Are Drapers Independent Awards still valid?

The announcement of the Drapers Independent Awards 2015 Finalists triggers the start of the period of frenzied activity for the Shortlist retailers and the judges to go through the process that will eventually lead to the Winners announced on 16th September. The pizazz and celebration will no doubt be accompanied by the peer congratulations and journalistic hyperbole that has become familiar over the 25 years of these Awards, which begs the question as to the validity of the Awards in today’s fast-paced retailing industry.

Over the last 25 years since Drapers Record, as it was then known, launched the idea to celebrate the great and good of independent fashion retailing, the face of retailing has changed beyond recognition. Coincidentally 1991 was the year that the ‘Internet Society’ was formed in recognition of the need for a community to share the burgeoning World Wide Web as the commercial prospects were starting to take over from the original research goals. The rest, as they say, is history and the all-pervasive influence of the internet on just about everything we do is well known. And almost without exception, the Drapers Independent Awards 2015 Finalists have embraced technology in its many guises.

Yet how do these retail Davids compete against the international Goliath fashion retailers, with their big data and endless choice of fashions and pricing? The common attributes of these Finalists will usually be familiar: attention to detail, buying and merchandising flair, excellent customer service (across all channels), and investment in their people and business. And of course that over-used sentiment: passion – for that is what drives all these Finalists. In a world of same old same old from the big retailers it is the Indies that are the ones to challenge the norm, to try out the new and the different, and to make shopping an exciting and fascinating experience for their customers.

Back in 1991 I know many buyers would exchange stories of successes and hot new brands with other (geographically distant) buyers at the trade shows. Today that does not happen - it’s just the usual pleasantries of trade in general, unsuitable weather etc as the fashion retailers are all competitors on the same internet high street. It has become a more insular retail world, so the opportunity to be recognised by the trade leaders and by your peers for being the best is a goal that is well worth the effort of going through the judging process. And the very application process provides the opportunity for retailers to think about their business over again.

So with greater challenges than ever, and increasing market share of the multiples, the Drapers Awards are even more valid today than they were 25 years ago – and we should celebrate the UK’s leading independent fashion retailers that go the extra mile.

Good luck to all Finalists. Have a great day on 16th September.

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