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SELINA CHRISTODOULOU, BRAND DIRECTOR, SELF PORTRAIT STUDIO
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
For the third edition of our Mode Meets interviews we speak with Selina Christodoulou, Brand Director at Self Portrait Studio - the coveted London based brand, which was founded in 2013 by Central Saint Martin’s graduate Han Chong. We discuss Selina’s experiences and thoughts on being a female leader in the fashion industry and how can fashion develop more women as leaders. Recent studies have found that women are, by far, the primary consumers of fashion, but more often than not, their point of view is not reflected in the business decisions of fashion companies. That's because, although women make up more than 70 percent of the industry's total workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of leadership positions in top fashion firms.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE FASHION INDUSTRY AND WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT IT?
My sister, being the oldest of 3, had the responsibility of guiding myself and my brother on our career journey. She had already started building her career in retail and as soon as our NI numbers came through, we were both on the shop floor selling shoes with her. I joined her in LK Bennett where at the time she was a Store Manager and soon after that she joined Kurt Geiger and we brought our brother on board too - so she has a lot to answer for, my sister!
In all honesty I wouldn’t change it. Post Kurt Geiger I decided I was more in love with the product and the design and decided to pursue a career in buying. I held buying and product development roles in numerous fashion business before joining Jane Norman. This is where I met Han (my now CEO of Self-Portrait Studio). He was an incredible talent and when he said he was starting his own brand and would I be interested in joining him, I didn’t think twice. Retail has helped me in so many ways and although my role now is very different, all the decisions I have to make now are heavily influenced by the time I spent on the floor with customers. That insight and experience is invaluable.
What I enjoy? How it makes you feel. It is hard to explain that moment when a collection sells out and you know the months of work that has gone into every detail in a dress. That tells us we know our customer, the success behind most brands is knowing your customer and responding to their desires.
BEING A DIRECTOR IN A HIGH PROFILE FASHION BRAND – WHAT ARE YOUR KEY PRIORITIES WHEN IT COMES TO LEADERSHIP?
The workplace is changing and as leaders we have to be open to new ways of working. What you would normally see in a job description or a contract is dated and I think leaders now have to give a lot more thought and consideration to how to retain talent in their organisation. The contract between an employer and an employee is now more of a partnership. Retaining talent is crucial for most businesses, however this is heightened in a small business in particular. I have had to really look at environment, flexible working, and benefits very differently to retain talent. I ask questions and seek input from the team when we are considering a change, even more so when it comes to what they want from us an employer.
YOU ARE INSTRUMENTAL IN RECRUITING TEAMS WITHIN YOUR BUSINESS, WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU NOTICING OR SKILL SET GAPS?
It is an interesting question and relates back to one my earlier points. People have a much higher expectation of their employer, whilst they are applying for a role, they are also interviewing us at the same time. People are more conscious of culture and are far more curious about the type of culture they are coming into. People want to know what a business stands for and if their values are aligned. They also want to know what a business can offer, is there a future for them, they are questioning if they should they invest in them. This isn’t a trend, it’s the future. I think it’s exciting to see that people want to commit to a company because of their values, not just for a job. If your people are aligned to your values and purpose and feel invested in, they will do a good job for you. I would always choose the right attitude and behaviours over experience and skill set, especially in retail, where it us about having the ability to have that human connection with your customers.
A business who is invested in people will develop the tools to train people in the skills they need and build a culture where people can grow and develop.
WHAT IS THE PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
I think the last two years have been incredible. Taking on a Director Role within my business was a moment I will always cherish and most definitely is a highlight. I have many highlights but I think for me, it’s seeing the business become stronger and see growth and knowing that you must be doing something right!
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS THAT MAKES THE BRITISH FASHION INDUSTRY UNIQUE?
It is never one thing. Our country, our heritage and our story, makes us a destination for people from all over the world. There is no doubt that our major Cities, London and Manchester in particular are attractive for 100’s of reasons, art, culture, music, education, theatre, our royal family, our football clubs and of course our fashion brands. All of this heavily influences the success of our fashion industry. This presents opportunity in so many ways. People are travelling more, look at the impact China alone has had on the UK retail and how we have had to change our business model to adapt to that.
We have a rich history in design, with many famous designers such as McQueen, who have heavily influenced the face of fashion. 22% of young people in countries that are strategically important to the UK cited fashion as being something that made the UK attractive to them. To add to this our high street is unique, with brands that for a long time were only available in the UK. It's strength has always been its ability to adapt very quickly to the emerging trends in the global market, bring in newness quicker than anyone else and fast track trends from the catwalk to the shop floor in weeks.
We also recognise the contribution the industry makes to the UK GDP. We support its growth through many of our colleges and universities known around the world for offering education in everything fashion related from both business to technical and design skills.
YOU HAVE BEEN INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR CAREER TO DATE. WHAT ADVICE COULD YOU OFFER OTHERS LOOKING TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
I often ask myself, how did I get here? There is no doubt that I wanted to be the best I could be at what I do, I have a drive to be successful, I am honest about that. Combine this with a desire to be able to support my family, to improve my lifestyle, and to be able to be totally independent. Everyone has different motivations, what are yours and what are you willing to do to achieve your goals. That was my starting point. Then I had to find something I loved, people often say I want to go to work and go home, and I do too, but my job isn’t a job, it adds value, meaning and purpose to my life. It has shaped me as a person, it has changed me and I value that. Because of what it gives me I find myself wanting to give back even more. Love what you do and you will be successful.
The reality however is that at times it is tough and I have made lots of mistakes, but I am now ok with that, I have learnt to reflect, take the learns and do better next time. I was in a rush to climb the ladder. I wish I had taken more time enjoying and developing in the roles I was in and spent less time worrying about what I thought I had to do to get the next job.
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE IS SUCH A GAP WITH THE PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN IN SENIOR ROLES IN THE INDUSTRY BEING UNDER 25%?
Women are not new to leadership; think of Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth. Think of the women who led the civil rights and education reform movements. We know there is no lack of qualified women to fill leadership roles. Women earn the majority of university degrees at every level and there are more women in the workforce today than ever before. There must be something inherent in the system that’s working against us, but it is improving and it is solvable. The gender pay gap reports which were publicised this year, have heightened the awareness and employers have been asked to take action, this a big step forward. There is a history that needs to be rewritten and a stereotype that needs to be broken, and everyone, male and female play a role in doing that. The more diverse the pool, the more talented our leaders will be.
A RECENT STUDY REVEALED THAT 57 PERCENT OF MEN ENTERING THE WORKFORCE NEGOTIATE THEIR SALARY IN CONTRAST TO ONLY SEVEN PERCENT OF WOMEN. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS? HOW DO YOU THINK THIS CAN BE POSITIVELY CHANGED?
I genuinely struggle with this, but I have been that woman that has questioned am I worth another 10k? I know what the stats say…But the moment I found myself knowing I was worth it, knowing I could add value and that the business was stronger with me, I asked for a pay rise. It’s a hard one as there is lots of research and insight that suggests it is because of our make-up, that we feel inferior or not worthy. I can honestly say I have never felt that or been made to feel that. However in my career, I have been surrounded my female leaders, my sister being one of those. Whenever I have questioned whether I should apply for a role or enter into any negotiation my Sister would sit with me and we would look at the conversation as a factual negotiation. I think when you are around women that are driven and champion each other it makes it easier.
MODE SEARCH LTD 2020 No. 10889892