Pre- and post-London Olympics the world has been covered in British design. Union Jacks, the original Alec Issigonis Minis and the Rolling Stones seem to appear on T-shirts, bags, posters and other accessories no matter where in the world you are. But this is no new Cool Britannia boom -- British company Paul Smith has been championing home-grown design and has become a world leader in fashion, design and retail since its iconic founder formed his company in Nottingham in the late 1960s and opened his first shop in 1970.
Lee Bingham heads IT at Paul Smith and if we hadn't met him before our interview at the company's London base he would have been difficult to pick out. Dressed immaculately in the timeless style of his employers, Bingham aligns sartorially with his colleagues in the trendy office just outside Covent Garden.
Just days before we meet Bingham The Economist reported that shopping centres are "well suited to the digital age" and wrote this insight with the new Trinity Leeds shopping centre as the article's backdrop. It seems British retail has not been out of the headlines and daily online chatter for a second in 2013, whether it's because of horsemeat being sold as beef, John Lewis remaining the darling of the sector or the predicted demise of the High Street.
Paul Smith is predominantly a wholesale fashion business to the tune of 70% of its turnover, with its distinctive shops in the retail arm -- including a forthcoming branch at Trinity Leeds -- accounting for 30%. The global power of the Paul Smith brand means over 1200 worldwide employees.
Bingham explains that the company is responsible for every part of the process except the manufacturing: design, pattern cutting, printing, fabric procurement and distribution are managed in-house by the Paul Smith business. The majority of the manufacturing takes place in Italy or in one of a small number of selected factories in the Far East.
"The top and bottom ends of the market has been protected. If you are brand-centric and have a loyal base of customers you are protected," Bingham responds to a question on the building of the new shopping centre. The Economist's sentiment that these shopping centres are well suited to today's digital age is also something Bingham and Paul Smith agree with and have seen the results of.
"It's about focal points of interest, so it's about picking the right locations. It is very much around the Paul Smith experience," he says of the importance of traditional stores.
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