An Interview with Thom Scherdel
One of our alumni, Thom Scherdel, Buying at Browns, came back to the FRA to do a masterclass with our students on the history of streetwear and where it is today. We were able to chat afterwards about what he has been up to since graduating.
Can you tell us about the masterclass you gave our students?
I was invited back to do a masterclass on streetwear and the history of streetwear and basically its current popularity and the reason why it has such a big influence on the fashion marketing today.
Essentially what we covered in the masterclass was what were the key bits in terms of the inception of the streetwear movement. Initially streetwear was just young designers collaborating with their mates trying to do something a bit avant garde and a bit off kilter which was not available in the main market. Fast forward to where we are now with the Louis Vuitton and Supreme collaboration which is the absolute apex of luxury meeting streetwear and just how commercial that whole space is nowadays. Luxury brands are trying to do more things with streetwear and figuring out how they can find themselves in a different market.
We also talked about a by-product of that which was this whole resale culture. There are super limited quantities, hard launch dates, you know, the idea is to get people to rush out and buy it. One thing they didn’t see coming out of that was there would be this birth of a whole resale generation. 16-year-old kids are essentially going down to Supreme with a thousand pounds, they buy some stuff and then flip that the next day and make a couple grand out of it. Basically, they are making a career out of reselling stuff when they’re 16 years old, which is so cool. You have this concept where the resale market is bigger than the primary market. The only thing that happens in currently is with precious metals, golds, oils. It’s a really interesting concept of how we got to this space now.
We also talked about the future in terms of what streetwear would look like. Will there ever be another Supreme? And what does the future look like from the resale market? Are these big conglomerates going to limit the capacity even more so that the resale goes up or are they going to choose to go down a more commercialising view where they just increase their quantities enabling that product to be bought by more people so they can garner more of that primary market instead of losing it to resale. That’s kind of a brief overview of what we saw the streetwear market to be and where it is at the minute. It’s interesting space, once in a lifetime thing in our generation.
Can you tell us about your role at Browns?
My role at the minute is I look after everything on the buying side from a non-apparel point of view at Browns. So, we cover everything from fine watches that are 500,000 pound watches all the way down to entry level price point watches at 15K. I also look after all of the sneakers so we get all of the tier zero hard launch sneakers as well as dealing with all the luxury brands. And then I look after all accessories so sunglasses, hats and everything in between. Anything that’s not ready to wear, that’s what I look after essentially.
Have you always wanted to be in Buying? What made you choose the FRA?
I didn’t know what part of the business I wanted to work in, I knew I had a love for clothes and know I wanted to be in buying and selling something and the fashion retail academy was this beautiful emergence of the two. I moved down to London, just wanting to be here and study fashion but not knowing what I wanted to do after high school. I was just open to this whole world of you know different aspects of the whole fashion retail industry and there were so many options. Then I talked to Debbie, one of the tutors, and she pointed me in the direction of buying. She said, look this is one of the coolest jobs, you basically travel the world, select clothes and you run it as your own business which was very interesting to me. She was very keen on making sure I was exploring the whole buying philosophy, making sure I was looking at the right brands and right stores. I had some really cool work placements, they were quite varied. I did my first one at Marks & Spencers which was quite cool because it was going into this big shiny building that had loads of people in it and that was a real eye-opener in to that multinational big business. Really enjoyed that, even though I was only there for three weeks but it felt like I learned so much while I was there and got to experience so many different departments.
My second one was at TM Lewin, the shirt brand, that was good because it was a smaller company and I had so much more access in that company. For example, I shadowed the CEO for a little bit, I was with the design team, I was with the buying team, and the merch team. So that kind of gave me another window into the various aspects and what I wanted to do. The whole time I was narrowing my choices down into what I wanted to continue to do. They also really helped with my final major project. For my project, I basically came up with this idea that I was a shirt designer and I was going to make shirt range for Liberty using their prints and because I was at TM Lewin, they were actually able to make the shirt for me. So, I was able to cut the design, get the fit and make it into a sample. When it came to marketing, I had this beautiful brand new shirt that looked like I manufactured it myself and presented it as part of this bigger range and it was really good and I really enjoyed doing it.
Where did you go after graduating?
So from there, Debbie told me there were a couple jobs going at Selfridges in Merchandising. She told me to just get my foot in the door and then from there, I could go on to buying once I was in. I only did a year-long course when I was 17, and at my interview, they couldn’t believe how much I knew about the fashion industry. They kept saying we don’t get grads who come and know this. And so, they hired me.
I was there when it was the place to go, there was a real movement and they had some really super exciting, high-end brands and designers. Selfridges was a great destination and an amazing time to be there. The Luxury department was just about to kick off. I was doing streetwear, like all the sports and street area. Which was like Carhartt, Dickies, and all of these brands only in Selfridges. That’s where the bait concession came from. There were all these West coast delay brands, they were all in that platform and no one had really heard of them but the kids would come in and explore their streetwear.
I was at Selfridges for 5 years and moving from department to department which they kind of do so you and get a handle of everything. Then Topman head hunted me for a position because they wanted someone who had a multi-brand experience. ASOS wasn’t as big as it is now so Selfridges was the multi-brand store to go to. Well I interviewed and they said we’re starting up our own branded department. So, I started at Top Man and that was like the birth of the room which is called 214 which is the top room in Oxford Circus. And it was me and one other buyer, and he said if you go and find cool stuff, we’ll buy it so we were just doing anything that was wild or a bit mental looking. We would just bring in and it was so fashionable for the high street, you know to give those brands. He left and I ended up taking over buying role. I would have been only 21 when I was doing that. I was looking after a 50-million-pound department. Which is terrifying when you actually think about it in those terms but it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Well you were obviously a Buying guru!
I think I was naively confident so I was just rolling with it but I looked after all the footwear and accessories there as well so it’s kind of like full circle and a big part of that was doing all the brands. You know at that point we were always trying to get what we call contemporary brands and the contemporary brands just didn’t want to sell to us, they didn’t want to be involved with us. At this time, Instagram was kicking off, so I was looking at brands on Instagram to try and see whether there were any emerging brands from there that we could bring in. And I think essentially, we kind of started the whole bedroom brand kind of growth. We were approaching brands on Instagram and saying like do you want a rail in Oxford Circus. We’ll fund it, you just give us some quantities and bring it all in. From that we used to get hype and we launched Criminal Damage, we launched Selected and a bunch of others. We did like quite a few of those. We also had a really good vintage concession and it was just very of the moment like that’s what everyone was wearing, Instagram was taking off but influencing wasn’t a thing yet. People just wore what DJs were wearing.
Then it all kind of went mental. Basically, we went from one store to 25 stores to 50 to all stores and some of those brands took off. And it was an amazing time. Because Topman was flying at that time as well. When I was there it was very much like indie so like skinny jeans, everyone wanted to look like The Strokes you know? No branded clothing, no streetwear so everyone could go to Topman to pull that off. Like you could wear a leather jacket and skinny jeans and no one would care where it was from. It was just champagne time at Topman. And very much like school because everyone was starting at the same level and moving up the company together, you just knew where you were going.
I did that for about five years and then the old buying director of ASOS left to set up his own business and he wanted me to go in and essentially do the same role. I got a couple friends on board and that was the most insane like two or three years of my life. I learnt how to run a business, constantly worried about cashflow, learnt how to finance the business, head count, hiring people, letting people go depending on what was going on. It ended up being sold to The Warehouse Group but it was such an eye opener.
I thought I knew how to buy brands. I mean I knew how to talk to brands, especially at Topman, a lot of the time we were just trying to convince people that coming to Topman was the right thing to do especially when we were just starting. And we both thought that I would be good at that which is why I was brought on. And then when we started, I just learned a whole different spectrum of skills and knowledge. Buying became about 10% of that job, the rest was fighting fires, marketing, SEOs and online content. I was really involved so my skill set became so much bigger than just Buying.
I kind of knew when things were going downhill and I had lost my passion for it so I applied for a job back at Selfridges and bumped into a couple people that was like we’re launching this new concept where we’re going to be doing luxury and streetwear all together on one floor which was a brilliant concept and totally made sense. It was how people were wearing them but it had never been done before. I loved the idea and they said they wanted me to come back in. Around the same time, Browns phoned me and said they also had a position but that it wasn’t in apparel and asked if I wanted to have a conversation with them. And I met them and it just sounded so great of what they wanted to do so I jumped on board. Selfridges called me again to offer me the job but after I had met Holly, the CEO of Browns, I just knew it was totally the right place for me. And it was the best move I ever made, I’m so happy there, my ideas can really come to life there. There’s also growth there, you know? It’s a part of Farfetch which is an amazing platform and way ahead of it’s time in trying to offer customers like the best possible experience. Then I’m back in the luxury level but at an even higher level. There is just so much scope to that kind of mass storytelling piece that goes around with Browns. That sometimes I’m in Paris looking at watches and then the next day in Milan, the world is just so much more available.
Is there anything that you took away from your time at the Fashion Retail Academy that you still have with you today?
The biggest thing that happened to me at the FRA is that the first time in my schooling life I was being asked to do something I really enjoyed. Throughout school, I’d always do the bare minimum because I just wasn’t interested in it. And it wasn’t until I got to the Fashion Retail Academy that it was like somebody had finally put me in a lane and said this is you and what you want to do so go for it. Then because I really liked what I was doing, I was excelling in the projects and was always thinking like how can I make these things better.
The bit of advice I’d give to anybody from what I’ve learnt, especially in the buying world is you know what the bare minimum is in terms of what needs to be done. You know your objectives or what the company wants and then I always think, how can I add something onto that. How can I take that average and add something on top of that to make it better. I always want to give more and have that added value to something.
Have you met other Fashion Retail Academy students as you’ve gone along?
Yeah, they’re absolutely everywhere! I mean I’ve had them in my teams over the years and hired people from the Fashion Retail Academy.
When you’re hiring and you see the Fashion Retail Academy, do you think that person is going to be a really good candidate and know the skills to do the role?
So whenever I’ve spoken to our people team about candidates from the Fashion Retail Academy, they have an automatic recognition of that level of excellence. It really is a school of excellence for fashion. It’s the Hogwarts of fashion basically! It’s where people go and you are just really well drilled, you have a really good understanding of the different aspects of the business and you have the enthusiasm because you have to work hard to get in and you have to work even harder to excel once you’re there. So are you going to go with someone from the Fashion Retail Academy who has that enthusiasm or are you going to go with somebody who just did a fashion course but doesn’t know what to expect.
It’s about that focus and being able to have a focus on certain areas of the business. It’s really getting to know the nuts and bolts of Buying, of Merchandising, of Visual Merchandising. It’s knowing the little things as well as the big picture.
Thanks again to Thom for sharing his story in the Fashion Industry. To hear the full interview with Thom, click here!
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