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In the boardroom with Harold Tillman
giovedì, feb 17, 2011, 12:18 / London, United Kingdom
The boardroom table at Jaeger is the kind that could potentially intimidate, with its solid polished brown surface accompanied by black leather chairs. Not so! The charming Harold Tillman lights up the room with bright ideas in conversation. Chairman of Jaeger, Aquascutum and the British Fashion Council this entrepreneur is a breed of charming old school gentleman with real London cool.
Born to a tailor and milliner, his path has firmly followed the business of fashion. One of the first male students to graduate from London College of Fashion, he apprenticed at Lincroft Kilgour on Savile Row, swiftly working his way up to become the Managing Director. With a fortune generated by the sales of Lincroft he retired at 30, only to become bored after six weeks. After losing and rebuilding accumulated fortunes, Tillman was later honoured by being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2010.
TribaSpace: As a leading figure in the fashion industry, do you believe that sustainability has a place in it?
Harold Tillman: Unbelievably so! Firstly, sustainability has grown since people decided to become involved. Of course it’s relevant and important for protecting our great grandchildren’s futures.
Last year I tried to start a campaign to reduce the manufacturing tax on sustainable clothing and products to give a financial advantage to the consumer, while at the same time to making them more aware that is the reason why they buy the product.
At the moment sustainable fashion is more expensive, as volumes are still low and there is not enough prettiness. To get the beauty and the prettiness into clothing and the fabrics that go along with it, you need to the volume. That way you can improve quality, resources and production. We have got to persevere and be in it for the long haul.
Every business that I know today has an element of sustainability, is aware of it and consciously looking at it. At London Fashion Week we have Estethica, which gets stronger every year. In that sense, everybody is on a mission. However, it seems the PR promoting such awareness is lacking at the moment.
What makes a fashion business sustainable? I like to approach sustainability from the point of view of its environmental, social and economical impact.
You can’t actually say in pure straightforward economics it works. You can’t call it financial economics – it is actually mental economics. People like to work for a company that has a belief and an element of sustainability on its horizon. Therefore, the economics are that people want to work for that company. You’ve got to have that ingredient in the psyche of the business.
You have significant experience as an entrepreneur in fashion and other businesses. Do you think sustainability is an essential ingredient to build a brand into the future with outstanding potential?
Yes. Again it’s very much in the belief of the people at the top of the business as to how they portray the sentiment of the future, and as to why we should become stronger believers in sustainability. There are small businesses exhibiting through Estethica, such as Christopher Rayburn. He is such a believer – it’s his life. We need more of him.
Small fashion businesses seem to be able to achieve sustainability far easier than large businesses. What potential do you see for large businesses to incorporate sustainability and how could they secure their profitability if they do so?
Our valued added tax VAT is currently at 20 percent. If VAT for sustainable products were to stay at 17.5 percent or even stand at 15 percent, and you had, for example, sustainable cotton pants in Marks & Spencer at a price that is cheaper than ordinary pants because the VAT is less, they would sell at competitive prices and sit well amongst the range of Mark & Spencer products without anybody losing on profits while still considering the higher production costs. This way the government would support with regulations, and Marks & Spencer would sell pants, boosting volume in sustainable product sales. Ultimately the factories producing the pants would scale up, and consequently would be able to work with smaller companies like us. We need to get the volume behind it to open the doors.
Providing it’s portrayed properly. I think we need to start with language and how to translate it into different languages. Sustainability is too complicated. We are in the know we can talk it through but to the average consumer it needs to have an easier touch to it, we need to put the message across. If the world adopted a slogan ‘Clothes for Life’ and translated it into every language, the message would be pretty clear.
These days most marketing is achieved via social networking and the internet. The potency of the Internet suggests great potential for future solutions for business growth and sustainability. What potential do you see the internet holds for the business of fashion?
The internet … it’s incredible. I can tell you just from our experiences at Jaeger. Jaeger has had a transactional website for two years now and we don’t pay [property priced] rent for it!
The internet will inevitably change the face of the high streets. Shopping centres are theme parks. All major city centres will remain but villages will be affected. Smaller high streets will fill with cafes and restaurants. Golders Green High Street in North London is a great example. The very best shops were there on the street, and then Brent Cross Shopping Centre opened and the local high street transformed into a variety of restaurants. The internet is a theme park and will have prime status in how we do business, but it can’t buy you meal out with your friends and family.
You have a lot of commitments – chairman at Jaeger, Aquascutum, the British Fashion Council/Newgen, and new ideas such as the BFC Vogue Fashion Fund. What keeps you going everyday?
If you are going to retire, do so before 50 and find a formula that keeps you occupied. I didn’t – I retired at 30 for about six weeks and it wasn’t for me. Beyond this age it’s not about making money, it’s the sport of business. You enjoy the challenges, the thrust and the people you are meeting. It keeps you young.
Annegret Affolderbach | TribaSpace
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