A perfect fit: designer clothes for the people

MUCH is made of the importance of the British fashion industry and, in particular, the impact some of its stars are having abroad. But what is less well acknowledged is that many of those involved in the business struggle to stay afloat.

One person fully aware of that is Roger Dack. With experience of many aspects of the business, he knows that "a lot of designers are one-man bands with a lot of problems".

Among the biggest difficulties is poor cash flow stemming from having to buy materials long before collections are sold. More than a decade ago Mr Dack decided that one way of dealing with this was to convert excess stock into money through discount sales.

Designers tended to have neither the time nor the inclination to do this themselves, so he hit upon the idea of gathering together the work of several designers and selling it at a deep discount at special events. In so doing he found a niche business that is proving successful through pleasing two sets of people at the same time. The designers are happy because they get rid of old stock in return for much-needed hard cash, and the customers are delighted because they get exclusive clothes at knock-down prices. Moreover, by selling the goods in a warehouse rather than via high-street shops overheads could be kept to a minimum, making the only real expense Mr Dack's commission.

Word got around about the north London warehouse and soon celebrities from the worlds of the arts and sport were mixing with other well-connected people in the rush to pick up bargains at up to 80 per cent off shop prices.

Designer Warehouse Sales originally sold only men's clothes, but women's fashions were soon added. At the same time the list of labels offered has grown, so that such cutting-edge names as Nicole Cadini and Patrick Cox are featured alongside more established ones, including Betty Jackson and Nicole Farhi. Mr Dack stresses that he uses his experience as a commercial buyer to "edit out" the less appealing items, although he also points out that the sales provide the opportunity to acquire one-offs.

With the advent of shopping villages, he is not the only person around selling discounted designer gear, but he believes that his sales succeed through offering a degree of exclusivity. While he boasts a client list of 16,000 people, he strives to avoid the events turning into "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" jostling matches. "I try to make it look as nice as I can. It's not a rummage sale," he says.

Since recently devoting himself to it full-time, Mr Dack has seen turnover rise to pounds 1.5m and the success of the concept has brought approaches to franchise the idea around the country. Although he has teamed up with the BBC's Clothes Show, he is worried about stretching the notion too far, not least on the grounds that while London is big enough to have a bargain store operating alongside the key retail outlets, in regional cities it might cause problems for the designers.

Designer Warehouse Sales operates from The Worx, 45 Balfe Stret, King's Cross, N1. The next women's sale runs from 25 to 27 September, while that for men is from 2 to 4 October. To be put on the mailing list, telephone 0171-704 1064.

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