Although fast food has a long-established history, the concept of fast fashion is still only beginning to gain widespread attention outside of the retail world. In the ever-more competitive fashion marketplace, retailers are striving to shave time from production cycles to meet—or lead—trends that consumers want now. That’s the focus of Britton Russell, senior vice president, chief supply chain officer, for Charming Charlie.
Launched in 2004, Charming Charlie is known for its fashionable and affordable selection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, handbags, clothing, and other items for girls and women of all ages. The retailer’s four hundred stores, which immerse customers in a vibrant environment and organize merchandise on the sales floor by color, are located primarily in shopping centers and outlet malls across the United States, Canada, and internationally.
The Need for Speed
For the past twenty years, fast-fashion brands such as Zara and H&M have outperformed traditional clothing retailers such as the Gap. In fact, both Zara’s and H&M’s market capitalizations are more than twice the Gap’s today.
Britton Russell sees many benefits to moving toward this model. First, it can make Charming Charlie faster on trends by allowing its teams to react and have product in stores much faster, to buy later to learn market trends, to have greater product insight through increased buying cycle, and to have greater accuracy in styles and quantities purchased.
The fast-fashion model was first championed by companies such as Zara and H&M. Russell is currently working to implement this strategy with Charming Charlie. He joined the Houston-based company in 2014, bringing with him a long résumé with stops at leading retailers all over the world.
Russell grew up in Oregon and went to Duke University (and is still a big Blue Devils basketball fan). After college, he wanted to move back to the Northwest, so he took a job at Nike as a production scheduler. “I tracked shipments all around the world,” he says. “I got into it by accident but loved it.” He then became a sourcing manager and worked in product development and logistics and
distribution. He was with Nike for about four years and then went to a global retail and consumer products consulting firm in Atlanta. He spent four years overseas, in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and then returned to the United States and became partner of the firm. After that, he served as an executive in supply chain management for The Home Depot, Mexx (a division of Liz Claiborne), and Michael Kors, in addition to overseas assignments in China and Europe.
At Charming Charlie, his role covers a broad set of areas: product development, sourcing, quality, logistics, distribution, and customer service. “Some of those areas we are actively changing; some we are maintaining,” he says. “You go through the priorities of the business, and that’s where I focus my attention.”
One of the areas Russell is changing to move toward the fast-fashion model is sourcing. “We are building closer relationships with direct suppliers and also making sure we are using US-based suppliers, with the right balance between the two,” he says. In this capacity, the company opened a sourcing office in Shanghai to create a local presence and ensure quality with direct
suppliers. More recently, Russell has focused more on logistics, working to ship directly from its suppliers to overseas franchisees.
Now, it’s all about fast fashion and speed. “How do you compress lead times?” he says. “How do you lead trends and still make decisions on new products in a relatively short time?” To do that, Russell is focusing on improving management of supply and demand. So, Russell is looking at the existing demand and projecting what products will be needed. This, he says, will increase accuracy, reduce lost sales or mark downs, and make for a more efficient business model.
To begin, Russell looks to streamline approval processes. “How do you take out layers of approvals? You help others understand what the clear guidelines are, so they can make decisions,” he says. “You can also use technology, through visual representations or pictures, to monitor quality and also make sure materials and inventory are available when they are needed.”
Overall, Russell describes the move to fast fashion as a three-phase project. The first phase looked at eliminating excess time in the process. “For example, if a manufacturer can make a product in eight weeks and we were ordering it for twelve weeks, we take that extra time out and move it to the schedules that products should take,” he says. “We then manage exceptions outside of that.”
The second phase, which he says is a bit harder, is working on more sophisticated improvements, such as picking suppliers to compress production cycles. “We reduced our time by about 25 percent in the first year and realized we could see a significant improvement if we can also get inside the time frame of a season,” he says. “If I can order now and get the product in season, that is a huge advantage. We are currently working to get inside that seasonal window for some initial products.” After that, phase three will involve trying to get an even bigger percentage of products inside that seasonal window.
Russell says he doesn’t necessarily have a leadership philosophy—but he does have strategies. “I tend to be a big believer in regular feedback on performance, using quantitative metrics that we track,” he says. “I tend to meet with my reports on a weekly or biweekly basis. We discuss the things we expect them to do, which are linked into each person over a quarter, typically—where they are, are they getting it done or not. I focus less on the day-to-day, and more on what moves us as an organization.”
In retail, organizations have to move fast. “As we came out of the holidays this year, it was amazing to see how fast retail was changing,” he says. “Department stores performed poorly over the 2017 holiday period, online shopping increased by 15 percent from the previous year, and Amazon increased by 22 percent.”
To stay up to date, Russell and Charming Charlie are staying on their toes. “You make sure you are changing as fast as the retail environment is changing, to keep pace and stay ahead of the changes,” he says. “That’s part of my responsibility, and it’s exciting.”
Imoshion Handbags is honored to partner with Britton Russell, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer of Charming Charlie!
Imoshion Handbags is a luxury vegan handbag line based in downtown Los Angeles. Its modern sensibility paired with European styling and cruelty-free credo has sparked the interest of countless Hollywood stars and artists alike. You can find Imoshion Handbags at independent boutiques and select department stores throughout the country or by visiting www.imoshionstore.com.
LF Logistics is a proud partner of Britton Russell and the Charming Charlie logistics teams in Asia and the United States. We understand the business needs of the fashion industry and we are always one step ahead to provide our customers with the ultimate logistics solutions.