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LONDON, United Kingdom — As the coronavirus outbreak demands a rethink in strategies and skill sets across all corners of the fashion industry, there is plenty to learn from the industry’s entrepreneurs.
Short lead-times and a digital-first approach put new business owners in a strong position to respond to the current market realities and offer additional insight on the skill gaps in their businesses and in others like them.
In our most recent BoF Careers HR Roundtable — part of our wider #BoFLive programming — Rosh Mahtani of jewellery brand Alighieri and Manu Atelier co-founder Merve Manastir offer up their insight and experience as they double down in their efforts to thrive within a changing landscape.
Now, BoF shares five key learnings on the skills gaps they see opening up.
Tear up the Rule Book and Focus on Trust
"Asking, 'Why not? What can't we try it this way?," has played such a big part in Alighieri's growth, as we didn't have the funding to play by the rule book. We've always learnt our way around things — it feels second nature to be finding new ways to grow and do things now," said Mahtani. "I think it all comes down to the relationships [you have] with your manufacturers and building strong bonds with the people you work with."
"The emphasis on trust between your team and the wider people you are working with is key. I'm lucky to have forged relationships with both suppliers and retailers. Every part of the industry that we are working with, and the community we have created, needs to be a real community that stands for your values and beliefs," added Manastir.
Interdisciplinary and Communication Skills Are Key
"[Alighieri] runs as a small team and we like to get things done. We all pack boxes when we need to. That lack of hierarchy – that we're all in it together, building something together — is key. Be curious about what the person sitting next to you does. I have a young team who are all very creative and business-oriented. They're keen to learn something different from their usual remit. That kind of personality comes to the forefront in times like this," said Mahtani.
"[Mahtani and I] both have brands built in a digital age and our recruitment considers every requirement of the digital age. This won’t change, no matter what happens to our business model. I believe communication skills and self-management are key, as well as being a good planner and passionate about what you’re doing. These were always the top priorities and will remain so when we continue hiring," said Manastir
Be Solutions-Oriented and Show Vulnerability During the Crisis
"Draft a short line in your CV on how you managed or approach these tough times. It's a great opportunity to present your problem-solving skills. Be solutions-oriented, rather than getting lost in negativity. A couple of sentences on how you would navigate this would be really important. When we continue hiring, [we will look for] more on risk analysing in every department — every person needs to be their own risk analyst," said Manastir.
"I think the ability to be vulnerable has always been key for us but it is fundamental right now to build a team that really trusts each other, so someone can say if they’re not ok and that they might need a bit more help with this or that. That show of vulnerability and resilience is being strong — it isn’t about soldiering on but being open about what you’re struggling with," added Mahtani.
Collaborative, Localised Production Regains Relevance
"60 years ago, you would have your [local] cobbler, fishmonger, grocery shop. It’s a misconception to think you can’t scale while keeping production local. The crisis has highlighted from a business point of view just how important and beneficial localised production is. It is harder and will affect margins in the short term, but I think it’s totally possible. We need to support and utilise these skills and businesses. In times like these, they are your saving grace," said Mahtani.
"When we decided to produce footwear in Italy, we tried to find a local factory with a family heritage, like our handbag factory," said Manastir. "We were mid-stage production [when the factory closed due to Covid-19] but their health is more important than waiting on bags. We’re in contact every day to find solutions — it’s about brainstorming together. We are not pushing each other for any part of the business, we are just waiting to see what will happen and adapt."
Big Hires Will Be Needed Within Small Businesses
"An HR consultant has helped me so much through the past four weeks while I figured out new logistics of making and shipping e-commerce orders from my apartment. Having people within my business who know what to focus on are incredibly important. We hired 6 people in the last 6 months. We were hiring for the growth we were experiencing, but we made the right decision and we will come through this because we have amazing people," said Mahtani.
"We have a new sales manager, which is key as the e-comm and online sales is an area we are focusing on, but it was in our strategy to grow that part of our business. I then have more time for creativity. We also recently hired a PR director, which was a great addition because it's now more important than ever to reach your audience — it's far more than selling bags and shoes for us," added Manastir.