Welcome to a new series where we bring the BoF community even closer together by getting to know some of our key members.
BoF: What do you wish more people understood about your role?
MP: It's very easy for people to imagine certain things about [job] titles, but it depends on the size of the business. Day-to-day, I would say I'm a problem-solver. Ultimately you want to have a successful business that makes money and revenue, but there's a lot of different components that go into that, such as your sales team, the kind of merchandise you're getting, the intention that you're setting through marketing. So, it's a bit of a little bit of everything, I guess. Like how a coach looks at what's going on on the field with lots of different players.
BoF: What were you doing before you were at Machine-A?
MP: I worked at Dover Street Market for nine years, starting out as an assistant stock controller. Because that business also started out and grew a lot over that time period, I was also being a Jack-of-all-trades. I think in businesses when you're independent or smaller, departments are less segregated, so eventually when you scale up, it does become more specialised. By the time I exited, I was a senior merchandiser. I'd had experience in buying and sales analysis and the e-commerce side of it. Plus, processing deliveries is a bit of everything.
BoF: Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to get into your line of work?
MP: I would say you should be very open-minded. You need to be resilient. You need to be polite and respectful to people. You need to be willing to learn. You need to be willing to get your hands dirty. I think you should look at every interaction as an opportunity. Of course, there's going to be things everyday that you don't want to do, but maybe you'll learn something out of it. Even if you're dealing with someone unpleasant, you know how to stay professional and get things done, because ultimately it's a small industry based on relationships. Everybody wants to be a creative director or a buyer on day one but it takes a long time, so just be patient.
BoF: What's the number one lesson that you've learned during your career?
MP: Probably resilience and politeness. I think that in this industry your reputation and the quality of your work is important, and in this work environment, it's hard to stay organised and focused. When I was at university, they didn’t teach you about things like how to communicate with people, how to get things done, how to stay organised, [but] the nature of work these days is so hectic and distracting and if you can organise yourself, write things down and stay focused, it will help you. There's also a lot of work that will come in and it's not necessarily in the order that it needs to be done, so it's a slightly different game.
BoF: What do you think the biggest challenge the retail industry is facing right now?
MP: I think the biggest long-term challenge is the rate of consumption and sustainability. Ultimately, we're not a need industry; we’re a want and desire industry. It's like icing on the cake; fashion is a pleasure industry [that] makes life a little bit more fun and interesting. But sustainability is a real thing and it's difficult in an industry that has been “more is more” for so long.
It can't necessarily be a buyer's or retailer's job to police someone's decision to buy a dress, but a buyer could decide, "I want to buy this brand because of the ethics behind it." That, I think, is going to be a big challenge and a big change, which you already see happening.
BoF: What kind of industry shifts are you most optimistic about?
MP: I'm really interested in the innovation in terms of technology about how we consume things and how much we consume them. Ultimately, that's what humans are into on a basic level, which is why fashion doesn't really die; it's always about something changing or new.
Fashion is a reflection of what's going on in society, where what we think is fashionable or "nice" or "acceptable" is being challenged: "Can men wear skirts? Can men wear pink?" As part of the Machine-A world, I think it's something we're quite open and free about.
BoF: Are there any particular topics that you wish the fashion industry was debating with a bit more vigour or thoughtfulness?
MP: There's a lot of debate going on at the moment, which is good. When it comes to the kinds of models and images of beauty [or] sustainability, [the industry is] covering a lot of it at the moment. I think it's difficult for the fashion industry because there's this conundrum where you want to stand out but you can't be all things to all people and — from a financial perspective — you can't buy everything for everyone.
So, as a buyer, it can be seen as hypocritical when you say, "yes, I want to champion plus-size models," but I can't cater to everyone in-store and I can't commit to buying a size 6 up to a size 14 because I only have so much space in my store. But just because you come to my store and you only see [certain sizes] available, it doesn't mean I necessarily want to exclude anyone or feel that someone of a particular shape or size is not beautiful. That's not the case. I find that difficult to deal with sometimes. I want ideas of beauty to continue to change and be open. It shouldn't be that challenging — but it's good when people change their minds about things.
BoF: How do you hope that fashion as an industry will evolve in the near future?
MP: I would hope that in fashion, maybe in the next 12 months, we could reach some sort of tipping point or standard, such as requirements to use certain factories or a certain amount of clothing being recycled. But it's a big problem to fix, so I think part of it will be recycled garments becoming more fashionable. In the past, eco fashion was not seen as cool or trendy or chic, but I think that is changing now.
BoF: Would you say that the fashion industry is dealing with these issues effectively or do you think that there needs to be some bigger or different changes happening in the way they're approached?
MP: I think it's too early to say that it's effective as we've just started talking about it. At the moment, people are just chatting about it and trying to work it out because it's hard to know at what level people will make that change or [rise to] that responsibility.
It just takes a long time to rejig it. I can't remember how many years ago it was that they suddenly introduced the 5p bag; you just shift your expectations. I think, as an industry, fashion is catching up, but there has to be a shift in the expectation of what's acceptable to buy and produce.
BoF: What are you doing differently in your role this year?
MP: We relaunched our e-commerce recently, so we're trying to look ahead. There's a few things that are happening in the industry — and also in our neighbourhood — that we're trying to keep up with. Obviously, with Brexit, we don't really know what's happening. It's a concern for everyone; if you buy collections in euros, that's a big issue.
I'm also in Soho [London], where there's a lot of change. There are a lot of little shops popping up, a lot of redevelopment, which is great for us. But that has an effect on rent. There are a lot of mergers and things like that happening in the industry, so it's interesting to see what's happening in terms of alliances between online and brick-and-mortar stores.
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