Be unashamed to aim high

Trying to navigate your way to a successful career in fashion? We sat down with an industry expert for some advice.

Simon Ward has had quite the journey on his 35-year long fashion career. As Chief Operating Officer for the British Fashion Council up until his retirement in 2016, he was responsible for all things finance and logistics, in his own words the ‘backbone of the business’.

From rubbing shoulders with designers to putting London Fashion Week on the global radar, and even authoring two books sharing his insights and takeaways from the industry. 

 We were pleased to host Simon at one of our recent roundtables. Didn’t make it to the event? We’ve got you covered. Read on to hear what he had to say.

 

Getting started 

Q: Tell us about how you ended up in this position, was fashion always on the cards?

A: It was a mistake actually. I was studying at Goldsmiths and got a job working in Selfridges part-time. I then joined the British Clothing Industry Association around the time the British Fashion Council had been formed alongside London Fashion Week, and somehow, they decided I was the right person to be overseeing all that.

I was not overly passionate about fashion, but I was passionate about the people and I was always trying to look at things that did not work and asking why, so I suppose the role suited me.

Q: This industry, like many, comes with ups and downs, what were some challenges you faced?

A: Well, one I unpretty incident I remember, around 2007/8, a couple of  Brazilian models died from anorexia and there was a worldwide media storm. It was decided that fashion weeks were to blame and some mean things were said in defence.

We had a board meeting planned to discuss London and the night before, being a man of faith, I was sitting on my knees asking God what we should be doing in this situation.

I felt a real resolve that this was a resignation issue, these are young women’s lives and we had to really do something or I was out. I went into the meeting armed and ready only to be astonished when every board member agreed that we really take action.

When faith and fashion collide

Q: You mentioned your faith, did you ever find it hard to be open about your faith in a senior position?

A: Honestly I wish I had more opportunities to have had conversations about faith because it is the key that unlocks me. I made sure that I did everything with integrity, who I was, the way I did things. I respected and honoured people where they were and that’s how my faith came out. 

In a senior position you already have to be aware of how you handle yourself and how you approach situations. Now to discuss faith which can be a sensitive topic but is important to me, I made sure to never pounce on people with the conversation. I tried to pick a time that felt right and I thought could perhaps help them. 


Q: The industry can at times be fickle, how did you stay true to who you are?

A: I think I never fussed over fashion. I cared about what the clothes stood for, who worked on them, that sort of thing. Fashion is a wonderful servant but I never allowed it to become the master and I was fortunate in that sense.

I think it’s great to see how fashion gives a lot of people joy, and I truly enjoy the creativity but it can also be an ugly place. The intensity of the hours and demands at times can be a lot so I always remember fashion is not the master, life is more important.

Passing on the baton

 

Q: The industry is continually developing and changing, what are some important traits for surviving in this business?

A: I think more people recognise that now, for any creative business you need to be well rounded.

You can’t have the creativity, design side of it without the money, the finance and the production, so recognising that and respecting the significance of each side is important.

A while back people would set up design businesses straight out of university and think that was all they needed to survive, and then disappear within a year or two. Some level of balance is always necessary. 

 

Q: You’ve had an admirable career, if could give some priceless advice to those with budding fashion careers, what would it be?

A: I went into a career which I was not prepared for and there are a few things that have stuck with me throughout. First off, life is a marathon not a sprint, people often go running and they find they cannot sustain it. You’ll take a lot of knocks in this fashion industry so it’s important not to burn out. And following that, have people around you. People who can talk on your behalf, people who believe in what you’re doing because everybody needs help at some point.

Also, people need kindness. My faith is a big part of who I am, and The Bible says: we should be ‘wise as serpents and gentle as dancers’ and this can be applied in the workplace. If you are gentle and kind to people, whether it’s the most junior person or the most senior, respect them and support them and it will come back to you.


Words by

Natasha Chisabingo

Natasha Chisabingo