After a challenging few years, iconic British retailer and fashion brand Jack Wills is back on track.
This week, it posted positive financial gains over the Christmas trading period and it hs opened new stores.
Also, earlier this month it launched its first-ever sportswear range for women — and for this week’s “5 Minutes With…” profile, the Retail Gazette caught up with the woman who is responsible for it all: Emma Alexander.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Jack Wills
My background is in retail, through and through. Before my current role as chief product officer for Jack Wills, I was head of brands at Next and before that brand director at USC.
I started my career on the Marks & Spencer graduate trainee programme and later returned to the company, after working at River Island and Jaeger, as head of buying.
Working at M&S under Stuart Rose was a hugely exciting time in my career, but my role at Jack Wills is the best yet – it’s a dream job and I feel proud to be a part of a brand that is growing from strength to strength.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place?
Retail is in my blood and has been in embedded in me from a very young age.
I was bought up on the Harris Tweed factory floor in Hackney where my grandfather, father and mother all worked and would spend hours during the school holidays helping out.
After completing a degree in clothing marketing and distribution I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do more.
Describe your role and responsibilities at Jack Wills
My role at Jack Wills is diverse and every day is different. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Overseeing the direction of the design team, the merchandising and sourcing of products means I am constantly interacting with all aspects of the business. I’m fully engaged in our international expansion plans and oversee wholesale of our products internationally, which is a huge but thrilling task.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
All of my previous jobs and experiences, particularly in buying, have been invaluable at helping me succeed in my role as chief product officer at Jack Wills.
I guess the one that stands out the most is running the USC division at Sports Direct, as it gave me a broader understanding of how businesses work.
Congratulations on the launch of the sportswear range for Jack Wills. How did it come about?
Thank you! Like our customers, I, too, am into health and well-being and acknowledge that it’s an important part of people’s everyday lives.Launching a sportswear range felt like a very natural move and extension of the brand.
As with all our clothing we have really focused on producing top-quality products for our customers. We have used high performance, form-fitting, technical fabrics which have been sourced from P&R Texteis, a manufacturer that specialises in technical sports garments.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
It’s a balancing act; you need to make sure you’re giving everyone enough time while also giving yourself some time to think. Thinking time is underrated, it’s what drives innovation.
What is the most rewarding?
Product, product, product. It’s what I love the most. And the people of course — working with my fantastic team and watching them grow and develop makes every day exciting.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects at Jack Wills that you’re working on at the moment?
We have collaborated with Pittards, a British leather goods company, to produce an beautiful range of leather bags. They are a perfect fit for us and all the products are hand crafted in the UK.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
Go for something you’re passionate about and the rest will follow. You’re likely to excel if you’re doing something you love.
The advice I give my daughter is: get as much experience as you can so that when you enter the field you come with a bank of knowledge that will give you the confidence to succeed.