KAREN RADLEY TALKS TO LUCY WALSH, FOUNDER OF THE BRAND AMBASSADORS
Image Credit: Aron Hosie
What was your first job?
My first Saturday job was working on the shop floor of New Look in Aylesbury, where I grew up. I loved being on the dressing room most as really enjoyed styling people. I spent as much time talking them out of mistakes as selling them their perfect outfit. Plus, we got a 50% staff discount which is a big deal when you’re sixteen.
How did you start your career in fashion?
When I was 16 I had an internship at Tatler Magazine and knew immediately I wanted to work in fashion. My first job out of university was working on Drapers Magazine published by the then called EMAP FASHION. I stayed there for 10 years and was the Commercial Director for 5 of those. I loved that role so much. I travelled all around Europe to all the international fashion shows, Paris, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen and more. We had the most amazing hard working fun team and I think the magazine was at it’s best ever during that period. It was a golden era of fashion and independent retail. I look back with nostalgia as they were some of the best years of my life. I moved from Drapers Magazine over to PURE fashion show and was the Commercial Director there for 5 years.
When did you set up your own fashion agency?
After leaving Pure I launched my Agency in July 2015 with £19,000 inheritance left by my grandmother. My mum was totally against it as I didn’t have a clue what I was doing so I bought a necklace with my children’s initials in case the agency failed and I’d have something to remember my granny by. I lost the necklace in the first year but I still have the agency. I have an old black and white framed photo of my granny in my showroom and I believe she’s watching over me.
What is your coffee order?
Strong, black, no sugar
When you select collections to represent - how are you influenced?
That’s a great question! Whenever I look at a collection the first thing I ask myself is can I think of at least 10 customers that I could sell it to. Currently price point is very important, as is the mark up. Ideally they need to have a good b2b as customers need to be able to reorder in season on their own time scales, x4 collections a year is perfect, strong support with images and marketing materials is really useful. Because of Brexit I seek out brands that will deliver DDP as it’s what the boutiques want. Working with brands who have realistic expectations is so important now, especially in the current economic climate. Every brand thinks getting into Selfridges, Liberty or the big multiples is the goal but having a really strong indie business can be much more beneficial and less risky. However, after COVID and a few difficult years, working with nice people has become the most important factor for me.
Is there a signature look for the designers you choose?
When I choose a brand to represent it has to sit alongside the other labels in my agency. I like to think of my showroom as a mini department store where all the brands compliment each other and work together. The ideal situation is that a boutique would come to our showroom and be able to buy every brand if they could. Rather than a signature look for the brands I feel we have a specific style of woman we are catering for. Our target woman is 35+ who is confident in her style and not afraid to be daring with new trends and who LOVES colour.
Who would you say is your customer?
We work with the best independent boutiques across the UK and Ireland. We are really lucky to work with so many award winning stores and dedicated buyers like The Dressing Room, Sass & Edge, BWD and Collen & Clare to name few. We also work with some great department stores, multiples and online businesses too. We expect to see just under 100 retailers in the showroom over the selling period.
If a woman was to own just one item from your new collections - which one would you suggest and why?
That is such a tough question, it’s like asking who my favourite child is! If I had to choose I would say one of our coats as your cost per wear would be great. Our Australian label Unreal Fur has the most incredible collection of stunning faux fur coats that are proper show stoppers. So often women buy boring black, “safe” coats and it’s such a shame when you think how often you wear it. I always think it’s work investing in a statement coat that will last you for years and make people notice you.
Is there a fashion designer or icon who has inspired you?
Predictably Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss, Princess Di in sportswear, David Bowie from his Ziggy Stardust jumpsuits to his sharp tailoring I’d wear it all and Gwen Stefani in the 90’s. My favourite designers are Erdem and I love love love Zimmermann, I keep promising myself one day I’ll own one of their dreamy dresses
Where is your favourite place to shop?
I rarely shop these days as I am so lucky to represent such gorgeous brands and I wear all the samples. However, when I’m out on the road visiting my boutiques I often come home with a purchase. Indies are the best place to find something special
Last fashion purchase?
I’ve recently found a new Italian label which is very rock n’roll and I’m obsessed. I bought a star covered 70’s style, one shoulder jumpsuit. It’s very Ziggy Stardust actually. The brand is not in the UK and I love that it’s an unknown label. My little secret find.
What keeps you up at night?
I don’t sleep much so a lot keeps me up at night. Being a mum of two rambunctious little boys means I’m always juggling and constantly worrying I’ve dropped a ball somewhere either in work or family. I’m forever going over lists in my head. The run up to setting up the showroom is always when I stress the most. It’s the waiting for samples to turn up that is the worst, that is definitely up there as something that keeps me awake. It’s completely out of your control. but if they don’t turn up you’re stuck! And my cats, they literally sleep on my head, so that keeps me up at night too!
Do you have any words of positivity to share with our Scoop readers?
If you’re on Instagram follow some of the “Good New” pages. They are full of positive, upbeat stories to lift your spirits and I look at them every morning to remind myself there is other stuff going on, not just the negative press we hear all the time. After every downturn there comes a boom and so we just have to buckle up and ride the storm until that comes. And until then, Dress Happy. That’s my mantra for 2023, I’m going to wear as much colour as possible to lift my spirits and make me feel positive.