TheIndustry.fashion LIVE! Jane Shepherdson CBE on her extensive career and driving sustainability
Reporting from TheIndustry.fashion LIVE! Resale, rental and repair, Jane Shepherdson CBE joined a host of guests from the fashion industry to discuss her career at Topshop, her current role at My Wardrobe HQ, and how we can all drive ahead sustainability.
According to global retail strategist Roland Berger, by the mid-part of this decade most of the growth in the mainstream fashion market will be generated by circular business models with the second hand market growing 11 times faster than traditional retail.
With this in mind, it is clear that fashion businesses who are serious about generating growth need to be serious about integrating circular models into the heart of their business strategies.
Hosted in partnership with Bleckmann, sponsored by eBay and Shoosmiths, Jane Shepherdson CBE closes the event with a live 'In Conversation' discussion with TheIndustry.fashion's Editor-in-Chief Lauretta Roberts.
LR: Tell me about how you became involved in fashion, I understand you once made your own clothes?
JS: I was fortunate enough to grow up when punk was a thing! I was naturally rebellious and it fed into everything that I enjoy. I loved Vivienne Westwood but it was ridiculously expensive for someone on my wage, so I enjoyed making clothes that matched what I saw in London. It lead me to wanting to join in fashion, despite knowing I had no real design skills!
I then joined Topshop on their graduate training program and became an allocator - visiting the warehouse to check up on stock. It was a fantastic environment, with clothes everywhere, and it was perhaps the first time that I felt like I was in the right industry for me... I just had to work my way up from there.
When I joined Topshop it was a cheap and cheerful brand that sold t-shirts with text on it – fashion wasn’t the focus - it was simply clothing for teenagers. It was fun, but it could be better! I was a little embarrassed by it as a brand and I knew we could do something great with it.
Eventually I rose up through the ranks to become Brand Director, which meant that I was responsible for everything front of house – product, retail, marketing. It felt like I was in charge of everything except logistics and the money.
What was your highlight at Topshop? You oversaw some pretty incredible things.
Getting our collection on the catwalk of London Fashion Week was a real highlight for us – getting Topshop on a catwalk, a place where retailers aren’t usually allowed, was incredible. We had Lily Cole as one of our first models!
I think it's already pretty well documented but can you tell me why you left?
I inevitably left because of Philip Green - there was only a certain amount of time I could work under someone like him. We made the brand successful and he came in, gradually becoming more involved in the business and I wasn’t happy. I then set my sights on finding a small high street retailer that needed some help and energy, then entered Whistles.
After eight years at Whistles, where I had a great journey and implemented a large amount of change to transform the business, I stepped back. I could no longer contribute to the fashion industry as it was – it just all started to feel a little unsustainable. I wanted to do something that had real purpose and influence behavioural change in the fashion industry.
Tell me about your work now with My Wardrobe HQ.
My Wardrobe HQ is a luxury fashion resale and rental platform – customers pay for a subscription service and can then pick items from the extensive collection to rent and wear. It’s perfectly suited for occasionwear – the wedding outfits, the sports trips, the bold items worn once for parties. We see ourselves as one of the planks in the bridge to sustainability in the industry.
What change have you seen in the industry over the last few years?
It is definitely much more difficult to deal with trends, especially in the last few years thanks to social media sites and applications. It’s so hard to pinpoint a trend and see where it’s coming from – gone are the days when we’d travel to different cities in the world and spot at what we thought is fashion-forward and inspiration for the next season. The internet has made it harder to be able to solidly pin-point a trend.
Despite these blurred lines in trends, isn't fashion still one of our biggest forms of expression?
Fashion has an incredible way of transforming us! We look at items, try on clothes, and feel transformed. Sometimes you just know that you’d feel like a different person in some items. It absolutely is still one of the best ways to express ourselves, we can just do it more sustainably these days.
It’s also so fun – fashion is one of the most creative industries and is a great form of self-expression!
How can we entice people into the rental market, especially those who are dipping their toes in for the first time?
I think it would be great for rental platforms to get into retail more and have physical stores, both permanent and pop-ups. The high street, especially in small towns, is heavily depleted. These empty stores units could provide a great place for rental platforms and businesses to host local hubs and provide a place for people to try on, drop off and rent clothing.
The retail experience is perhaps the bridge needed to reach these customers who still want to still go out and try on these clothes before renting.