UKFT’s Paul Alger, Director of International Business, has received his Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to exports in the UK fashion industry.
Paul works with a vast array of fashion and textile brands, helping them develop an expert strategy and routes to market.
One of the most liked men in the industry, it is common for Paul to know everyone and everyone to know and adore him.
Phoebe English, founder of Phoebe English, stated: ‘Paul has a deep bedrock of commitment and love for what he does which radiates far beyond his clients alone. In an industry so regimented by profit, loss, growth and the bottom line, it has always been a refreshing pleasure to know and work with someone who puts the person and human experience back into and at the forefront of all of this. I love working with and knowing Paul and he deserves this honour a great, great deal. I am utterly thrilled for him.’
Paul is a huge supporter of the industry and the companies and people who work within it. But alongside the endless encouragement and advice Paul has given to thousands of companies, he has also been a tireless champion of the industry to the government.
While languages have been a key attribute in his role, perhaps more important is his deep understanding of economics and politics in relation to international trade.
Robert Tateossian, Managing Director of Tateossian stated: ‘From Florence to Tokyo, for the past 30 years Paul had been such an integral part in helping Tateossian become an international brand. He is kind, jovial, always keen to help and assist, offer advice – such a pleasure to work with. Congratulations Paul on a well-deserved recognition and merit.’
‘I first came to what became UKFT answering an advertisement in The Guardian for a multilingual, trade-show experienced person speaking French,’ says Paul. ‘The ad was listed for a company called BKCEC which I later after the interview found to be the British Knitting and Clothing Export Council but at the time I had no idea what I was applying for. One of the most important things was that they wanted someone who was clock-ignoring. Their intention was they wanted someone who wasn’t going to do a 9-5pm job. I think in some ways they got a bit more than they bargained for.’
As stated by Robert Ettinger, Chairman and CEO of Ettinger; ‘I have known Paul for over 20 years and consider him and his knowledge of international export markets second to none. If every I or anybody in our company has any questions or an export problem a phone call to Paul generally sorts it out. He has been instrumental in helping Ettinger export and we now export to over 35 countries worldwide and exports account for over 80 per cent of our company’s business.’
Paul’s ability to ignore clocks is legendary and anyone who knows him is very aware that a quick chat can last for much longer, with the added complication of different timezones usually thrown in the mix.
‘To be fair in the old days, the way we did our business was very different,’ Paul says. ‘You had to wake up early to be on a call with Japan and you had to stay until the early evening in order to get some people on the west coast of the US. Email has changed all that now.’
‘When I first started to work for BKCEC, I was put in charge of a group of up to 150 menswear brands at Europe’s largest menswear show Sehm,’ he says. ‘Our biggest challenge then was to limit the telephone and telex access back to the UK so that brands could phone through their orders to factories, asking for a quick turnaround, changes to a product, big quantities or a different colourway.’
He reflects: ‘Now 30 years later our biggest challenge is where are we going to find these buyers with budgets to buy from our collections. It is a completely different industry and a different set of challenges and in many ways, much more challenging than it was.’
‘I have known Paul for more than 20 years, since the heady days of the early 90’s. His enthusiasm, passion and support of this industry we call ‘Fashion’ is the same now as it was back then. What a great ambassador for the UKFT he is, always happy to help with introductions and advice, this MBE is thoroughly deserved. Congratulations dear Paul,’ states Barny Edis, head of sales at Derek Rose.
Paul helps companies to make sense of changing export markets but also to adapt to some of the bigger structural changes that are shaping today’s industry such as the shrinking independent retail market and the growth of major online players.
‘There are fewer independent retailers on our high streets than there ever were before,’ says Paul. ‘Whilst many in the industry have chosen not to think about that, it is a reality that we have to live with – the online marketplaces are increasingly dominant, they work in different ways and may not want to pay deposits in the way our smaller companies need so they are going to have to look at their business models again very carefully.
‘There is also that huge risk of cannibalising one part of your business at the expense of another which almost all British brands at the moment seem to fall foul of in one way or another,’ he says. ‘You can’t have all of your multi-brand retailers and undercut them by selling online yourself or selling on Black Friday and expect them to still love you in the morning. It doesn’t happen and we’re beginning to feel that.’
He relishes working with established companies but also linking them to newer businesses to help support, nurture and develop the next generation of designer and manufacturers.
‘Paul is extremely friendly, supportive and has the biggest heart to help emerging brands and start-ups like us. His positivity is infectious,’ states Danxia Liu and Shan Peng Wong, co-founders of Dansham.
He is also passionate about the UK as a melting pot of people and brands from all over the world, attracted often by our world-class education but who have chosen to make the UK their home as they enjoy living here and it is a good place to build a business. In some ways, this week was particularly significant as the UK left the European Union.
Richard Tyler, co-founder of Tyler & Tyler states: ‘We were delighted to hear Paul had received his MBE – a true recognition of his dedication and all that he has contributed to the industry. He has always been very supportive of Tyler & Tyler. Paul’s knowledge of the industry is second to none and he has been a source of expert advice to us on many occasions. Congratulations Paul!’
Paul states, ‘I am very passionate about international trade, how the UK is perceived overseas, particularly as we approach Brexit. I am very proud of the work that UKFT is doing with government to promote a very positive, inclusive image of the UK internationally and we are working to make sure we create the best environment to ensure that companies can continue to thrive.’
Paul believes that manufacturing and exporting are central to the growth of the UK economy and sees his role as helping to facilitate that by opening up new opportunities.
‘Particularly when we do trade missions to places like Japan, one of my greatest satisfactions has been seeing someone at the beginning of the week all nervous and excited, not knowing how to behave in public, not understanding the business etiquette or the scale or size of the market,’ he explains. ‘Then you see them at the end of the mission by which time they are full of confidence, they’ve met people that knew them, that loved their product and get their history, that understand the story and want to deal with them. The speed of change is gratifying.’
It is a similar situation when Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal visits member companies in her role as President of UKFT. Paul has accompanied HRH The Princess Royal to around 100 visits to companies in all corners of the UK to promote the rich manufacturing heritage and innovative future that we have here. Often out of the spotlight, employees at these companies can be apprehensive of the visit, but quickly relax when they see how interested and engaged she is in the kind of skilled work they do.
One of Paul’s favourite visits was to the Outer Hebrides to visit Harris Tweed Hebrides and his most recent visits have taken him to footwear manufacturer Goral & Son’s in Sheffield, cashmere weaver Begg & Co in Ayr and Savile Row tailor Henry Poole in London.
It was, of course, fitting that our very own President HRH The Princess Royal was the one to give Paul his honour at Buckingham Palace this week. Paul was delighted that it was the UKFT President thanks to their relationship, which has developed over the many years.
He was also pleased to be championing the UK industry for the investiture, wearing a suit tailored for him by UKFT’s skills consultant Alice Burkitt Tailoring, featuring a beautiful rich fabric from Holland & Sherry, a luxury cloth merchant based on Savile Row.
He is keen to fly the flag for UK textiles and in October last year undertook a project with the organisers of Intertextile Shanghai and The Clothworkers Company to create two showcase stands to promote the Best of British fabrics.
‘Whenever we got the Italians are one of the major competitors and being an Italian speaker and someone who loves Italy, I have no qualms about recognising what Italy does well, but there has been a myth that the Italians had invented the great British men’s suit. The challenge was to set the record straight that it was invented on Savile Row not Naples. This was an important message to drive home and clearly struck a chord with Chinese buyers.’
Adam Mansell, CEO of the UKFT, stated: ‘I am absolutely thrilled that Paul’s huge contribution to the industry has been rewarded. He has helped thousands of businesses grow and his knowledge of exporting is encyclopedic. His impact on fashion businesses over the last three decades has been immeasurable. We are extremely proud to have him as our Director of International Business.’
The UK is known for its strong heritage but Paul is keen to ensure that it is not pigeonholed by preconceived ideas or old notions of what our industry can offer.
‘The UK is seen as a country that is often held back by its heritage rather than pushed forward by it,’ he explains. ‘When we were making the plans for Intertextile Shanghai, for example, we made a decision that we didn’t want to see beefeaters and letterboxes on the promotion. Those are iconic images of the UK and lots of people in Asia understand that, but we also need them to understand that we have a dynamic, democratic thriving community with amazing designer talents that are all about sustainability and ethical production which cannot be hidden behind these kinds of stereotypes.’
He says the image of the UK international should build on that heritage but also present the next generation, promoting clean growth and making sure we have the right skills in the UK to enable people to make a living here.
‘As the UK leaves the EU, we are going to have to find a new position in the world and I am proud to be part of UKFT to help do that.’