the UK, let alone in India. We protest that it is not necessary, we are not hungry, etc but they are insistent. I still do not understand why this was such a big deal when we had only finished lunch a couple of hours ago? Maybe they were keen to eat meat, having been deprived at lunch, but I think it unlikely, given that they must be used to it, and meat free meals here are far from unusual. Or maybe they were worried that we needed some supplementary protein, despite the fact that one of us is vegetarian anyway!?!? Maybe it was simply a delaying tactic, for some reason, we will probably never know, unless one of them is reading this post! However, they are insistent, and only after some spicy chicken strips, masala wedges and a photocall with Ronald, are they happy to get back in the car and return to the factory. We plough on through a series of lab dips, fabrics, strike offs, buttons, trims and appliques, approving as much as we can whilst we are here, to minimise the amount of approvals needing to be sent backwards and forwards to and from the UK, eventually departing late in the evening, for another long car journey back to the hotel.

After one final day of product development and negotiation with our final supplier visit on this tour, at their office in the centre of Banglore, and a particularly memorable Indian barbecue lunch (food….again!) we are more than ready to head for home.

My major takeaway from this round of visits, is to reinforce what we already know….. Buying is not a science, and however much we might want to package everything up in a concise and consistent, measurable manner, it simply does not work like that. Buying is a creative art, a merging of technical and behavioural skills, built on knowledge, understanding, personality, teamwork, relationships, passion for product, and often, “gut feeling”. Every buyer has a slightly different way of doing things, and there is huge skill involved in understanding how to adapt their style of development and negotiation, according to the region, and the supplier they are working with. It is not a level playing field; every supplier will be subject to different economic, political, social, environmental and technical pressures, and even dealing with the same source, in the same location may require a different approach between one visit and the next. Yes, there are elements of “best practice” we can apply but there is no single formula for success!


A trip like the one we have just returned from always reminds me that sometimes, it is a complete and utter privilege to have the job that I have. Working for a “uniquely” British, privately owned, high street retailer is not without its’ challenges and frustrations; it can be exhausting and infuriating, but it is also enlightening and exhilerating, fascinating and on occasions, entirely inspiring.

This latest round of supplier visits found me embarking on a tour taking in 12 days, 3 countries, 7 flights, 5 hotels, 32+ hrs of hair raising car journeys, 9 supplier meetings, numerous factory visits, hundreds of samples assessed and prices negotiated, and some very questionable toilet facilities! In total we are a team of 10, all leaving and arriving in different places, at different times, intersecting in order to join up for key appointments, with particular buyers and designers focussing on different regions and suppliers, dependant on the department they are buying for. All of my team are buying multi product departments, requiring them to flex between trousers and jackets, denim and knitwear, jersey and shirts, dresses and skirts. We cannot all visit every supplier in every location, so in some places the buyers or I are negotiating on behalf of other members of our team, to cover off particular product types. The whole itinerary is a carefully planned, ever evolving jigsaw puzzle, all put together within a very tight budget, to try and drive out the most efficient and beneficial long term results for the business and its suppliers.

The trip began with our head of design, and one of the buyers, departing for South Korea, in search of new and exciting inspiration for the AW2018 season. I began my journey a few days later, on a sunday evening, leaving Gatwick bound for Hong Kong, where myself and those coming from Korea, along with another buyer and designer, would join forces to see our key Chinese suppliers. The focus here is on outerwear, knitwear and fleece, for which China is still the strongest source for us, despite the increasing costs and instability of sterling vs USD.

Brexit is a hot topic of conversation, and forms part of the discussion in just about every meeting. Our overseas colleagues cannot believe what is happening any more than we can, and many of them think it is simply laughable that we, supposedly one of the most highly developed nations on earth, can get ourselves into such a mess! What do we think will happen? What sort of implications will it have for British business? How might it change the way we trade, both within the EU and with the rest of the world? All I can tell them at this point, is that we really do not know, and until the government gets its act together and starts to make real progress, all we can really do is speculate. However, having recently taken part in a conference staged by the ASBCI, on the potential impact of Brexit, what I am sure of is that we need to be planning for every eventuality. There are many potential outcomes, both positive and negative, dependant upon the sort of deal the government negotiates, if there is a deal at all. Without effective planning we will be unable to react as quickly and decisively as we need to, in order to minimise damage and maximise potential from any changes to the way we trade.

There follows a few days of supplier discussions and negotiations, dashing from one appointment to the next all over Kowloon, jumping in and out of the distinctive Hong Kong red taxi’s with their eternally grumpy taxi drivers! The negotiation is tough; long laborious discussions about rising labour costs, and in many instances, we are trying to move on core products and lead in pricepoint styles. Inevitably, any changes we have designed, tend to add cost rather than subtract it, so it is a balancing act of generating newness, whilst minimising the impact of new styling details. It takes the combined efforts of the problem solving minds of myself, our head of design, and each supplier, to come up with the best possible solutions for the business, which will increase sales turnover and profit, whilst still offering the customer a great product at a great price.

Hong Kong also offers me a brief opportunity to catch up with some old friends from my time with M&S, and it is a great pleasure to see them! We also spend some downtime with one or two of our key suppliers in the evenings, getting to know them and their teams a little better, further developing those relationships which will help us achieve success here. It is my firm belief that making the effort to socialise with our suppliers outside the office really makes a difference when it comes to the buying and negotiation process, and over the years, I have made a great many good friends around the world as a result.


I have one last morning appointment on our final day in Hong Kong, before heading to the airport with one of my buying team for the journey that will take us, via Bangkok, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. The second leg is delayed, and we eventually arrive at our destination at around 2am. No time to unpack, I need to cram in a few hours sleep; the menswear buyer and I have an early pick up, heading out to a major knitwear supplier, for which the CEO is joining us.

We spend the morning discussing mens knitwear programs and key seasonal deals, before breaking for lunch, which is a selection of tasty, but also spicy, local dishes. The boyswear buyer and designer arrive and we move on to our next appointment, with a key source for casual wovens, the first introduction to this supplier set up for our CEO. We discuss the factory units we are using, the management set up and design/fabric sourcing resource The day ends with us heading straight to dinner with the supplier, at a newly opened nearby hotel, where the other buyers and designers join us. The Italian food is delicious, but I am stunned by the prices in this place! It never ceases to amaze me that, here in Dhaka, eating a meal, or drinking a glass of wine, can be extortionately expensive.

The following morning, two of the buyers, a designer, and myself, head out for a flight to Chittagong, to visit three factories. This is not a journey I have undertaken before, and it is with some trepidation that I board the small propellor plane for the 40 minute flight. I needn’t have worried, it passes without incident, and we are soon deposited into the slightly greener, leafier surroundings of the city, although the roads are in significantly worse condition, and we enjoy a boneshaker of a car journey to our first factory.



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Dedication, diligence and determination………

As is frequently the case when we are planning and undertaking these mammoth buying trips, things do not go according to plan! This time we are a team of 12 buyers, designers and technologists, not necessarily all arriving and leaving the same place at the same time, but frequently intersecting and overlapping in hotels and supplier offices along the way. Being a childrenswear, menswear and homeware team, each buying/design team is responsible for every clothing product type within an age range, sourcing everything from swimwear to outerwear, denim to t-shirts, knitwear to dresses and so on. The homeware buyer is similarly buying everything from towels to bedlinen, cushions to kitchenware, and all manner of home accessories.

All of them have to be multi-tasking experts, with a very broad product knowledge, and the ability to work at breakneck speed, while delivering unique product, of great quality, at the best price, from a wide variety of predominantly direct sources. They are all dedicated, diligent and determined to deliver the best possible product offer for the business, and as a result, they undertake a punishing schedule of early starts, interminably long car journeys, through horrendous traffic, and late night flights, frequently working late into the evening and over the weekend. We also endeavour to socialize with our suppliers and factory owners on these trips, in order to build and further develop long-term relationships, built on trust, and a thorough understanding of what makes them tick. Many of the suppliers that I have worked with over the years have become lifelong friends because I take this approach, and I firmly believe that it is necessary to develop a deep understanding of their business, and what motivates them, to really achieve true “partnerships”. We are not the biggest of retailers, and we face some unique challenges, but one of the things I hear time and time again from our suppliers, is that they really love dealing with my teams because of their professional approach and willingness to work together to achieve the best end result for both parties. After all, it is really not in our interest for our suppliers to suffer or be in financial trouble as a result of ruthless negotiation techniques. Having said that, I don’t think any of them would say we were a pushover! We drive a hard bargain, but we are also realistic and pragmatic in our approach!

We travel “en mass” this way because it offers us the best opportunity to consolidate and negotiate cross-departmentally, with me acting as an “umbrella” across all departments, pulling together the potential and price over a variety of deals, offers and programmed lines to deliver our promotional plans and ensure that we meet all the criteria outlined in our strategy. It is a very complicated itinerary, with myself and our head of design dipping in and out of as many appointments as possible, to ensure that we end up with a cohesive, cost-effective and deliverable product range, which lives up to our values of offering a great choice of product, with broad appeal, at great value, which absolutely meets the needs of our customer. At a time like the present, when the high street is suffering, footfall is down, and we are really feeling the effect of Brexit on the exchange rate, we have to be even more creative than ever to motivate our customers to buy, and that starts with brilliant, innovative product at fantastic prices.

This trip starts with a disaster! The one-year-old daughter of one of our team has a nasty accident the day before we leave, and requires an operation to repair severe damage to her finger, on our day of departure. Operation over, ever dedicated, the buyer in question hot foots it to the airport, just in time to catch the flight, leaving her little girl in the care of loving relatives. I have vivid, heart-stopping memories of being in Sri Lanka, when my then teenage son ran into a wall whilst playing football at school, breaking one arm and dislocating the other shoulder, and waiting over an hour for an ambulance. I, meanwhile, helpless, had a meltdown at the other end of the phone, whilst waiting for a flight home which could not come soon enough. It is never easy, as a mother who travels regularly, leaving your children behind, even more upsetting if they are unwell or injured. We spend long days, and often weeks, away from our families, and I still cannot fight the feelings of sickness in the pit of my stomach as I get in the car, leaving my “children” (aged 18 & 23!) behind. This may seem daft! Obviously, it was more difficult for me when they were tiny, and it does get easier as they grow up and become more independent, but the type of worry simply evolves and changes…….it never leaves you. This time, as I depart, my daughter is in the middle of her ‘A’ level exams, and my son is working hard to develop his fledgling osteopathic business, both things that they are now more than capable of dealing with on their own, but it still doesn’t shake the feeling that I am deserting them when they might need me. Dealing with this type of anxiety is a finely honed skill, and something I have learned to cope with over many years. The sickness fades, and a bubbling excitement starts to build, as we arrive at the airport and I begin to adjust my focus to the task at hand, two weeks of non-stop flights, sleepless nights, negotiations, product development, relationship building and factory visits. As I have mentioned many times before, I love this element of my job – I love airports, the flying itself, the exposure to different cities & culture, the creativity, the negotiation and banter, and above all, the people. This is a people focussed business, built on the strength of reputation and relationship, and one that I revel in!

Having met a few of the team at Gatwick, we embark on a movie fest on the first leg, before meeting up with the rest of the team, in what is now an 11 strong group, in Dubai, making our way towards Dhaka. There is always a slight sense of anticipation and trepidation as we land, even more so for those who have never been here before. We arrive in the early evening dusk, to be greeted by the hotel staff, out into the hot and sticky, teeming streets of the city, thronging with crowds of people. A group of western women the size of ours attracts a lot of interest, and as we pull out into the ever present traffic jam, there are a lot of people staring, small children waving at us from the cars alongside, and the inevitable desperate individuals, weaving in and out of the cars, buses, rickshaws, and motor bikes, tapping on the windows, begging for money. It is a reality check, a reminder of the poverty that is ever present here, and a motivator to ensure that we continue to support our contacts and suppliers in this region, enabling them to maintain ethical standards and levels of employment. Walking away from production in Bangladesh is not an option for us; the business has been producing clothing here for over 40 years, and to walk away now, when it is more difficult than ever, would simply result in even greater poverty, unemployment and homelessness. We have a responsibility, as a retailer sourcing in this region, to work with our sources to ensure that they are efficient, safe and treat their workforce well. We also support a charity here that takes children from deprived areas and puts them through school/university, enabling them to qualify for better jobs and work their way out of poverty.

A train passes us by, not only crammed full of people on the inside, but with hundreds traveling seated on the roof. I shudder to think what might happen if it had to stop suddenly. Someone comments that the embattled buses look as if they have been through the car crusher, and then unfolded to try and create, fairly unsuccessfully, what they looked like before. Most of them have not a single inch of undented, unscratched surface area, many have huge cracks in their windscreens, and we even see one with no windscreen at all! What seems to be normality in Dhaka is certainly very different to the reality back home. We have a brief rest, time to partially unpack (no point in unpacking everything, we are only here for 4 nights), and then meet for a light dinner before getting an early night to try and banish any jet lag.

Day 1 and we are raring to go! I am with the girls wear teams this morning, visiting one of our denim suppliers. We have worked with them for a number of years, but the buyers have never been to the factory before. I make a spectacular entrance, tripping up at the top of the stairs and sprawling on my hands and knees……the after effects of the jet lag, lack of sleep, heat and 8 flights of stairs seem to have gotten to me already. Still, I always like to create a memorable first impression, I don’t suppose they’ll forget me in a hurry! Having reached the meeting room, we put our bags down, and then its back down again, all the way to the bottom, to start the factory tour…….

Denim production is fascinating, and we see everything from incoming fabric, fabric inspection, cutting, sewing, hand beading, metal detection, and all manner of wet and dry processing to achieve the customers desired appearance and finish. It is absolutely amazing, what can be achieved during washing and processing to create the worn, ripped or embellished appearance of modern jeans in our stores. Most of it is very manual, you simply would not believe the way in which this is achieved unless you saw it with your own eyes, so here are a few of the most interesting elements of making a pair of jeans…….

As day one draws to a close, we all gather for dinner, various teams arriving at different intervals, dependent on where they have come from and what the traffic was like. The same journey here can take an hour one day, and three hours the next, which makes it very difficult to plan anything effectively. However, eventually, we are all seated and looking forward to our dinner, with many opting for tandoori style kebabs, delicious! Each arrives, however, with a small cabbage leaf at the base, with a smoking piece of charcoal in it; an attempt, I guess, at creating the smell of the grill, but successful only in surrounding us with choking smoke. I am not sure whether to be worried or relieved that the smoke alarms fail to go off!


Day 2, and I am at another denim supplier’s showroom, this time with the boys wear team, looking at new development samples, agreeing on fabric qualities, and discussing prices. I move on to meet another supplier, leaving the team to visit the factory and wash house. My afternoon is spent in another showroom, looking at potential new product opportunities, being joined by our head of design sometime later to review samples and decide on a course of action. We strive, as a team, to be always delivering “newness” within our ranges, to entice and excite our customer, so it is always worthwhile looking at what our suppliers are making for other markets/retailers – often this throws up a new way of looking at things, or a new price point opportunity, which our design team can turn into a new product appropriate for us.

We have just enough time to head back to the hotel, for a brief freshen up, and to pick up another colleague, before the three of us head back out into the darkness and chaos…….we are eating at another hotel close by, and it becomes apparent as we arrive, that this is the source of the chaos! Apparently, the President has only just left! We sit down to dinner with our colleagues from the supplier we have met earlier in the afternoon, continuing our earlier discussions, and getting to know a little more about them and their business – we have been working with them for a while now and I have high hopes for long-term growth. We head back to the hotel, where I start picking up emails, trying to keep up with what is going on back in the UK, and responding to anything urgent. Before I know it, it is 1 am and I really need a good nights sleep!

Day 3 in Dhaka and it’s an early pickup, with the boys and menswear teams, for the long drive to meet with one of our key jersey wear sources, on the outskirts of the city. Sleep eluded me overnight, and I am feeling weary and have a raging headache……40 winks in the car, a Coke on arrival, and some Panadol, the caffeine, and painkillers kick in and I am starting to feel more normal! I travel with a veritable medicine cabinet on these tours…..there is nothing worse than feeling ill (and at some point over the two weeks, it will happen!), and not having the necessary medication at hand. I am also a firm believer in preventative action…..a heavy duty probiotic every evening, Berocca or vitamin c tablets in the morning, and whenever possible, some form of exercise. My gym kit always makes its way into my suitcase, but rarely comes out again en route! Hitting the gym whilst trying to cope with the heat, tiredness and jet lag, does not appeal, although one or two of my colleagues seem to manage. My best option is the occasional swim, or a little pilates in the morning before breakfast, to release a bit of tension and iron out the kinks in my back and neck from all the flying and endless car journeys.

We start by looking at samples…….they have made an absolutely fabulous job of most of the designs we sent out for sampling and costing prior to our visit. And so the long process of costing begins – the teams separate into two rooms to try and speed this up, but progress is slow. There is a lot of entering and leaving the room again, various people involved in the costing, coming and going, and we are struggling to get to where we need to be. It becomes very apparent, at this point, that the value of the individual as well as overall business relationship here is critically important. The buyer they know well is making good progress, but the buyer they are less familiar with, is finding it difficult to make headway…..it will take a lot of time and effort to gain the same level of trust and understanding between them! We break to head off on a factory tour, seeing every stage of the process from knitting of the fabric, through dyeing, finishing, testing, cutting, printing, embroidery, sewing, packing and despatch.


The buyers head back off to continue costing, while we go on to see their new, state of the art, bacterial water treatment plant, which enables them to recycle the majority of their water and ensures that any water going back into the environment is clean. To the untrained eye, it looks like those boiling pools of acid that the baddie always falls into in a Bond movie!!! We see the lab here, where there is a team responsible for ensuring that the water is being constantly tested and that the good bacteria are doing their job to clean up the water. As I look at a slide of bacteria under a microscope, it takes me right back to being an “A” level biology student……I knew those lessons would come in handy one day!


After a brief, local Bangladeshi lunch, a couple of us head off to catch up with the girls wear teams at another supplier, leaving the boys and men’s buyers to continue their discussions. The buyers are also deep in negotiation here, so we head off on a tour around the various showrooms, each of which has a fingerprint identity scanning device to enter! Far more sophisticated than our own office back in the UK! Back at our hotel that evening, we sit down to dinner with the jersey supplier we saw earlier in the day, a number of their team joining us – we are quite a party! But not a party that is enjoying a glass of wine with their dinner……it is a religious festival on this particular evening, and there is no alcohol being served!

The following morning, we are packed, checked out and ready to leave Dhaka. On reaching the airport, we are yet again attracting a lot of attention, not least our baby wear technologist, who, at 6ft 2in, dwarfs the local people, as well as the rest of us! The lounge is closed but no-one seems to know why, so we head straight for the gate, to be met by one long snaking queue. Now I am normally known for being pretty patient, but I do expect to get what we’ve paid for, and having business class tickets, I decide that the only course of action is to head to the front and present our paperwork. We are sent straight through, but I can feel the black looks of those still in the queue, burning holes in the back of my head.

The team are met by hotel staff at the airport in Delhi and are whisked away to check in and freshen up, before heading off to the fabric market. Outside it is 44 degrees celsius, and as soon as I step into the sun, I can feel it searing the skin on my arms. I do not envy my team a trip to Nehru Place in this weather, but it really doesn’t take 8 of us to go searching for fabric developments. Meanwhile, I spot a familiar face in the crowd and head straight off to a supplier showroom for a meeting. They have, as usual, laid on a really lovely lunch, and at this point I am ravenous. We discuss various aspects of our business together, the state of the retail market in the UK and the impact of the exchange rate, and what we hope to achieve over the next couple of days when two of my teams will have meetings with them. These are not going to be easy negotiations!

Our homeware buyer joins me, having arrived from China a day or two earlier, and we head down the corridor to see a home accessories company, before making our way back to the hotel. On arrival, they appear to have moved the front entrance, from its usual spot to the far side of the hotel, down a long driveway inside the grounds. I cannot for the life of me understand the purpose of doing this until someone later explains. A new law has been introduced, banning the sale of alcohol within 500m of a “highway”, so they have moved the entrance, meaning that technically, the hotel is now more than 500m from the road, despite not having actually moved at all. The reason for this law, apparently, is to stop the truckers and drivers from stopping off and having a drink or two before continuing their journey, which all sounds very sensible, but what are the chances of them stopping for a drink in a 5-star hotel????

I take the opportunity for a brief, refreshing, early evening swim in the still suffocating heat as the sun fades, before changing for dinner. It is now Friday night and we are off out to dinner at Cyber City (Delhi’s very modern tech hub, full of internet companies, bars, and restaurants) with a key factory owner and his wife, a couple that I have a huge amount of time and respect for. By the time we actually sit down to eat it is very late, but the Indian “tapas” style food is great and a glass or two of local Indian wine goes down very well! Sleep, however, is still eluding me, and despite the very comfy hotel pillows, I toss and turn all night, and am suffering by breakfast the next day.

Saturday morning dawns and we are off to first one new factory, with our girls teen wear buyer, then another that we deal with regularly, where the girls wear team are busy putting the fabrics they picked up from the market into sampling for development. This factory is small, but perfectly formed, and on a completely different scale to the huge set ups we have seen in Dhaka. We have worked very closely with them for a number of years so that they have a real understanding of what we are looking for, and they make a beautiful job of dresses, sets and other lightweight wovens for our baby and girls departments. I would like to see this factory at maximum capacity all year round, but with the best will in the world, on both sides, our production requirements ebb and flow, and it is very difficult for us to guarantee a consistent level of production every month. I leave the teams here, working on developments, while I head back to the hotel with our newly appointed Asia Sourcing Manager, who has joined us in Delhi, for another supplier meeting.

So, it’s Saturday night in Delhi, and we deserve a night off! We all pile into a couple of cars and head out to a friend and long time suppliers’ “farm” on the outskirts of Gurgaon.   Some are arriving straight from their last appointment, and by the time we all gather we are quite a crowd. The unwavering generosity and hospitality of the people we know here never ceases to amaze me, and we are treated to a much more relaxed evening, in a beautiful house (it is still too hot to eat outside), and in great company. I am eternally grateful for evenings like this, when we can break from the relentless pressure of negotiation, early starts and meeting after meeting, but we are all exhausted, so having eaten a fabulous home cooked Indian meal, we all head back to the hotel, and bed!


Sunday morning, and I drag myself out of bed for an early morning massage. This is a real treat in the middle of one of these trips, restoring a little energy and releasing a lot of tension. There is no time to waste, however, and we are quickly off to the airport for a flight to Coimbatore. There is chaos at the check-in for our IndiGo flight, no-one seems to have any idea what is going on, and the queue isn’t getting any shorter. Time to “take control”! I find an exceptionally helpful man who takes all our details and works through the complicated process of checking in 11 people, 14 suitcases, and numerous pieces of large hand baggage containing designers and buyers laptops, paperwork, and files of information. It is essential in India that, not only do you have a paper copy of your ticket, to even get into the airport but also that each piece of hand luggage has a label on it which will get stamped at security. Almost an hour later, and following a £212 excess baggage payment, we are finally on our way, and the flight passes without incident.

Arriving at our hotel in Coimbatore, we find the bar closed, due to the 500m rule…..there is no opportunity here to change the point of entrance! However, it seems that the Italian restaurant at the back of the hotel is, for some reason, still able to serve wine, presumably because the restaurant itself is more than 500m from the road. The head waiter, however, insists that it is because it is an Italian restaurant, and “you simply cannot have Italian food without wine”. This rule seems to have many loopholes, and is open to all sorts of interpretation! We all turn in early, a week of sleep deprivation getting the better of us, and I resort to a sleeping tablet; I simply cannot deal with yet another sleepless night.

Monday arrives and I have, at last, managed a night of uninterrupted sleep! We say goodbye to a number of the team; they will be going straight from their afternoon appointments to the airport, for a late night flight. We will catch them up in Bangalore tomorrow. The rest of us head out to various appointments, this morning I am with the baby wear team, visiting one showroom in the morning, and then on to a huge factory in the afternoon, followed by a couple of hours spent in price negotiation. With an hours journey back to the hotel, it is long after 9 pm when we get there, only to find that the hotel is full to bursting with conference goers. There are so many of them waiting for the lift that it will take hours to get up to our floor. Where are they all going, they must be sleeping 5 to a room?!?! We find a back way up to the first-floor restaurant…….a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine and I am ready for bed! Tuesday morning and we are packed and ready to leave again, fighting our way through the chaos of the conference goers checking out.

Our early morning car journey is truly hair-raising. I am fairly hardened to dealing with car journeys throughout Bangladesh and India, but this one was something else! Even I find it disturbing when we appear to be on the wrong side of the road, driving headlong into the headlights of an oncoming painted truck…….it’s like a grown-up game of chicken. There seem to be no rules at all, and after discussion with one or two of our suppliers, there are mixed opinions on whether it is necessary to actually pass a driving test, perhaps someone could enlighten me? Regardless, the traffic is erratic and frequently frightening; I simply cannot understand how anyone ever plucks up the courage to even get behind the wheel here!

This is one of my favourite factories, a great set up, turning out immaculate production. They have made some great samples, and while the baby wear buyer gets stuck into negotiation, the designers are drawing up new ideas for development, and I head off on a factory tour with our sourcing manager and technologist. They lay on a fantastic lunch, and the merchandise manager gives us his views on healthy eating, i.e. 6 days a week vegetarian, 1 day a week meat, yoga every morning (it turns out he is a yoga master). Unsurprisingly, I am not that disciplined! We move on to another factory in the afternoon, leaving the buyer and designer deep in negotiation and sample development. I make for the airport as night descends, along with our head of design, and we share a dinner consisting of the last of my emergency rations (a Graze flapjack and a packet of fruit pastilles) while sitting at the gate. We are hot, sweaty and shattered, life has never felt less glamorous! We board the tiny, propellor-driven plane, and arrive late at night, after a forty-five-minute flight. We go from the ridiculous to the sublime, as we arrive at our last hotel of the trip. It is one of my favourites, and I sink into bed as soon as I can, unpacking just what I need for the next three days and the journey home.

The boys and men’s teams have completed their visit and we see them off to their last appointment, after which they will head straight to the airport. We are spending the day with the girl’s team at a couple of appointments, before they too, head for home, leaving me on my own to have dinner with one of our key suppliers. The baby wear team will fly in to catch me up later that night. The next day is the longest of the trip so far. Leaving the hotel at 8 am, we make our way through the morning rush hour traffic to our biggest, and I believe, best, factory. It is a vast, immaculate and incredibly efficiently run organization, making newborn baby wear for the entire UK high street. It is a factory that I have visited many times and still get a thrill out of going to see. We take up residence in the showroom, and begin the long process of negotiation – we have somewhere between 50 and 60 styles to review and agree prices on today, it is going to be a very long day indeed, particularly for the buyer in the thick of it. Meanwhile, the babywear designer gets sketching, the technologist is fitting new samples on the baby stand, and I am mucking in to approve lab dips and make my comments on the fit of any new styles also. We break for a brief, vegetarian lunch (no meat is allowed on the premises), and then our technologist and I head off on a factory tour. We get caught up in discussion with the manager of the print workshop, and by the time we leave, are absolutely dripping – the temperature in there is unreal!

Finally, at around 8 pm, we have achieved most of what we set out to, but it is a reminder that one day here is not really long enough! We make our way out to the car, where, by now, the mother of all thunderstorms is raging. The drive back to the hotel is……interesting!! Violent, jagged spears of forked lightening pierce the night sky, while thunder crashes all around us. The roads are badly flooded in places, people on motorbikes are wearing plastic bags to try and keep dry, and cars/lorries are breaking down in the middle of the giant, pond like puddles. It takes nearly 2 hours to reach the hotel, so there is just time for a quick dinner, before packing up for our last day.

It’s the last morning, our baggage is all downstairs (it is coming with us as there will be no time to come back to our hotel before the flight), and we are checking out. The babywear buyer has been covering the bills all trip for her designer and technologist also, and her credit card finally gives up! Good job their head of buying is still here to bail them out – I knew I’d come in useful somewhere along the way! We have to fit in three appointments today, and an hours drive between two of them, so these are real speed visits. Firstly we are back with a supplier I saw earlier in the week, the baby team discussing new development, and me rounding up and agreeing on any outstanding prices for the other teams. They have laid on a beautiful birthday cake for our technologist, whose birthday will arrive whilst we are in the air on the way home. Chocolate has never tasted so good! Then on to visit another showroom, and finally, to a huge factory making woven shirts, dresses, trousers, and tops. We practically run around the factory, stopping only briefly in each section to meet the key people and understand the processes. Our host keeps telling us we don’t need to leave until much later, but I know what the traffic can be like in this city, and I have no intention of missing the flight home! Eventually, we are packed up and on our way, arriving at the airport in record time. We whizz through check-in and security, catch up on email correspondence in the lounge and board the first leg. I lose the plot with a man next to us, who is still talking on his phone as we are about to take off. We make it to Dubai without further incident, where I check in for a shower and a massage (we have a 3 and a half hour layover, so I might as well make the most of it!). We board the last flight at around 3 am, and apparently, the turbulence en route was absolutely dreadful – I am so tired that I sleep through it all…….

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Hold on tight, it’s going to be a rollercoaster of a ride………

I cannot quite believe it’s been a year since I last posted this blog; the trip I was about to embark on did not go according to plan!!!!!!

After a 6.30am departure to Gatwick airport and what should have been an uneventful journey to Delhi……if only I’d known! The fog was thickening as we made slow progress round the M25, and eventually the traffic almost ground to a halt, leaving me slightly panicked that I might actually miss the first flight of our trip. Finally, having taken an inordinate amount of time to complete a 40 minute journey, we pull into the Emirates check in zone just 90 minutes before take off. Check in goes without a hitch and I battle my way through the overcrowded security channel, making it to the lounge just in time to meet one of our designers before boarding.

Once on board, having been offered a hot towel and a drink, I settle in with my feet up and a good book! For those of you who are unfamiliar with my blog posts, I love to fly; it is the only time in my crazy, busy life that I get to sit on my backside for several hours straight, with a movie (or several!), a book/magazine, or some music, and am only interrupted by someone offering me food, wine or a chair sized mattress…..what’s not to like?

An hour and a half later, we haven’t moved an inch and the steward is telling me not to concern myself about the connecting flight in Dubai, which we now have absolutely no chance of catching! There is nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the experience, we’ll worry about what happens next when we get there. On arrival at around 10.30pm we are met by a very helpful steward, who explains that we have been booked onto a Jet Airways flight to Delhi…..tomorrow afternoon at 3pm!!!!!!!! And our luggage has been checked straight through so there is no possibility of having it back at this point! What a disaster! The only available earlier flight is at 4am, with a 3hr layover in Mumbai,  arriving only a couple of hours earlier than the direct flight. We will have lost a whole day in Delhi whichever we take, so we opt for the later, direct departure, and are whisked off in an Emirates chauffeur driven car to a hotel for the night, and not just any hotel, this is the tallest hotel in the world, all 72 floors and 1600 rooms of it……I can now honestly say that I have, been there, done that, and yes, I did buy the t-shirt!

I cannot fault the Emirates hospitality, they really looked after us! We decide that the best option in this situation is to get a decent nights sleep, and work our way around the most extravagant breakfast buffet that, in all my years of travelling, I have ever seen! There is English, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and all manner of fruit, pancakes, pastries and artisan breads on offer, and I only wish I had a big enough appetite to try it all! Disappointingly, we cannot get up to the viewing platform at the top of the hotel until after 5pm, so we head back to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Having not seen our luggage since checking in at Gatwick, I am in yesterday’s crumpled, well travelled clothing, I have no make up, and have used every available kit, lotion and potion in the hotel bathroom. Anyone who sees me today will have to accept me au naturel!

Whilst we slept in Dubai, our colleagues on the later flight, have passed us by without mishap, and arrive many hours before us. However, having boarded the plane, I am still not convinced that our bags will have negotiated their way to our next flight. Too many hours have passed, giving them plenty of time to get lost in one of the largest airports in the world! I am avidly watching the ground staff load the luggage into the hold beneath us. Truck after truck of suitcases appears, and one by one the bags make their up the conveyor belt, but I have seen nothing that looks remotely like mine! Just when I am about to give up, one final little trolley rolls up with half a dozen bags on it, and I can barely contain my excitement when I spot ours among them……I will have clean clothing and my own toiletries when we get there!

32 hrs after leaving home, we finally reach a dark and steamy Delhi, arriving dishevelled into the calm, jasmine fragranced interior of the Trident hotel, looking and feeling somewhat like evicted “I’m a celebrity” contestants, rotten in yesterday’s rancid clothing. A light dinner, a quick catch up with our colleagues and it’s time for bed again…..I feel as if I have wasted two whole days of my life in limbo, and my body has no idea which time zone I am in or what time of day it really is!”

And that was just the beginning; there followed a quick succession of appointments, a late night crazy buggy ride through a Delhi golf club to dinner; too many late nights, 5am starts, too little sleep, an aborted landing in Chennai (after flying over the 90,000 seat cricket stadium and the beach a few times, we made it onto the ground at the third attempt!), and a bizarre experience with some Monsoon paperwork which has somehow ended up in my luggage (concierge left it in the wrong room, and they send someone to the Leela Hotel to collect it…. “do you have the package Ms Redman?…..very James Bond!). We head straight out to a supplier and a very long day, developing samples and negotiating prices, in the middle of which all the men in the room quietly disappear for Friday prayers leaving us wondering where everyone has gone. I finally have the luxury of a lone swim in the hotel rooftop pool at sunset, and this is the sort of moment that makes it all worthwhile and reminds me, despite the exhaustion, why I love this job! It is stunningly beautiful! The following day, another round of supplier visits and a late night dinner, before I am back at the airport for a 2am flight!

Moving on to Hong Kong, the relentless pace continued with several days of appointments, and supplier dinners, and finally a brief stop off in Dubai/Abu Dhabi to meet our franchise partners and visit some of our middle eastern stores.

So a year has gone by and a great deal has changed, which will make an immense difference to the trip we are now about to embark on. We have won awards, launched new ranges, and developed a celebrity collaboration, but it will be Brexit that has had the greatest impact. The volatitlity of the exchange rate and subsequently oil prices, along with rising labour prices in India, and the increasing price of cotton, will all conspire to make negotiations very difficult this time around. We are lucky; we have a very loyal core of suppliers who will support us wherever they can, but at the end of the day, we are all in this together, and it only works if we can all make a profit…..

The retail landscape is changing on a daily basis and to remain competitive we are going to have to make some very tough choices about what business we place and with whom, to ensure that we maintain the sales and profit growth we need. A number of clothing retailers have already indicated that retail selling prices will have to increase to compensate for the rise in costs; it is like an elaborate, grown up game of “chicken”…..just who is going to make the leap first, and do we hold firm, relying on selling more volume at a lower margin to make up the difference, or increase selling prices to maintain margin, and accept the fact that customers might react against this and buy less? Both strategies come with significant risks attached, only time will tell how it will work out, and in the meantime, we will continue to try and second guess the impact of the yo-yo, will we – won’t we Brexit???


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Even before leaving the ground…….

The last few weeks have seen us in a frenzy of inspirational shopping trips and the start of the planning process for Autumn/Winter 2016, with various members of the team heading for Antwerp, Copenhagen and New York, as well as scouring the London shops, returning with new ideas for creating a wide variety of new lines and products. As is often the case, we need to be “wearing several hats” at one time! Alongside planning A/W 2016, we are trading our way through A/W 2015, and doggedly working our way through the critical path for S/S 2016, chasing through all our long lead time lines from the Far East, ensuring that all of our stock is making it to port and shipping on time to meet our in store launch dates. Meanwhile some of our teams have been in Turkey, and up and down the M1 to Leicester and Manchester, filling in the gaps with shorter lead time lines and key fashion pieces.

Trading through the next 10 weeks, in the run up to Christmas is the most critical time in our calendar year, what happens during this time period can make or break our season, so it is absolutely key that we get it right, and what we get wrong…..we learn from and incorporate into our strategy for next year!

In the midst of all this we had booked our next major sourcing trip overseas, confirming all flights well in advance to get the best deals, but as is often the case, these things rarely go according to plan! We always need to be prepared for every eventuality, although the drama doesn’t usually start before we have even left the UK! In producing clothing for the UK high street, and always trying to deliver the best possible prices to the customer, we are often involved in making product in developing countries and/or volatile regions in the world. We have encountered typhoons, dehydration inducing temperatures, traffic like you wouldn’t believe, the occasional minor car crash, and even, on the last trip, an earthquake, but events this time have forced us to draw a line and pull out of the Dhaka leg of our tour! There have been two incidences of foreigners being shot over the past couple of weeks, and the government have implied that they believe further attacks and terrorist activity are likely. Now, I am a fairly hardy individual, but let’s be honest, we are making t-shirts, not saving lives! I have the utmost respect for anyone who goes willingly into dangerous regions of the world to work in hospitals, or for aid agencies etc, but I really don’t feel inclined to expose myself or any of my team to that level of danger in the name of garment manufacture. It is simply not worth the risk! So, a change of plan, our itinerary turned on its head, and the flight jigsaw puzzle goes back to square one…….

Back to the day-to-day and we are, as usual, running at a hundred miles an hour just to keep our heads above water! A “buyer’s life” is a very strange combination of exhausting and exhilarating; a quiet life it will never be, but I think that is what has kept me in the industry for so long! Trade meetings, planning meetings, trend presentations, store layouts, meeting suppliers to start new product development, trade fairs, store visits, photoshoot preparation, stylist meetings, model selection, window planning and approval, and range sign offs are all packed into our daily itineraries, and there is much juggling of many different balls going on, but there is one underlying theme that the buying teams must manage effectively, without fail, regardless of whatever else may be going on around them……the critical path. An explanation of this process is long winded and complicated, so for all you “buyers of the future” out there, I thought I would share the potted version that I used to explain this to students at the FRA. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you a valuable insight into this complex process!

What is the “critical path”?

  • —A series of key deadlines for product development and production, which must be met, in order for a product, or range of products, to be delivered to store on time.—
  • Also known as KDP (key dates plan) or progress chart/chaser.
  • —Critical dates will vary according to the product launch date, product type and sourcing location.
  • It can be months long, for example, in the case of outerwear being sourced from China or Vietnam, but may be as short as 4 weeks, if sourcing t-shirts in the UK.
  • The critical path is developed by working backwards, from the required delivery date.

Who is responsible?

  • —Ultimately, the buyer and merchandiser are responsible for ensuring that all products that they have placed orders for, are delivered on time.
  • —On a day to day basis, the assistant buyer will drive/manage the critical path and hold weekly critical path meetings with the team, and, if possible, the relevant suppliers.
  • —The buyers assistant is responsible for ensuring approvals come in and are approved on time, and for highlighting any lateness to the rest of the team.

Communication is the key to success!

  • —Communication, both within the buying team, and with suppliers, is of paramount importance in managing the critical path effectively, and the process relies on developing strong, open and honest relationships with all involved.
  • —The best way to do this is to ensure that all members of the team (buying, merchandising, QA and design) attend the critical path meeting.
  • —The buyer/AB will follow up with supplier through face to face meetings/video conference/skype or phone call.
  • It is important to incorporate as much face to face discussion as possible, remembering that, particularly if you are dealing direct with overseas factories, you will have to contend with both the time difference and the language barrier, which can create many opportunities for misunderstandings and delays.
  • Body language, such as a hand gesture, a shrug of the shoulders, a smile or a scowl, can often convey so much more than a voice on the phone, and a game of email “ping pong” will rarely result in the outcome you are hoping for when negotiations get tough!

What events should be on the critical path?

  • —Firstly, detailed information about the garment – description, colour, style number, order number, supplier, COO, cost price and selling price.—
  • Alongside this, should be the dated sequence of events leading up to the successful, on time delivery of the product. The supplier will provide this information, based on their knowledge of the production of a garment, and it is then up to the buying team and the supplier to work together to ensure that all of these steps and approvals happen on the dates specified.
  • Events which should be included: approval of lab dips/strike offs/trims/base and bulk test reports.—
  • Fit approvals: first fit/pre-production or sealing sample/bulk production sample.
  • —Cut date and FOB date, plus into warehouse date.
  • There are a number of stages within the critical path, and within each stage, a number of actions which need to take place within a certain timescale.

Stage 1  – Initial Approvals

Lab dip approval

  • —Lab dips are small swatches of fabric, dyed to match either a swatch or a Pantone reference.—
  • Usually, a number of swatches (or yarns if knitwear) will be produced, each using a slightly different dye recipe.—
  • The buyer/AB will then select the closest match, by comparing the swatches to the original. The dye recipe for that swatch will then be used to dye the bulk fabric.—
  • This colour matching takes place in a light box, which replicates both natural daylight and store lighting – it is never a good idea to approve a lab dip without looking at it in the light box.
  • A slight difference in shade, or a fabric which is metameric (changes tone in different lighting) can mean the difference between a bestseller and a disaster! Shades of neutrals are often the most tricky – I have witnessed stone coloured chino’s which turn a nasty shade of pink, a khaki jacket which turned brown in store lighting, and numerous other mishaps for which the buying team will be held responsible!
  • —Colour matching can also be done using a machine called a spectrophotometer, which calculates the accuracy of the match using “spectral data”. However, this equipment is very expensive, and many buyers prefer to select by eye.
  • In the case of a yarn dyed stripe or woven garment, the buyer may approve the yarns themselves, or request “hand loom” or “knit down” pieces on different colourways/designs before making a decision.

Base test approval

  • —The selected fabric undergoes a series of physical tests at this stage, to assess its suitability and performance.
  • —It will be tested for seam slippage, tensile strength, pilling, snagging, bursting strength, stability to washing.
  • —The supplier is usually responsible for sending the fabric to a nominated testing house (eg. SGS, ITS, HTS).
  • —The test report will then be submitted to the technologist/buyer for approval.
  • —If the fabric fails the tests, the buyer/tech may ask to see the tested pieces for further assessment, or the fabric may have to be rejected.

Initial Sample

  • —The initial sample will be assessed aesthetically, to ensure that all details/trims are correct.
  • —It will be fitted (1st fit sample), either on a model or a stand/mannequin, if possible, with the supplier present.—
  • Any amendments will be communicated to the supplier, as these could impact on price, fabric consumption and delivery.
  • —The size spec will be approved and all comments documented, so that they can be referred to when the next sample comes in.
  • —If there are few alterations, the supplier may go straight to pre-production, however, if major changes are made, the buyer/designer/tech is likely to request a 2nd fit sample.

Stage 2 – Pre-production

Trim Cards

  • —Once a lab dip has been approved, the supplier will need to get all components such zips, threads, buttons, snaps etc dyed to match, or send in a selection of possibles for the buyer to select from.—
  • All of the components above, plus linings, labels, interlining, beads, sequins, badges, should all be submitted to the buying team for approval, ideally all on one trim card.— Frequently, however, these may all come in at separate times, creating a great deal of work for the team to collate and combine with all the other elements incorporated into a particular style.
  • Usually the buyer will want to review these, but in some teams the AB is responsible for this, dependant upon their level of experience/knowledge.

Strike Offs

  • —At this point in time, if there is a print on the garment, the supplier should submit a “strike off”. This is a first attempt at transferring the artwork from paper to fabric, and at this stage amendments can still be made.
  • Once a strike off has been approved, the printer will cut bulk screens, after which it is very difficult (and expensive!) to make changes.
  • —If the garment is embroidered, the embroidery should also be approved at this stage.
  • —In the case of a yarn dyed garment (knitwear or jersey) a knit down (test piece) of the end result should be approved.

Stage 3 – Bulk Approvals

Bulk Fabric and Test Report

  • —A piece of the bulk fabric should be submitted to the buyer/technologist for approval, along with a bulk test report.—
  • At this stage the bulk fabric is tested for colourfastness to light, washing and water. Dry rub tests will also be carried out to test colour transfer eg. Indigo denim jeans – colour transfer is likely to be high.
  • Failures will be assessed by the technologist, and discussed with the buyer, in order to decide whether to reject the fabric or make a commercial acceptance.—
  • Again, the buyer/technologist might ask to see tested pieces to assess by eye, if the fabric has failed.

Pre-production Sample

  • —This is the last sample submitted before the supplier starts production, and must incorporate all of the amendments requested on previous samples.
  • —The pre-production (or sealing) sample should ideally be in the bulk fabric with all bulk trims, so that the buyer can review what the actual production will look like, however, this is frequently not possible. In this instance it is generally acceptable to seal garments in the correct quality and with correct quality trims, although the colours/prints may be substitute.—
  • At this stage a buyer/technologist will often review several samples of different sizes, to approve the graded set.
  • Sample is signed off by buyer/tech/designer and “sealed”, sometimes called a gold seal or green seal sample, although the description will vary from one retailer to another.

Stage 4 – Production

Cut Date

  • —This is one of the most important dates on the critical path – up until this point it is still possible to make changes. Once the knife has gone into the fabric there is very little you can do if you change your mind!
  • —Also, it is very important to meet this date – fabrics go through the cutting room very quickly, and onto the production line. Miss the cut date and you are also likely to miss your production slot.
  • The supplier cannot afford to have empty production lines, or workers sitting idle…….—Production is planned to fill every hour, often with orders from a variety of different retailers, so if the slot gets missed, it may significantly delay delivery.
  • —The supplier cannot afford to wait for you to approve fabrics/sealing samples/trims etc – if you do not get the answers to them in a timely manner, and in order to meet critical path dates, someone else’s production will go on the line first, and your delivery will slip correspondingly.

Production Sample

  • —It is best practice for a production sample to be approved prior to the garments leaving the factory.—
  • At this stage some further physical garment tests may also take place, such as an appearance after wash test to determine any physical/aesthetic changes during the washing process.
  • In the case of childrenswear, safety is of paramount importance, and certain elements of a garment may be pull tested (eg buttons and poppers) to ensure that they are secure, and could not detach and be ingested by a small child. Some garments, such as nightwear and fancy dress costumes must also be tested for flammability. All of these elements have to meet British safety standards, and as a retailer, we have to ensure that we have adhered to the law and shown due diligence in the production and testing process of every garment.
  • It is much easier/cheaper to deal with any mistakes, quality issues etc if the garments are still in the factory – once they are packed in a container/on a boat there is no possibility of dealing with any problems until arrival in the UK, at which point it may become extremely costly and time consuming to rectify any issues.
  • —The production sample should be approved in writing or on a computer generated tracking system – most retailers have a system of issuing approval codes (or “MDA’s), before shipment can occur.

Ex Factory Date/DC Date

  • —If everything to this point happens on time, the goods should leave the factory on time – known as the “ex factory” date.
  • —At this point they are sent, by road, in a container, for delivery to the forwarder at the port for loading on to a ship. The date the boat leaves port is known as the “fob date”.
  • —It is always best practice to agree the fob date with the supplier, to ensure that they take responsibility for the goods arriving at the port on time.
  • The merchandising and/or shipping teams will be able to track the vessel on the shipping company systems, in order to predict when the goods will arrive at the retailers warehouse – “DC date”.


  • —As you can see there are multiple reasons why things can and will go wrong!
  • —Every stage must be monitored and approvals chased by the buying team to ensure all events happen on time.
  • —Inevitably, this will not run smoothly every time, and the buying team will have to work creatively with their suppliers, in order to catch up any lost time/rectify any problems.
  • —Whatever the issue, there is usually a way to solve the problem or improve the situation, but it will require creative, inventive thinking!
  • —It is critical that you understand the implications of your decisions on the critical path, and ultimately the delivery of a garment. It is not simply a case of rejecting something that is incorrect, but being able to assess and act to minimise any disruption to the order.
  • —Being pro-active and coming up with solutions is a key element of the buying and technical teams role. Never, ever, bring a problem to the table until you have thought about what possible action you might be able to take to solve it and reduce the impact on delivery.

And all of that was the “potted” version……in reality there are frequently many more components, processes, negotiations, and possibilities for disaster than I have detailed above. It takes a very committed and dedicated type of person to live this life, for it is a lifestyle choice, not a “job”, as such! It is a complete rollercoaster of an existence, but, as I have said on a number of occasions before, I absolutely love it……..most of the time!

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