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What's your previous experience in the industry?
Having established a very profitable jewellery business whilst still at school, I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to become a fashion buyer. I loved the buzz of a best seller and was passionate about fashion!
I studied management science at university and trained at Debenhams (then part of the Arcadia Group) for five years, initially as a merchandise planner and subsequently moving into buying before emigrating to Australia to work with Woolworths. (I did have a six month period of chartered accountancy but after the first week I knew it wasn’t for me - however it has certainly helped in finding my way around a profit and loss statement).
After two years at Woolworths I took the role of buying manager at Suzanne Grae. I then became GM of buying and marketing and three years ago became CEO. I have recently celebrated 25 years at Suzanne Grae an achievement I am extremely proud of (I was very young when I started).
What's your day to day role?
Wow, one thing is for sure, life is never boring! One day I may be on a buying trip in Los Angeles, New York or London (which is actually what I’m doing right now) and on another I am visiting potential sites for new stores in Australia. Some days I am reviewing the OTB (open to buy) with my team and on others developing the strategic plan for the next three years. Other days involve reviewing our latest window campaigns or meeting with the team at our ‘not for profit’ partner, White Ribbon to discuss this year’s fundraising appeal. I love every aspect of my role but I especially love the product side of the business and can often be found ‘playing’ with product with the buying team. I am still a total fashion victim, even after all these years.
What's the most challenging aspect?
The most challenging aspect for me has to be the perception of the Suzanne Grae brand. It has been around for almost 40 years and was originally a ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ brand. We also struggle with a ‘that’s where my grandmother shops’ perception.
Whereas in reality we are a brand that offers great fashion for every Australian woman on a budget regardless of age or demographic. We interpret all the key fashion trends for our customers, taking into consideration ‘easy wear’ and ‘easy care’ factors for her lifestyle. Fit, flattering all women’s bodies and comfort are key considerations as well as providing it all at a great price.
For me the quote: ‘Fashion can’t change the world but a woman who likes what she sees in the mirror sure can’ is really important in what we do.
What initiative are you most proud of?
We have always sold sizes 14, 16 and 18 well and after reviewing recent trends in statistical data on the size curve of Australian women, we saw a potential to extend our size offer to encompass a size 8 up to a size 22.
As a company we spend so much time, effort and energy on the fit and comfort of our garments so it made complete sense to leverage this strength and offer our range to women who previously were unable to shop in our stores.
What is the biggest change you've seen to the industry?
For me it’s the competition for disposable income between technology, entertainment, fashion and coffee! Years ago, a much larger proportion of the disposable income was spent on fashion, whereas these days there are so many other things competing for your dollar. We have to work smarter to win over that wallet share than maybe 10 years ago.
When you add to the mix the internationals such as H&M and Zara arriving on our doorsteps and the continued growth of e-commerce, you begin to form a picture of the challenges that all of us retailers are facing. But then I’ve always loved a challenge!