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Editor's Comment: Why M&S is right to place product people at its fashion heart

Now that M&S has announced its much-anticipated fashion team restructure, are the right people in place to turn ailing sales around?

Fashion at Marks & Spencer has been in decline for years and, despite numerous attempts to revitalise its offer, clothing and home sales have yet to recover. In its latest results, like-for-like sales for these categories fell 2.8% year on year to £1.19bn for the 13 weeks to 30 December 2017.

marks and spencer spring 18

Marks & Spencer spring 18

When former Halfords boss Jill Mcdonald was appointed managing director for clothing, home and beauty last October, she was praised for her business acumen, but concerns were raised that this non-fashion hire – alongside the departure of director of clothing and beauty Jo Jenkins – would leave a growing hole in fashion product expertise at a senior level.

Those concerns have been allayed. As exclusively revealed by Drapers, the former executive vice-president of product at Old Navy, Jill Stanton, will join the retailer as womenswear and kidswear director. Meanwhile, Wes Taylor, former managing director of Burton, will become menswear director. Laura Charles, current head of lingerie buying, has been promoted to the new position of lingerie director. The industry’s call for M&S to hire “product people” has been answered, and each individual brings vast fashion expertise to the business.

Stanton, who also served 14 years at Nike Group, has previously been described by Gap group as a “proven textile industry veteran”. The New York Times reported in 2015 that she transformed Old Navy’s approach to design and shifted its collection from everyday basics to on-trend and in-season product. Stanton built a reputation for hiring top talent, investing in fabrics and introducing new product lines.

However, she has been out of the UK for a long time, so her first challenge will be to get back in touch with the British customer.

Looking to menswear, Taylor brings a wealth of experience and a strong reputation after nearly 20 years with Burton, initially as buying director and then MD.

The challenges for fashion at M&S are many, and the team will need to work hard to get its fashion back on trend in a way that is right for its audience, and get core customers to return. Please, no more cropped tops, orange hotpants or Alexa Chung collaborations.

Taking a leading role at M&S is not easy, and being thrust into the public eye – including all analysis and criticism that comes with it – has deterred other industry leaders from joining. If these new hires can embrace the huge challenges the retailer faces, they have a real opportunity to enhance the M&S fashion credentials.


Readers' comments (1)

  • Problem is, customers have gone elsewhere. The customer should be at the heart, not product. Understand the customer, give them what they want.

    Product first is the old way. Same old at this retailer.

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