Q&A: Caroline Rush
CEO of the British Fashion Council, Caroline Rush has played an integral role in propelling British fashion onto a global platform. She was instrumental in enhancing the international reputation of London Fashion Week, and in June 2012 oversaw the creation of ‘London Collections: Men’, Britain’s only biannual menswear trade showcase for over 130 designers including Alexander McQueen, Burberry and Tom Ford. Having been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the London College of Fashion, she spoke to UAL and fashion writer Jessica Bumpus (vogue.com, Sunday Times) about promoting British fashion, her proudest moments, and what she gets up to at London Fashion Week.
Q: How does it feel to be honoured by University of the Arts London with this award?
A: I was incredibly honoured to receive the invitation from UAL. As a group of colleges, they deliver an incredible level of education, and of course I work very closely with the London College of Fashion, and so incredibly honoured to be receiving this from them.
Q: What is your role at the British Fashion Council?
A: The elevator pitch is that I’m here to help steer the ship that is here to help promote our designer fashion industry….It feels incredible actually, and an absolute honour to play a role in bringing to life not only the strategy that was set out, but some of the quite ambitious goals that we have in terms of London as a global fashion capital.
Q: What have been your proudest moments in your role?
Underpinning young businesses and thinking about not only how do we put mentoring support in, how do we find ways to create financial initiatives, even you know, small amounts of cash that could solve a challenge in a business. So with that we’ve got New-Gen… which has gone from being a showcasing platform to one which really supports and develops new businesses, and that’s been incredibly important.
Q: How would you describe London fashion, and do you think it’s changed in the time you’ve been working in it?
A: I don’t think that the creativity has changed, and I think that’s the bit which makes London so special. Certainly from a designer perspective, London all over the world is known as having this hotbed of talent, and a lot of people think about that as young talent, but actually we’ve got incredible talent throughout the whole chain of our businesses, from the global fashion brands, like Burberry and Mulberry, right the way through to our start-up businesses. The bit that has changed is the professionalism within the businesses, the growth within the businesses, and actually the understanding that you can start a business in London, and you can grow it into an international fashion brand, whilst being here, showing here, and developing a great team.
Q: Is social media important for the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week?
A: Absolutely. Social media is like a gift to a young designer. Where they’d have to fight for attention to be in a magazine or newspaper, aspire to have an advertising budget to reach the consumer, now they have Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter and Youtube to push their content out to a consumer audience. And in fact we spend a lot of time in our mentoring workshops helping designers understand how they can really push their business through those channels.
Q: Has fashion always been something that interested you?
Fashion has, yes, I think been part of what I wanted to do for years and years, and I remember my mum found – you know when you get those career slips at school? – and she sent one to me when I got this job that she found because she was moving house, and it said ‘Caroline wants to work in fashion so there are two options, she could either go into retail or be a designer.’ I’m hoping career advice today is much better than that, and actually that if people want to work in the fashion industry they understand how many incredible opportunities there are, from finance to business, to merchandising, as well as skills such as pattern-cutting.
Q: During London Fashion Week, how many shows do you go to?
A: I want to be at as many as possible, and that’s one of the perks of the job is that you get to be there and see for the first time these incredible collections, and the collections of the designers that you’ve known… So you’re completely vested in the shows that you’re going to, and the only reason that I tend to miss them is that I have meetings with some of our partners or sponsors.
Q: How many costume changes do you have?
A: I try and have as few as possible! I try and pick what I’m wearing in the morning, and if there’s a particularly glamourous event I might get changed at night, but yes, I don’t get changed for every show, which many of our PRs do because of course they’re representing different brands, and it’s fantastic to see them get changed practically every hour on the hour.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A: ‘Think big, and think global.’ So even though we’re [the BFC] here, and very much here to promote British designers, the reputation that our designers have internationally is incredibly important, because although we have a great market here in the UK, the bigger market is beyond our shores.