The new broom with big ideas at N Brown

Expanding the fashion retailer and giving other women a hand are on Angela Spindler's agenda

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The Independent Online

Women in the chief executive seat of FTSE 350-listed companies have fallen by the wayside this year, with the departures of Anglo American's Cynthia Carroll, publisher Pearson's Dame Marjorie Scardino and stationer WH Smith's Kate Swann all stepping down.

So when Angela Spindler took over at fashion retailer N Brown, she gave a much-needed boost to aspiring businesswomen hoping to run some of the UK's major companies.

Just three months into the role, she has spent every day learning the ropes of the company, which spans brands from lingerie firm Figleaves to plus-size clothes stores Simply Be and Jacamo.

Beaming with pride and the chance to address the balance, she explains that she hopes to use her influence and position to inspire future businesswomen.

She says: "I feel pretty proud of myself and feel I'm flying the flag. I think those of us that have made it into senior positions have a responsibility to help other women who are on the same path, so I'm delighted to be here."

The former Deben-hams managing director certainly picked the right time to join the new boardroom, as profits continue to rise for the company that can trace its roots back to 1859 but came to prominence in 1999 when its biggest brand Simply Be launched as an online and catalogue-only business. Yesterday, N Brown revealed sales jumped 8 per cent to £409.6m and pre-tax profits rose 7.1 per cent to £45m in the six months to the end of August. More than 4 million customers used the websites, which also include brands JD Williams, Marisota and High and Mighty.

The best-performing brands were Simply Be and Jacamo, which recently signed up former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff to front its advertising campaigns.

Ms Spindler should have no problem working with celebrities at her new company, having persuaded Wayne Rooney's wife, Coleen, to become the face of George at Asda, where Ms Spindler had been managing director.

During a 10-year career at Asda, she worked her way up through the ranks and helped make George one of the biggest fashion brands, pioneering supermarket fashion, with rivals Tesco and Sainsbury's playing catch-up. She now believes Simply Be and Jacamo could fill the same empty space she saw Asda dominating with its George range.

"George at Asda democratised fashion and brought affordable, leading-edge fashion to the supermarket, when there wasn't that there before," she says. "Now we're democratising fashion in plus sizes, when it didn't really exist before. It's very hard to market a credible plus size fashion brand. The fashion industry has at best ignored it and at worst alienated the market, so it's really great to be a part of it. What's delighted me in the past three months is to understand how to fit and flatter larger people."

Part of her plans to become the dominant plus size fashion retailer include a major high street expansion, trebling its current roster of stores, and she has one eye on the US. There are currently seven Simply Be and Jacamo stores, with ones in Leeds' White City and Derby's Westfield due to open by the end of the year. But within the new few years Ms Spindler wants to expand to 25 stores, with London a target.

It is understood she wants to use the knowledge she gained from her last job as chief executive of the Factory Shop, where she opened stores in "under-served" areas, as a template for choosing the new Simply Be and Jacamo sites.

However, no timetable has been agreed, with Ms Spindler saying: "We'd like to open them as quickly as we can… but because there is so much competition for space, we can't put a time scale on it."

Tapping into the demands of the modern shopper, she hopes to offer a multichannel business where customers can seamlessly slip from the websites to the stores and back again.

If the UK rollout proves successful, attentions will swiftly move to the US, where in her short tenure Ms Spindler has overseen a series of focus groups to gauge reaction.

"They have loved it there, so the question now is can we step up the pace of making it happen?"

N Brown by numbers

+8 per cent Sales jumped to £409.6m in the six months to the end of August as pre-tax profits climbed 7.1% to £45m.

4 million The number of people who visited the company's websites. Jacamo was the best-performing brand.

N Brown: The brands


Plus-sized clothes for men, it signed up former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff as its brand ambassador in 2011, who still appears in its adverts today

Simply Be

Opened its first store in 2011 in Liverpool, after more than a decade of success online and through its catalogue, selling fast fashion for women sized 14 to 32


One of the biggest online-only lingerie retailers in the UK, it turned a profit for the first time last year and also launched a discreet erotic section


Similar to Simply Be, the company sells women's fashion in plus sizes up to 32 and is particularly popular for party frocks and shoes