Helen Lord of Lulu Browns challenges traditional beliefs and attitudes, analyses ‘befores’, considers ‘afters’, and examines her own buying habits. Here she talks us through the good she has gained from lockdown
I write this listening to my sons playing downstairs, happy and content in their new way of life. I’m working from home. Not a 9-5 – far from it – but I am managing to find certain times of the day more productive than others and adapting to this change has been rather swift.
I’ve been a retailer on the British high street for nearly 15 years. I traded through the last recession and I am
no stranger to tight budgets and worrying times.
We are now, however, all sailing on uncharted waters, some (perhaps all) with boats ill prepared for such a storm. Both wholesalers and retailers alike.
Could this be the time for great change in our industry? Change that has felt a long time in coming…
Choice is not always a good thing
It’s April 2019, I’m sat on a stand at Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week with Jess, Lulu’s manager. We are looking at over 450 – yes 450 – dresses, from one designer… and, of course, their many sub brands.
Do I need to choose from 450 gowns, half of which are well below average?
For the first time in my career I felt uneasy. Ashamed that I am part of an industry that promotes such colossal waste. The industry that is fashion.
So I stopped buying minimum orders from that point. If I couldn’t find the dresses I loved – and I do mean love – I didn’t buy. Simple.
I still place regular, healthy orders with my designers but my focus is very much on my repeats.
No more ‘filler gowns’ enter Lulu’s door; no more gowns are there to make up the numbers. I haven’t made these buying decisions to make a stand but because I want to be part of change.
Change that sees designers being mindful of what they are producing.Really analysing their collection and thinking “why am I producing a sub brand? Does the industry need it?”.
Over the past year I’ve had a glimpse at wholesale life, too, as I’ve worked alongside a British manufacturer. I’ve seen life on the other side of the fence and for those of you wondering, the grass is not greener, I promise you.
But it has given me a new perspective. Of course designers’ collections need a great representation in our boutiques and that comes with a level of investment, unquestionably, and if there’s one thing I love, it is buying! Buying responsibly and with confidence in my stock and its longevity.
My assumptions that designers ‘had’ to produce this amount of gowns was rubbished rather quickly. I soon discovered that collections can be produced mindfully and ethically without the need for mass production. But this can only happen if buyers are receptive to the idea.
Yes, we all want to see new, fashion-forward styles, the thrill of something different to feast your eyes on. But I am also proud to still be retailing gowns I’ve had in my boutique for more than five years.
Does this mean my boutique hasn’t moved quickly enough? Does it mean I’m stuck in a buying rut? Or perhaps it means that I’ve bought well… invested well, even?
I’ve discussed at length with my team and peers, the notion that timeless gowns should be able to be retailed for years. Proudly. A classic design is something to be celebrated, year after year.
I’m also happy to buy from a collection of 20 gowns. I don’t need to see a best seller ‘updated’ and I absolutely do not what to see 60 fishtail gowns all very much a version of themselves.
We are a saturated market on every level and the time for change is now.
More is not more. Supply chains need to be secure and we need to start working together, retailer and manufacturer, because without one the other ceases to exist.
I believe in bridal. I always have and I always will. It’s one of the few sectors of fashion that has a great chance of coming out of the other side of this, maybe even stronger.
The time for reflection and change is now and I wish you all the very best of luck. For we are and always were, in this together.