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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community. The Challenger Mentality

At employees are encouraged to experiment and challenge everything.
Matches office | Source:
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LONDON, United Kingdom — In 1987, Tom Chapman opened his first shop in London. Finding early success, Chapman — along with his wife Ruth, who joined the company within a year of its founding — expanded the network to include 14 stores across the British capital. In 2006, seeing the digital opportunity before many, launched its e-commerce store. Today, stocks 400 established and emerging designers and receives over 70 million visitors a year, while 75 percent of its orders come from the 176 international markets its site serves.

In 2012, raised £20 million from Scottish Equity Partners, which was invested across the business, but with a focus on hiring leading talent, especially in technology development. As has grown, its culture has adapted, emulating that of tech-start-up. Adopting a challenger mentality, it is actively seeking to innovate both its business model and its market. Jess Christie, global communications director, explains.

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BoF: How has the culture evolved as the business has grown?

From the start, Tom and Ruth created a very strong ethos in the company. has always been about relationships — with its customers, our brand partners and between employees and teams. What has changed over the last decade is the working environment. It is now much more like a tech company in terms of adopting a challenger culture — we encourage our teams to challenge the status quo in everything they do. Ulric Jerome, who is now chief executive, joined the business in 2013 and has been instrumental in building a best-in-class tech and e-commerce team, appointing Nicolas Pickaerts as e-commerce director the same year. Kate Blythe, global content director joined in 2013 and built a respected team that works across all content platforms.

Our mission is to make the physical as digital as possible and the digital as physical as possible. It’s about challenging our methods of execution as well as our preconceived ideas, and it is about challenging what’s new — we don’t feel we need to follow industry trends simply because others are. There’s no “This is the way of doing things,” or “This is how we do events, this is how we do content, this is how our stores will look, this is how we’ll do e-mail campaigns.” Across all the different platforms we encourage experimentation. That said, we never do things for the sake of it, so when we come up with something it’s because it fulfils a specific customer need. We put the customer at the centre of everything we do — everyone in every department has a truly customer centric approach. That is an absolute fundamental of our business.

BoF: What personality traits work well at

We put a lot of emphasis on everybody having ownership and taking responsibility over what they do — and what they want to do. Tom and Ruth and the leadership team are happy to hear an idea from anybody. Everyone has a voice, and as managers we often tell people they need to speak up — it’s not a place for wallflowers. That doesn’t mean we don’t have people who can’t be quiet and considered, but you need to be articulate and have an opinion. You have to enjoy it as well. We try to instil that in everybody. It’s the opposite of a very corporate fear culture. Take responsibility, run with it, enjoy it and succeed with it.

BoF: How do you structure the teams within the business?

We’re not a hierarchal company and we never have been. We ensure that we have agility in our teams and across our business. We now work cross functionally and that is really central to our approach moving forward. We also have a very diverse group in the senior leadership team, which ripples down through all the different departments.

We are less rigid than many businesses. Because we have online, stores, the private shopping townhouse, commerce and content, along with our social strategies, we empower our customers to engage with us in the way they want to — across numerous channels, using a variety of tones. In certain contexts we are very playful and in others, where our consumers simply want results, such as logistics, we are extremely rigorous and utterly goal orientated. However, because so much of our work crosses both the creative and the commercial, what we have recently done is balance the ideas people with more analytical brains — that has definitely played a role in the dramatic growth story here over the past three or four years.

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BoF: How does differentiate itself in a competitive space?

To be different you’ve got to know how to really engage people and interest them. People now have an average attention span online of around 1.2 seconds — not the nine seconds everyone thought! You need to understand what is going to capture their attention, and that is about your relationship with your consumer. We believe luxury is about making it really personal and really relevant to the consumer in everything you do. That’s the product that you buy, that’s the context that you serve up to them, it’s in your e-mail, it’s the way they receive their goods. Our relationship with our customers informs everything.

BoF: What talent needs do you currently have?

There is opportunity throughout the business but tech is a growth area certainly. At, what is unusual is how infused tech is through the business. Tech here has a real opportunity to be creative so what we’re finding is people want to come in because there’s a bit more of a tech lab feeling to it, we really push the tech team to be innovative. We did the heavy lifting with the re-platform so now we are getting into the really exciting things, like how you speak to people in a truly personal way. Beyond tech, if you are a good culture fit, there are plenty of opportunities if you are passionate, want to excel and have fun doing it.

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. For more information about fashion industry roles at, visit BoF Careers.

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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
The State of Fashion: Technology
© 2022 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions and Privacy policy.
The State of Fashion: Technology