Guest Editorial: The Apparel Industry’s Crisis of Succession

by MR Magazine Staff

By Roy Nicholls

Roy NichollsLife changed ten to 20 years ago for the North American clothing industry with the opening of our borders to off shore imports. This shift sent all aspects of the industry into survival mode, forcing the downsizing of many organizations. The end result was the wiping out a complete generation of middle management. Fortunately, due to the efforts of our past and current industry leaders, we survived. But as these leaders are preparing to leave the industry, they’re finding a huge hole in their succession planning.

This is where we are still feeling the impact all these years later. Although the industry not only survived but has shown signs of rebounding, we are now struggling to put in place our next generation of leaders. We have “made do,” relying on the survivors to carry us through this period with minimal to no injection of new talent.

Unfortunately, companies that focused on surviving rather than succession planning are now dealing with a new world. The industry is so lean for talent that we’re now forced to redefine how we create leaders. In the past, we were able to promote into these positions; today we have to mentor and train for the future. There are willing and capable candidates out there with base industry skills, provided either through educational programs (fashion, marketing, business, retail management) or through hands-on training. In today’s world, investing in the business means building not only bricks & mortar but also future leadership. This is where it gets tough: first you have to develop a formal mentoring and training program, which could take a candidate a number of years to complete. This also means that current industry leaders have to become comfortable with imparting their knowledge into their successor.

Historically, this has not always been easy. An empowering leader will be one of the strongest assets to a company’s future and will leave a legacy instead of a memory.

There are companies that have embraced this concept and are partnering with schools to identify candidates for future opportunity; others have not yet made the adjustment and are still searching for something that no longer exists. Looking overseas for candidates can sometimes work but these countries are struggling with similar issues; add to that adjustment to a new culture and it’s rarely an ideal solution.

The future is in hands of our industry leaders: they helped us survive the past and we now count on them to ensure the future. Their wealth of knowledge is what the industry desperately needs to continue to grow and prosper.

Roy Nicholls is a consultant at R.D.Nicholls and Associates. He can be reached at