In a packed room in the stunning setting of The Octagon in Milsom Place, we were treated to over an hour of insight from Topshop Managing Director, Sarah Homer. She talked us through the evolution of Topshop, from concession to world domination!
Topshop was launched in 1964, arguably the most exciting decade in British fashion, making it 50 years old this year. Post-war babies were rebelling, fashion was changing and young women didn’t want to go from chidren’s clothes into the reserved outfits of their Mothers, they wanted to be teenagers. Fashion started to be designed by everyday people, street style took off and individual style was embraced, Mary Quant and Biba revolutionised young fashion and the Kings Road in London became the place to be seen and photographed.
Mary Homer joined Topshop in 1985 working in the Visual Merchandising department and quickly moved up the ranks taking a seat on the board. In Sarah’s words, ‘not a lot happened in fashion from 1985 to 1995, the high street started to stagnate’ this is when Topshop decided they needed to do something big, something different and something radical.
They set out to be the world’s fashion authority, an affordable, high fashion brand which would could sit alongside high end designers yet carry a high street price tag. But how could they achieve this?
The product was key, they wanted to epitomise British fashion, to be authentically British but also be eclectic, directional and non conformist. To do this they knew they needed world class standards, which meant having the best staff and working with the very best in every field, from the designers right through to who photographed their clothes. They knew they needed a young, excited talent pool who would take risks and challenge the status quo and most importantly lived and breathed the brand.
Topshop began investing in young designers, plucking the very best talent straight out of St Martins and sponsoring these designers with Topshop initiatives. New Gen sponsors new designers and have nurtured the likes of Alexander McQueen and Jonathon Saunders, they are also heavily involved in the Vogue fashion fund which gives emerging talent a ‘leg up’ in the industry. Collaborating with this emerging talent helped the designers to enter the industry whilst supplying Topshop customers with the chance to buy designer, fashion forward lines at highstreet prices, just what they set out to do.
In that original meeting, Topshop had wanted to be endorsed by the world’s media, worn by influential people around the world and to show during fashion week. At the time these goals seemed fantastical, but Topshop showed during London Fashion Week in 2005 and continue to do so each year. Sienna Miller, Cara Delavigne, Suki Waterhouse, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss were all wearing the Topshop range for the recent launch, pictures which will be in every fashion magazine this month and every fashion blog worth it’s salt. Topshop recently opened their flagship American store in New York which has proved highly popular, bringing the London look to the New York masses. World domination complete!
While discussing the future of retail Sarah didn’t agree with the scaremongering suggesting the high street was dead, with a new generation growing up who still wait for the day they’re allowed to venture into town on their own and look around the shops, Sarah strongly believes that the high street will always be integral to our social lives. Yes, the way we shop will change, we can click and collect and order in store, but the retail experience will still be important. What will become different is the ‘experience’ we offer our customers in-store, what that means right now, she’s not sure! What she could guarantee is that the next 10 years in retail will be very very different, but that is what is so exciting about the industry.
“Love what you do. If you don’t, find something you do love. If you’re passionate about your career you’ll work your way to the top” Sarah Homer, Managing Director of Topshop
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