Shaper: Ruth Chapman

Transcript of the show

 

Elliot MossThat was Jimmy Smith and The Cat, one of my super duper all time favourites.  Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss, here on Jazz FM on a Saturday morning.  Thank you for joining me.  This is of course the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a business shaper.  Today I have none other than Ruth Chapman.  She is the co-founder of Matches Fashion which for the well heeled amongst you will know is probably one of the best places to buy the top outfit of the moment.  You will be hearing lots from her very, very shortly.  In addition to hearing from Ruth today you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that, if that isn’t enough already, some great music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Snarky Puppy, Ray Charles and this from Laura Mvula.

 

That was Laura Mvula and Green Garden.  As billed earlier Ruth Chapman is my business shaper today here on Jazz Shapers.  She is the co-founder and joint chief executive of Matchesfashion.com officially but of course they have I believe 14 London stores and a website shipping beautiful clothes to countries as wide and as far as all sorts of places, at least 200 of them apparently.  Ruth thank you for very much for joining me.

 

Ruth ChapmanMorning.

 

Elliot Moss

Now your business began in 1987, almost 20 years ago.

 

Ruth ChapmanYes it did.
Elliot Moss

What was going on then?  Why did you start that business?

 

Ruth Chapman

Well actually my husband started it with his sister and his sister was the person who really wanted to get the business in fashion going and he was sort of a quieter, a quieter partner and then she decided to get married to somebody and move away so he was left holding this baby and we were already in this relationship together.  So I was helping him out around my own working life and then he said come and join me, come and help me, I need help.  So I did which was very silly and I was very young but very in love, so that’s how we started.

 

Elliot Moss

And you were very young as you said.  What were you doing at the time?

Ruth ChapmanI was working in a video company.

 

Elliot Moss

But you kinda liked fashion; you thought oh you know what I am going to set up a fashion business.  I mean you didn’t say that obviously but …

 

Ruth Chapman

Well I have always had a really strong fashion obsession.   Even from a very, very young age I have always been obsessed with clothes and I mean even when I was 15 years old I was ordering things that I had seen in Vogue and getting them shipped to me and yes always just obsessing and looking at every new designer that is coming through, you know all of them …

 

Elliot Moss

And did that come from anywhere though, because you know people, there is cliché that the stereotypes is where a young boy is obsessed with sport and young girls, young women, are obsessed with dollies and dressing up.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 Elliot Moss

And it sounds ridiculous and obviously I have many children of both varieties and I am not sure that the stereotype is true but for you what do you think created that obsession with clothes and with objects and with things that you would wear?

 

Ruth Chapman

I think it came from having a very glamorous grandmother, a very glamorous, coming from a line of glamorous women who always enjoyed dressing up.  So I mean even as a child I was very particular about what I would wear and fabrics and luxury and the feeling and the way that clothes make you feel good, they make you feel happy and the appropriateness of what you are wearing for each situation, whether it is work or evening or the weekend.  Just that selection process and the choosing, the fabrication is always something that I am very interested in.  I am still interested in it in the morning, I am still interested in the choices that I make and then the choices that other women will be making.

 

Elliot Moss

Now for those people listening who don’t know the Matches’ business houses some of the most fantastic fashion brands on the planet and some of those Belinciaga, Long Vann, Christopher Kane, Isabel Marant, Kenzo just to mention just a few.  Did you envisage then as a 21 year old young woman that you would be the home of these incredible brands?  Could you have ever envisaged that?  Ever dreamt that that would happen?

 

Ruth Chapman

No, I think that it has always been a very organic journey and we have always taken the most opportunity that we could at the time.  So we started out selling T shirts and jeans to men and women.  I mean it was a very low key, almost like a Benetton style store and very quickly we started to see that when we did experiment with something that was more luxurious it was a runaway success.  So from that the whole thing developed very quickly and we started to work with strong designers and we were lucky because we were young but it was also we started in the late 80s so it was a much more, I suppose a much more easier environment to get started in in business than it is now and we started working with these designers really quickly and establishing relationships with them which we still have today and working with the people we wanted to work with, partnering with people which has been very exciting.  An exciting journey to take but it has been really organic.

 

Elliot Moss

Find out how Ruth Chapman has achieved so much success in the Matches business.  Time for some music, this is Ray Charles and Night Time is the Right Time.

 

That was Ray Charles and Night Time is the Right Time.  Ruth Chapman is my business shaper today.  She is the co-founder and CEO of matches.com, matchesfashion.com and obviously the shops as well.  You are also creative director of your in-house brand Freda.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

What is that like?  I mean you are kind of now where you know I’ll go back again to the past I want to talk about how you developed those relationships with these incredible brands, but what is it like actually being the person who now chooses the fabric, chooses the way it is made, chooses the way it looks, the colours and everything else versus curating someone else’s ideas?

 

Ruth Chapman

Well the whole idea was borne of that we work with these incredible brands and they all produce these beautiful designs and lots of our customers want to pair back these designs with something quieter and more anonymous so the brand was born and we also wanted to price it in a way which was going to be more accessible for a lot of our customers.  If they are paying a luxury premium price for a designed piece they might want to pair it back with something less expensive.  So that’s where it was born, the whole idea was borne from and we have been doing that brand now for I think almost 6 years and lately I have taken more of a back step because as the business has grown I am finding myself in the running of this beast that we have created with my husband.

 

Elliot Moss

350 people you employ apparently, probably more by the time …

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes we do, yes we do.

 

Elliot Moss

That’s a lot of people.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.  So we do have now a new creative director in charge of Freda but I am still very much involved.  I am always putting my head in the door and seeing where they are up to and we regularly meet and discuss where we are going with the season but I think the genius thing about our business is that we have always managed to attract incredible talent and we have this fabulous team in there now who are pulling these ideas together so I can’t completely take credit for the whole creative director anymore and we have a really exciting product now which we are very thrilled to be launching and we will be launching men’s as well next season so that will be exciting.

 

Elliot Moss

Something to look out for.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

Definitely for me personally let alone anyone else who might want to join me.  In the early days, just going back a little bit before the 350 people, before the shipping to other countries and so on.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

As you started to build the business around the idea of selling beautiful things, luxurious things, catering for an emerging need in as you said the late 80s early 90s, were you still, did you retain that excitement which would seem to be still in love with the world of fashion?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

Did it grow or did it become diminished because you were suddenly having to run a business?  Was there a sense of well I love, I am obsessed with fashion but I have actually got to be serious or did that never really happen?  Were the two quite nicely complimentary?

 

Ruth Chapman

I think they are really nicely complimentary because I think at our heart always our decision-making is centred around our customer and so for me I am always thinking about the fashion and the customer and how we can best deliver it to them, whether it is through our on-line presence or whether it is through our stores and how we can make that a better experience; keep up with the technology, be the first to introduce different dynamics and different ways of shopping to them.  So I think my passion for it has never diminished because it has always been how can we do this better, how can we make it a better experience for the customer, what is next, what is next in fashion and also thinking about the brands that we work with how will they want to be perceived and talking to them, a lot of discussion, a lot of collaboration but the passion hasn’t ever diminished.

 

Elliot Moss

And that passion I think that you talk about that was retained and is still retained meant that you treat people like people, like special people so you walk into your beautiful shops and actually you feel like you are being treated properly as if you were in a lovely 5 star lobby of a hotel because someone says would you like a cup of coffee, would you like some still or sparkling water, when you purchase these not cheap things.  You nailed that every early on, that just felt natural didn’t it?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes and I can’t really take credit for that because my husband is incredible at this part, it’s really for him.  His whole ethos is based around this customer service, the level of customer service and he never takes his eye off that ball.  I think you know you are absolutely right he was the first to introduce the idea of having a cappuccino machine, having a coffee machine in a store.  You know even in the early days there was a culture in our stores of people coming in for a beer on a Saturday afternoon and chatting and there was even a point I can remember when people used to smoke in the stores which seems bizarre now.

 

Elliot Moss

Perish the thought.

 

Ruth Chapman

I know.

 

Elliot Moss

Actually relaxing and having a cigarette.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.  But that is where it kind of came from and that still now is the ethos of the business very much, even in how somebody receives a parcel and how beautifully their purchase is wrapped all that sort of thing.  We hope that we are market leaders in that all the time.

 

Elliot Moss

Find out more about how Ruth Chapman is maintaining 5 star customer service from the Matches fashion business.  Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

 

You are listening to Jazz shapers with me Elliott Moss.  Every Saturday morning you can catch me here talking to a brilliant shaper from the world of business or if you have missed any of them in the past you can of course also got to I-Tunes and you will find them all in there.  Ruth Chapman is my business shaper today, she is the, as you have been hearing I hope, the co-founder and chief executive of matchesfashion.com and sort of still semi the uber super duper creative director of the in-house brand called Freda with of course a proper creative director now doing most of the work I hasten to add quickly before you do.  Ruth we were talking about all sorts of things in terms of 5 star service and the like.  What is like, because people will want to know, working with your husband who was your boyfriend at the time?  You know I have met a few people who have had their other halves, whether it is a man or woman, doing it and I am amazed at how obviously we are talking about a successful business you are here so it must work on a level.  Does it cause a certain pressure though?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes, it does.  I mean I think it is astonishing that we are still together and still adore each other but it doesn’t come without, I mean there have been rocky patches in it, there have been times when we disagree and we can never be seen to disagree in a meeting so we have to leave the room and take the argument outside although there are levels of tension that people who know us very well have witnessed and it is difficult at times.  We had to learn quite early on to cut off when we get home because otherwise our poor children, we have three children, would have to listen to the post mortem of the day which …

 

Elliot Moss

And you really do cut off?

 

Ruth Chapman

We try to.  You know …

 

Elliot Moss

Ruth be honest with me.  We try to is probably ….

 

Ruth Chapman

We try to is better, you’re right.  Yeah we try to as far as we possibly can.  Yeah it’s not, I mean I think on marriage that is also work and we work hard at it and we try to have as much fun as we can.

 

Elliot Moss

I mean I think partnership is going to be hard, whether it is personal or whether it is professional.

 

Ruth Chapman

It is absolutely.

 

Elliot Moss

But what would you say to people who are in partnerships regardless of whether they are married or not based on the fact that you have learnt in the most extreme situation, i.e. that you are emotionally involved …

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes, you are right.

 

Elliot Moss

What would be a couple of bits of advice looking back over the years with regard to how you have handled conflict?

 

Ruth Chapman

Be clear, be honest, be truthful, be kind and listen to what the other person has got to say.  Yeah I think that it is.  I think honesty is really, really important but you have to be tactful as well.

 

Elliot Moss

And have the roles naturally evolved?  Is one of you more interested in the numbers, one of you more interested in the fashion?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

Are you the fashion or is he?  I mean how is it?

 

Ruth Chapman

I am definitely the fashion and he is definitely the numbers but sometimes I feel like he would like, I mean Tom is a very creative person and I think sometimes he does get pigeon holed into the finance marketing side and I think that a lot of people don’t recognise the creativity that he has input into the business which is huge.

 

Elliot Moss

Time for some music before we hear more from Ruth, my business shaper.  It’s Dave Brubeck and Take Five.

 

That was Dave Brubeck and Take Five.  Ruth Chapman is my business shaper from the fashion world.  We have been talking about lots of things.  I am interested in the notion of divas and business and I know you said you are the fashion person although your husband should be credited beyond the money and the marketing as someone who has also got taste and is also very creative in his own way.  Are there on the other side, and I wanted to refer back to the relationships you created with the fashion houses, is the myth true?  Is Devil Wears Prada anything like the truth and if it is how do you handle that level of animation and that level of lunacy and that level of chaos that comes with the creative type of business?

 

Ruth Chapman

I don’t think in all the years I have been doing this that I have ever encountered certainly not a business that is going about things in a very diva like way.  Of course there are personalities who are involved in the fashion industry who are divas but I think that usually that is based on a huge amount of talent and those people are protected pretty much by very commercial, very smart people who look after them and probably front out the business more and make sure that that level of behaviour perhaps doesn’t always reach their partners, their collaborators.

 

Elliot Moss

So there is a filter, there is some management around it?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes, yes and I haven’t in all the years that I have been doing this I haven’t ever encountered anybody that I have, I mean a tiny percentage of people who I would say are impossible to deal with on some level.  Most people are pretty charming, hard working people and the glamour that you think of as the fashion industry I think, I mean we have a lot of people applying to work with us all the time and when you work inside the fashion industry I think it is true to say it is not, it’s not the glamorous world that a lot of people imagine that it is.  There is a lot of hard work and it’s an industry like any other.

 

Elliot Moss

And talking about hard work and the fact now you have been in the business for almost 20 years.  Is that right, is it a bit more?

 

Ruth Chapman

More than 20 years yes.

 

Elliot Moss

Sorry well my maths is rubbish.  Over 20 years Ruth.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

In that time have there been moments when you thought I don’t think we can do this anymore, I think this business is too much?  Have there been properly dark or obstacle ridden times when you have gone I have go to, something has got to stop here or I have got to really change our attitude towards something or has it really been more plain sailing than that over the years?

 

Ruth Chapman

No it hasn’t been plain sailing at all and I think that you are saying you know change, change is really important and adaptability is really important particularly now more than ever because technology is taking us in whole new places.  So I mean we as a business have lived through several recessions and there have always been challenges, new challenges and I think that is possibly conversely that’s what keeps us in there.  It’s the next level, it’s the change, it’s what moves things on and what will be interesting next is how to change things and how to keep this body of people who are in the business, how to keep them happy with that change because it is all very well us wanting that change, Tom and I and the management team, but there is the whole of the business they have got to be happy with that change too and its making everyone else in the team believe in the change and adapt to it and want it as much as we do.  That’s possibly one of the biggest things that we do most of the time.

 

Elliot Moss

Yes, change and how to manage it …

 

Ruth Chapman

Change and adaptability yes.

 

Elliot Moss

And bringing people with you it can’t be easy with so many now.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes, it’s true.

 

Elliot Moss

We will have our final chat with Ruth plus play a track from shaper of jazz Snarky Puppy.  That’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

 

That was Snarky Puppy and Amour T’es La.  Ruth we have been talking about divas, we have talking about the lack of divas and the fact that it is an industry and we have talked a little bit about change.  Technology is a massive, it has a massive impact on every industry now.  We are inside the digital revolution, it’s been going on for a number of years. So you have got lots of competition on-line with very big companies investing lots of money in delivering the same sorts of things that you do, how are you going to ensure that you stand out in the following 5, 10, 15 years as things really hot up?  What are Matches gonna be doing?

 

Ruth Chapman

We are going to be looking at technology, new developments in technology and I think what is interesting about this space that we are in on-line is that developing your own personality and maintaining this brand image is going to be super important for us where we got next.  There is so many ways that you can talk to your customer from an on-line space now and make it interesting for them and we want to be the best, the best reference for both brands and for people who are engaged in fashion in terms of the content that we are offering on-line and that is not necessarily just about shopping that’s about talking about new brands so it might be a fashion student who is coming to us because they want to learn about new brands.  Our business is very well known now for supporting emerging talent, new British talent.

 

Elliot Moss

I was going to ask you about that.  Okay and how do you do that?  Do you give them a space?  I mean is there literally if it’s a new designer that has done well in Milan and well in London you say actually we would love to curate you here?  Is that what you do, that kind of thing?

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes so our ear is to the ground all the time; we are looking for new talent.  When we see something that resonates with our aesthetic particularly we will approach them.

 

Elliot Moss

Approach them and bring them in.  How do you do that, do you have a team?   Is it a bit like scouts in football people are looking all the time?  I mean do you have …

 

Ruth Chapman

We have a really talented team of buyers who are completely passionate about what they do, who are always coming up with great new brands that they have seen, that they are excited about.  We will talk about it and we will decide which ones we are going to go with.  You can’t go with everybody.  We have to be sure that they are people who can deliver, who have a degree of professionalism and who are as excited as we are about the opportunity that we have.

 

Elliot Moss

And bringing, I mean it sounds like the wonderful thing is you do have passion in the business, there are people that know what they are doing.

 

Ruth Chapman

Yes.

 

Elliot Moss

Re-invention is the cornerstone of fashion.  Things are constantly changing.

 

Ruth Chapman

Newness.

 

Elliot Moss

Newness is changing.  You mentioned before about you know the hardest thing is going to be bringing as we change all the time in terms of the structure of the business and what it actually delivers, bringing those 350 people together.  How are you gonna do that?  How do you try and do that?  Are there some magic bullets that one should deploy?

 

Ruth Chapman

I think communication in a team like the size that we have is one of the hardest challenges so that is something that we are working on every day.  We are certainly not perfect at it now and it is something that we talk about constantly.  I mean for Tom and I the time that we have with those teams is really important so we try to have some physical contact with those people in a physical space as often as we possibly can to talk about the message.  Every year we do have a seminar with the business as a whole where we talk about what our goals are, what our ambitions are for the year and we try and keep that filter of communication going throughout the year.  It’s not a perfect science yet.  We are constantly trying to improve that.

 

Elliot Moss

But you are positive about your ability to deliver that so you can carry on being the pre-eminent …

 

Ruth Chapman

Absolutely.

 

Elliot Moss

Yes and of course just before I ask you for your song choice I have to ask you autumn/winter is around the corner; for a man like me what would you recommend?  What kind of brands should I be looking for?

 

Ruth Chapman

Mmm.

 

Elliot Moss

What are you going to have in that you are excited about?

 

Ruth Chapman

If I was talking about Tom, my husband, I would say Bottega Veneta, great brand, luxury and also I am super excited because Thomas Maier who is the creative director behind Bottega is just about to launch his – actually I am flying to New York on Sunday to see his new collection which will launch next spring/summer so not autumn/winter but that I am excited about as well.  I think for men that will be a fabulous new brand.

 

Elliot Moss

You heard it here first.  Ruth thank you so much for joining me.  Before I let you go, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

 

Ruth Chapman

My song choice is Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder.  Stevie Wonder was a background of my sort of teenage years really and I still adore him.  I still love listening to him and its upbeat, feels good, feel good factor.

 

Elliot Moss

Brilliant.  Ruth thank you very much for joining me.  This is your choice, it’s Stevie Wonder and Sir Duke.

 

That was Sir Duke from Stevie Wonder, the song choice of my business shaper today, Ruth Chapman, passionate about fashion, loves what she does, is looking towards making sure that her business is fit for all the sorts of changes that the fashion world are gonna throw up against it and I am sure that they will succeed massively.   Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers.  That’s 9.00am next Saturday morning here on Jazz FM.  Stay with us because coming up next is Nigel Williams.

My husband started our business with his sister, then she got married and moved away, so he was left holding the baby. I was helping him out around my own working life and he said, come and join me.

It has always been an organic journey and we have always taken every opportunity that we could at the time.

We started to see that when we experimented with something that was more luxurious it was a runaway success.

I think my husband was the first to introduce the idea of having a coffee machine in a store.  His whole ethos is based around customer service and he never takes his eye off that ball. 

My passion has never diminished because I always think, how can we do this better? How can we make it a better experience for the customer? What’s next?

It’s astonishing that we’re still together and still adore each other, but there are times when we disagree, and we can never be seen to disagree in a meeting, so we have to take the argument outside.

Be clear, be honest, be truthful, be kind and listen to what the other person has got to say. Honesty is really important but you have to be tactful as well.

Most people are pretty charming, hardworking people and the fashion industry is not the glamorous world that a lot of people imagine that it is.  There is a lot of hard work and it’s an industry like any other.

As a business we have lived through several recessions and there have always been new challenges and that is possibly what keeps us in there.

Ruth Chapman

Tom and Ruth Chapman are joint CEOs and co-founders of MATCHESFASHION.COM.

Tom and Ruth Chapman opened their first two Matches stores in Wimbledon in 1987. Since then, the company has grown into a global luxury retailer, with 14 London stores, including DVF and MaxMara, and an international site that operates in 200 countries worldwide. In April this year, all platforms of the business were renamed MATCHESFASHION.COM, unifying the brand and creating a truly omni-channel experience for the customer. MATCHESFASHION.COM offers a curated edit of the world’s hottest designers, from established international brands to hard-to-find, cool contemporary labels. Now stocking more than 400 designers across menswear and womenswear, the rostrum of designers includes Christopher Kane, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Isabel Marant, Kenzo, Carven and Givenchy. As a long-term supporter of young British talent, Ruth sits on the British Fashion Council NEWGEN selection panel. Ruth also conceived and launched MATCHESFASHION.COM’s own line Freda in 2006.