MEET | Odette Rushton
Market Manager & Retail Expert | Lambert + Associates
Ahead of their International Sales Seminar at this year’s MBFWA, we caught up with Lambert + Associates’ Market Manager & Retail Expert; Odette Rushton.
Tell us a little about your industry background and what brought you to the fashion industry?
My background is in buying and wholesale. I started out in the David Jones buying office and then moved to London where I worked for Burberry in their wholesale team. I’m now based in Paris consulting on strategic retail projects for Lambert + Associates.
For those who don’t know, who are Lambert + Associates and what do they do?
Lambert + Associates is a luxury retail consulting firm helping brands, retailers and organisations to master the art of smart retail. We are a multinational and multicultural team who bring together valuable cross-functional retail experiences. With retailers we help to curate unique selling spaces – both instore and online. This, in turn, means that we’re always identifying talented new brands and retail concepts. On the brand front, we work on building their development plans, which can cover anything from range planning to distribution strategy. Our digital, export and private label services assist both retailers and brands.
What kind of brands do Lambert + Associates look to work with and how can Australian brands get involved?
Lambert + Associates works with premium and luxury brands who want to successfully grow their business on an international scale. Australian brands can reach out via our website www.lambert.associates or follow us on Instagram @lambertandassociates
What are some Lambert + Associates success stories? Who are some brands you’ve seen do well launching into new markets?
We recently worked with a UK fast fashion label who wanted to launch a second, more premium sister brand. While they were experts in fast fashion and the mass-market, they needed our advice on how to target customers at this higher price point – from the user experience and look and feel of the new website to the merchandising strategy and the logistical operations. The second aspect of the project involved their growing online business. While they had a loyal domestic customer, they now saw untapped opportunities in foreign markets that they knew little about. Using our international team, we develop a targeted merchandising strategy that took regional differences into account.
What does ‘Australian’ fashion mean to you? How are you seeing Australian labels being perceived internationally? What sets them apart?
Australian fashion really matches our lifestyle: it’s relaxed, understated and easy to wear. Australian labels have carved out an international reputation for trans-seasonal resort and activewear – categories that we do well because they are authentic to our way of life. Smart brands are building on this success by elevating their collections, introducing more outerwear, and adding more sophisticated details and fabrics. In doing so, Australian brands will have more international appeal and can be worn not just by the beach, but in other climates and cultures.
What do you see as some of the major challenges for Australian labels looking to enter international markets? What are some of the mistakes you often see made?
It seems simple, but the biggest mistakes stem from brands not prioritising quality over quantity. The product obviously must be up to international standards: fabric, fit and construction. Your range plan must speak to your targeted regions and cultures rather than trying to please everyone. Your image online, in lookbooks and linesheets must be strong and uncomplicated. The same goes for contacting buyers – a reputable introduction is better than harassing them via poorly written emails. Also, one dream department store account is better than two mediocre ones. Lastly, I would say that a small number of loyal customers is all you need.
The other area that we see brands consistently fail to understand is the maths behind fashion. You can’t delegate this to a sales agent or a business partner. I speak to so many designers who don’t know their prices or their mark-up – it’s a recipe for disaster. Set the best prices and margins possible and then defend them.
Your team have offices globally, what are some key differences in the retail landscapes you are seeing in these cities that brands should be aware of when deciding where to concentrate their efforts?
Buyers are travelling more than ever before, especially since brands are increasingly showing outside of traditional market schedules. Pre-collections are still where the majority of a buyer’s OTB will be spent. In terms of cities, Paris continues to the biggest market. Milan is important too, home to more established fashion houses and Design Week. Pitti Uomo and Bimbo will always be a drawcard for Florence. London is more creative and disruptive while New York is essential for US business. We’ve seen that emerging fashion capitals like Copenhagen, Seoul, Kiev and Sydney are growing too.
For those looking to build a brand presence in Europe, what are some events they should look to get involved in?
Showing at European fashion weeks and trade shows is a big expense, so it’s important to know what you want to get out of the market before you commit. There are many showrooms and trade shows – some better than others – however the right one for you depends on your category and target retailers.
What are some of the biggest game changers you are seeing in retail today, and that you foresee being key in the future? Who are some Best Practice examples you see innovating this field?
Sustainability is here to stay. It can take some time for brands to incorporate sustainable practices into their business, so brands should start now if they haven’t already. I’m a fan of Australian brands A.BCH, who are so clear on the provenance of their clothes, and Outland Denim, who - aside from making great jeans - employ vulnerable seamstresses.
Then I would say that the sharing economy is a real disruptor, as seen best through the US rental site Rent the Runway.
What are some tips you’d recommend for Australian labels looking to export?
Before you export to a particular region, work out if there is a mid- to long-term growth opportunity there. It takes time and energy to set up the export process, so be sure that it’s not a short-term project.
Secondly, understand how the shipping costs and taxes will affect your margins and the retailer’s margins. Perhaps it will not be as profitable as you first thought.
From a buyer’s perspective, when attending fashion weeks and trade shows, what are some key elements your team look for? What makes a label stand out? What are some ways labels can best engage buyers?
Meeting and speaking with the designer themselves is very telling. If the designer can articulate the brand’s DNA, how it will evolve creatively and technically as well as understanding the business component, buyers will be more interested. This is because they are increasingly looking for brands that can be exclusive to them over the long-term, rather than just being one-hit wonders.
Secondly, to stand out, designers must be careful not to copy other designers. Buyers see a lot of product, so the new designs and concepts grab their attention, while copies blend into the background.
Lastly, engage with buyers once you have your image intact (online, lookbook and linesheet). If you have no industry contacts, you can get on their radar via Instagram. A simple email can work too, but make sure it’s no more than 150 words, with links to your lookbook, linesheet and website. Be sure to outline key information such as: your current distribution, price points, mark up, showroom dates and address and preferred adjacencies in their store. Try not to use phrases like “I saw a gap in the market”, “I was inspired by..” or “I’m certain my brand will work in your store.”
What is next? Any exciting developments, collaborations or events with Lambert + Associates that we should look out for?
We are working with The Dubai Mall on an exciting project that will debut later this year. It will be an incubator for talent – a mix of contemporary womenswear and accessories designers that are new to the Dubai audience. We have already selected a few Australian brands to be featured but are always open to find more talented designers.
Want to Know More?
Head to the Lambert + Associates website via the link below to find out more about their work, and how your brand can get involved. Follow their story on Instagram via @lambertandassociates, and get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for those attending MBFWA this May, be sure not to miss Odette’s presentation for the Lambert + Associates International Sales Seminar, Thursday 16th May, 5:30pm – 6:30pm, details here >>