The appointments of Fiona Lambert and Anna Braithwaite provide some welcome cheer for M&S’s clothing business.
The coronavirus pandemic has piled woe upon woe for the retailer’s clothing and home division which has been the poor relation to food for many years. Third quarter revenues covering the Christmas trading period fell by a quarter as a slump in store sales was only partially offset by strong growth online.
Yet prior to the pandemic chief executive Steve Rowe had identified some “green shoots” of recovery in clothing as the retailer executes its plan to be “more relevant more often” to customers with a focus on quality, style and value.
M&S will be hoping its new hires can accelerate the fledgling transformation taking place under new clothing and home managing director Richard Price.
Lambert, who joins as head of the newly acquired Jaeger business, will need no introduction to seasoned retail watchers. She’s regarded in the industry as a fashion aficionado with a great pedigree in product and a track record of defining and building successful fashion brands.
Perhaps best known for her work transforming the George brand at Asda, Lambert has also shaped the fashion propositions of retailers such as Next and River Island and more recently created a three-year product strategy for Dunelm.
Lambert will be given free rein to reposition Jaeger where her eye for detail, commitment to quality and experience in sourcing will give M&S the best possible chance of reinvigorating a brand that looked destined for obsolescence after previous owner Edinburgh Woollen Mill went into administration.
Lambert’s arrival is also good news for M&S’s pipeline of fashion talent. She is a big believer in the power of mentorship and of giving young people the opportunity to succeed. She is also a champion of female leaders and has spoken previously about how successful boards of the future will have recognised the importance of diversity as key to business success.
Braithwaite herself looks like a leader-in-waiting and appears a strong fit for the role of director of clothing and home marketing, in which she succeeds outgoing Nathan Ansell.
With a background in marketing and communications Braithwaite is currently Tesco global brand director for non-food where she is also lead for sustainability.
Braithwaite is well known to Price who headed up Tesco’s F&F fashion division while Braithwaite held the position of head of brand marketing.
Her experience as head of marketing and PR at Hobbs provides another nice link – Hobbs being one of the brands M&S will soon begin selling online and in stores once they reopen following lockdown.
Braithwaite got her break in retail via John Lewis’s graduate training scheme and spent over a decade with the department store in a variety of marketing roles.
In her new role she is tasked with changing brand perceptions “by showing up with energy, confidence and style”.
M&S’s clothing offer has been dogged by issues of negative consumer perception for years. If Braithwaite – who has won plaudits for her work relaunching Jacques Vert, Hobbs and F&F – can reform the image of M&S’s clothing, the sky really is the limit for her career in retail.