5 Minutes With Fiona Lambert, MD of Business Development, River Island

River Island caused a media flurry when it recently unveiled a new womenswear brand called Harpenne, which aims to fill a gap in the market with 120 different ethically-sourced items designed to suit all body shapes. We spoke to the retailer's new business development manager to learn more.

Fiona Lambert, Managing Director of Business Development, River Island Harpenne
"We’ve created a brand that is less about age and more about attitude." - Fiona Lambert

Tell me a bit about what you do for River Island.

My role is a newly created role as managing director of new business development for River Island Global Holdings.

It’s an amazing opportunity to look for gaps in the market and create new brands that don’t compete with the existing River Island brand.

How will Harpenne fit in with River Island?

Harpenne is a separate brand to River Island – aimed at a different demographic. It’s starting as an online-only brand sold through its own website and on Next Labels.

We’ve created a brand that is less about age and more about attitude. We are not chasing fashion trends but creating unique pieces that will stand the test of time and have added detail and trim.

We wanted to create something that is affordable with a slight European feel that our focus groups have told us they can’t find in the current offer in the market and are resorting to boutiques.

Are you able to explain how the Harpenne partnership came about?

When retail is at its most challenging, it sometimes throws up the biggest opportunities.

Starting a brand that is aimed at how people want to shop, listening to what they want and having no legacy of retail space, sales history, systems or existing infrastructure means we have created a business that’s agile, design and customer-focused and entrepreneurial in its thinking. As we grow it’s important to keep this thinking.

Fiona Lambert, Managing Director of Business Development, River Island Harpenne
“When retail is at its most challenging, it sometimes throws up the biggest opportunities.” – Fiona Lambert

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector?

It has been very enlightening to get the opportunity to start a new business from scratch and it highlights that the biggest challenge is how fast and at what cost the retail sector can react to changes in how and where customers shop with their existing infrastructure.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Having studied fashion at Trent University, I had a great start to my career as a designer and pattern cutter, then buyer at Next while it was in in its infancy.

I then had the opportunity to join Next’s founder George Davies to start the George at Asda range which started the desire to one day be involved in creating a new brand.

I returned to Next as womenswear product director for seven years and then became George brand director, resetting the look and feel of the brand and subsequently creating the George Home brand.

This led me to joining Dunelm as their product director, then this role came up and I couldn’t resist the amazing opportunity.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I believe my roles to date have given me an amazing background in shaping and creating brands from strategy to marketing, from design to sourcing.

I’ve been successful in driving sales and market share by being innovative on behalf of the customer.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

The most challenging but most fun aspect is to continually question historical ways of doing things.

And the most rewarding?

I’ve had the opportunity to recruit an amazing small team of people who are all on the journey of creating Harpenne with me.

We are all working incredibly hard but it’s fun and it’s fast and we are all incredibly proud of what we have done in nine months.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

A career in retail is hard work but if you make ever decision about doing the right thing for the customer you will be successful.

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