© Kasia Bobula

Fashion

Roksanda’s CEO on leading a fashion brand with an outsider’s perspective

By Lucy Maguire
13 Feb 2020

Key takeaways:

  • Roksanda CEO Jamie Gill has a diverse skillset that strikes the balance between commercial viability and design freedom.
  • Restructuring the business meant assessing the skills employees already had and breaking down department silos to make for cross-functional teams.
  • The brand is open to new opportunities and categories after successful projects in athleisure and interiors in 2019.

With a career that spans design, accountancy and investment, Jamie Gill’s varied background gave the 31-year-old a different perspective that has shaped his approach as chief executive of Roksanda, the London luxury brand founded by Serbian designer Roksanda Ilincic in 2005. 

Prior to joining the brand, Gill was the investment director for Eiesha Ltd., the fund led by private investor Eiesha Bharti Pasricha. In 2014, the fund took a stake in Roksanda and helped grow its revenue from a reported £3 million to £10 million from 2014 to 2018. In March 2018, Gill joined the brand full time, replacing former CEO Carmela Acampora.

“With my journey, I was in the position to [become CEO] while understanding the finance of fashion, and knowing what a fashion brand needs to market,” he says. 

The company doesn’t release financials, but Gill says the business is healthier than it was before and is more evenly distributed. During his tenure, Roksanda has launched a collaboration with high-growth athleisure brand Lululemon that’s now on its second collection, pushed into Asia with a guest appearance at Shanghai Fashion Week and partnered with the new King’s Cross estate to design a Roksanda apartment. 

In the age of increased consumer demand, growing innovation and brand saturation, fashion is rethinking its traditional strategies to keep up by incorporating new talent and collaborators. The trend is seen across industries, as global executive search firm SRI reported the number of chief executives switching between industries quadrupled from 2015-2019. Gill’s background helps him to bring new ideas to Roksanda that make up the brand’s new strategy.

Balance commercial and creative

Gill believes that in fashion, creativity must be prioritised. He and Ilincic have an “excellent” CEO-designer relationship, he says, something that has been a catalyst for revenue growth at other brands, most prominently Gucci

“I used to always hear and read about the tension between management teams and the creative. And I just think we don’t have that, there’s such harmony,” says Gill. “We’re speaking the same language.”

Roksanda Spring/Summer 2020. © Getty Images

Ilincic’s artistic freedom is crucial to the brand DNA, says Gill. “It’s about experimentation with design. We aren’t doing that to sell trainers. We are doing it to sell stories that work close to the art.”

Gill balances this with commerciality. With an artistic runway collection, for example, he would look at where there is a commercial pyramid to ensure there’s a price architecture and margin. The brand will normally sell garments in line with how they were styled and shown on the runway, but sometimes, pieces are adapted. “Sometimes, there is a diluted take. But it’s still very close to [Ilincic’s] expression.”

Pressures can threaten creativity in any industry. As social media and e-commerce dictate consumer behaviour, Roksanda faces increased expectations. “What the consumer is expecting in terms of newness, availability, price point and service is really just putting pressure on us to make sure we’re keeping up, from a smaller business perspective,” Gill explains. 

The key to managing this pace is not cutting corners, but rather staying focused on Ilincic’s rigorous, technical design process that the brand is known for, he says. “I almost feel that a banker could set up a fashion label today,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that to an extent, but where are we keeping true to that rigorous design education? That’s why we’re all here with Roksanda because that’s what she’s about.” 

Break down silos

To drive business, Gill restructured Roksanda’s teams to bring down silos and allow employees to be more agile. The organisation encourages people to operate across teams and considers the skills of existing employees that can be used across the business before recruiting externally for new roles. Gill’s multi-disciplinary background has inspired this approach. 

“We don’t have any divides,” he says. This means his teams can better understand each other and internal communication is much easier; departments that are traditionally opposed (like merchandising and design) can empathise better with each other to produce better work. Gill is playing to Roksanda’s strengths as a small business – as companies grow, they become too compartmentalised and unable to move quickly.  

“I want hungry people that want to learn, want to grow, people that are not just in their box,” he explains. “This allows you to be lean and deliver what you need.” Fashion companies are increasingly hiring executives and employees from sectors like tech to gain an edge in the worlds of e-commerce and social media marketing. What’s most important is that these hires have time to prove their strategies.

Jamie Gill in the Roksanda apartment © Kasia Bobula

“You can’t change a business in a month. It’s a long play with plans,” he says. Those who were able to adapt and be agile are still with the business, and Gill says that amid restructuring, headcount has remained stable.

Optimise for future growth by seeking out new opportunities

Roksanda is open to new opportunities through next year, with further expansion into the US and potentially new categories on the table.

The Roksanda show apartment in the new King’s Cross apartment building, Gasholders, was the brand’s first venture into interiors. The apartment is a one-off collaboration with the property owners, and products are not for sale. But creating a Roksanda “world” where customers can have new touchpoints with the brand is something Gill is willing to look into. 

With his background, he continues to take inspiration from other sectors. “We are not trying to over-commercialise, but from professional services to haute couture, we can explore other business models,” he explains. 

The Lululemon collaboration, which was co-created by both brands, made sense for Roksanda. But for a newer brand looking into collaborations, it’s important to wait until you have enough DNA to bring to the table, says Gill. “[Roksanda is] privileged to have 15 years of legacy of colours and architecture. Then there’s enough to play with when you’re taking it to another brand,” he says. “As long as it’s not off-brand and it’s not off-kilter.”

Funding is also important. His investment background makes Gill conscious of the positive impact raising capital can have on a luxury brand. At this strong point, he is ready for the next phase: “having all our ducks in a row, resetting a few things in-house, growing in the right way, and then being able to focus together as a group, and then it can start to snowball”. 

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