Recently appointed chairman of Graduate Fashion Week, Rob Templeman discusses his extensive retail experiences, Graduate Fashion Week and how businesses can succeed in the tough economic climate.
Rob Templeman is a widely respected businessman, perhaps best known for his positive work towards the turnaround of Debenhams during his time as chief executive of the company. More recently, Rob has been appointed chairman of the largest graduate fashion event in the world – Graduate Fashion Week (GFW). This year he will take over from Terry Mansfield CBE who has been chairman for the past seven years, and will be working with a fresh new team that Martyn Roberts, co-founder and director of Vauxhall Fashion Scout and newly appointed managing director of GFW, will overlook. This highly important fashion event gives graduating fashion students the opportunity to showcase their final collections and exhibit their portfolios, with the hope of kick-starting a career in the fashion industry. GFW is quite a contrast to Rob’s past accomplishments; previously he has spent time in senior management roles at both Homebase and Harvey’s. Rob is currently chairman of Gala Coral Group, the RAC and the British Retail Consortium, as well as a trustee for Children with Cancer. Through his commitment to the retail and fashion industry and his success at Debenhams, Rob was awarded the prestigious Draper’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011; this is a moment in his career of which he is very proud. Rob told Third Floor: “I was very proud to win that award and a lot of it is about having a good team around you.”
GFW is an important fashion event, with more than 40 UK and international universities showcasing their work; what led you to the role of chairman?
Jeff Banks, one of the founders of Graduate Fashion Week, and I go back quite a few years and he approached me regarding the role. What appeals to me about Graduate Fashion Week is that it was initially put into place to help students and introduce them to the fashion industry as a whole, with the aim of helping them find work, whether it be in design, retailing or manufacturing. At the moment it is particularly hard for students and graduates to find work. I think that was the biggest drive for me, it was an opportunity to help. I also happen to have a daughter who is a fashion student, so it is very close to home.
This year you have taken over the role from the inspiring Terry Mansfield; how would you like to see Graduate Fashion Week progress this year?
Terry has done a fantastic job; he has been the chairman for the last seven years, but moving forward we have a whole new team at GFW now. This year we are going to be based at Earl’s Court and it is going to be slightly different to previous years. I think the following year is when we are going to take Graduate Fashion Week to a slightly different dimension and bring it more central to London, and to perhaps widen it so it becomes the premier employment forum on the internet for graduates, as well as the shows and the events. I also think it is important to encourage the whole industry to participate a lot more in it.
With the current economic climate, it is a difficult time for young people graduating; what advice would you give to a young person delving into the fashion industry in order for them to succeed?
Currently 1.5 million 16–24 year olds are out of work and I think that is a number that will continue to rise. I think the government needs to come together to help find these students and graduates and help them find work. The first advice I would give is that you need to decide what you want to do in the fashion industry, because there is a lot more work in the fashion industry than just being a designer, and other pathways can be incredibly rewarding and very well paid. Most people tend to look at Graduate Fashion Week centred just around the design side, and what we are trying to do now is encourage people to realise there is a much bigger world out there in the industry. Another bit of advice would also be work experience; it certainly helps to crystallise what it is you want to do as an individual.
What does fashion mean to you?
I think fashion is one of the most vibrant industries you could come into. It is all about the product, and the great thing about fashion is that it has no boundaries for talent, in terms of age and gender – anybody can make it as long as they have talent.
In the current economic climate, what do you think makes a company resilient?
The management of a company has a huge sway over the future and I think if you have forward-thinking management that can anticipate or predict what the future might hold, that is very key. Strong balance sheets are also extremely important and people that can interpret the consumer’s thoughts, as understanding the customer is absolutely key. I think what people want to see from management is a clear sense of direction and how you are going to deal with issues. I tend to take obstacles in my stride because it is a fact of retailing that you are going to face tough times.
What gives you hope for the future?
I am positive about the future; we have had two very tough years, but if you look at some of the commodity prices, they have come down. The government is doing a good job dealing with some of the deficits and the issue. As a nation, we are a nation of shoppers and we are resilient. Consumers have been a lot stronger over the last 18 months than people thought they would be.
Words by Katie Handy-Beith