In every company that I have worked in there has been a situation which needed, what I call a ‘sweetener’ for when things get stressful. For me, in fashion, it can be a physical item (a garment, fabric swatch or even button), which immediately changes the mood from heavy to light. It’s basically a physical reminder of when things went well and I have made it my duty over the last 20 years to define these sweeteners with each team and to have them at hand to enable a calmer work environment not only for me, but with the whole team. It’s a kind of secret management tool ( although not so secret now)
Below I give a prime example of one of these sweeteners from my past.
Many years ago at the start of the 90’s, I worked for a men’s retailer in the UK as a buyers assistant on the accessory team. Jokes, directed my way, many times included:
I was “big in men’s socks” or I was ‘finding an opening in men’s underwear’. Both funny, and both accurate.
My buyer at the time was a very strong-willed Scottish lady, fantastic to work with but scary at the same time due to her volcanic temper. She held nothing back when it came to swearing and to get on the wrong side of her was quite frankly foolish. She missed nothing, had an amazing eye for detail, and was very giving when it came to responsibilities in the job. As such, I received a great training in buying and merchandising from her. She still, however, scared the living life out of me.
During my 1-year stint on that department, one of the projects she worked on was to create a plastic hanger upon which displayed pairs of socks. Specifically it allowed a tiered ladder effect, which displayed a 3 and 5 pack perfectly, whilst keeping the socks flat and in line. This helped for the shop floor display and also meant that all the colours of the pack could be seen at once without the customer having to flip through a lumpy pack to determine the option.
This sock ladder was her baby. It took months to design and even longer to develop, but the vision of the coloured socks, water falling with such ease and refinement was the motor that drove the process. So much so, that I discovered that this ladder and its vast array of colour combinations was this buyers sweetener to the extent that even the briefest of glimpses, led to a Scottish coo of excitement and a proclamation of love towards the article and its contents.
I picked up on this ‘cooing’ at an early stage and kept the board both close at hand and updated with new shades ready in preparation for the crisis de jour (short shipment of briefs or delivery extensions for ties were commonplace explosions).
For several weeks, the effect of ‘The board’ was quite amazing…… a hushed silence was requested….. The board surveyed and the proclamation of joy and love was made across the department on the functionality of the hanger and the aesthetic pleasure of the socks. Each time, after calm was restored, the board was gently removed and the day continued.
Of course, this particular sweetener didn’t last forever. She found me out and she also found it funny (which was lucky), but it still worked for what I needed which was to distract away from the negative, if only for a second, to focus on the positive.
Delivery delays, short shipments, late fabrics and floods in factories are always going to happen, but shouting and screaming won’t change the fact. Even now, I make a point of always having a sweetener close by, even if it’s just for myself to step back from the crap and focus on the good.
It works, it helps and it reminds us all, especially our leaders that it’s not just about the one thing that is bad, it’s about the 10 things which are good. Which in this case, was in fact 6 things, 1 hanger, 5 pairs of socks.
Co-lab54 is my consultancy
For more industry tips and stories check out my book: Blue is the New Black.
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