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The worlds of accountancy and fashion might seem galaxies apart, but fashion is an industry like any other. Arguably, given the impact the pandemic has had on supply chains, high streets and consumer behaviour, fashion companies need finance experts now more than ever.

Valued at over US$3 trillion, or 2% of global GDP, the global fashion industry is highly competitive. For companies large and small to survive requires not only getting their products to stand out in a crowded and fast-moving market, but it increasingly needs technology-led innovation.

This is leading many to adopt omnichannel strategies, which can involve maintaining a physical ‘store’ presence, while increasingly embracing e-commerce in imaginative ways by experimenting with direct-to-consumer models, blended marketing and creating marketplaces for their own as well as other brands.

One such example is Thailand-based Pomelo, which has a try-before-you-buy concept, whereby you fill a basket online, go to one of its physical locations and only pay for what you like. Hao Pham ACCA, Pomelo’s SVP for finance and accounting, has been closely involved with driving the company’s strategies, changes and innovations since joining from a San Francisco-based startup in 2018.

‘It’s so much fun. Going to work every day is like a fashion show,’ she says. But what really attracted Pham to Pomelo was not the chance to work with flamboyant creatives, though she says this does make her job more interesting, it was joining a startup with a strong technology aspect.

Omnichannel explained

Omnichannel retail completely integrates all existing channels to offer customers a seamless shopping experience. It centralises data from all channels, meaning customers can move seamlessly between channels while shopping, like Pomelo’s Tap.Try.Buy. service, or interactive social media campaigns, or easy return policies.

Career scope

Fashion companies come in all shapes and sizes, from boutique outfits to global multi-brand luxury goods giants like Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Therefore, finance departments, depending on the size of the company, will provide opportunities across the scope of the accounting and finance profession.

Young fast-growing businesses like Pomelo are going through frequent rounds of funding and are on track for an initial public offering. In September 2019, the company raised US$52m in its series C financing, followed by another US$46m.

Such businesses operate best with dynamic finance professionals who are comfortable working in a fast-paced environment and willing to connect the dots between their role and the wider demands of the business.

A strong commercial awareness is obligatory, as is a passion for technology, big data, business partnering and delivering insightful management information.

Pham, for example, arrived at Pomelo when it was at an early phase. She contributed to the effort undertaken by the tech team to integrate the e-commerce system, retail POS, ERP and inventory ordering systems, which were previously fragmented within the company. Long nights in the beginning pouring over spreadsheets, talking to developers, learning SQL and understanding the business model and logic meant she has made herself integral to the business.

From a team of one a few years ago, Pham now leads 30-plus finance professionals across Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and China, responsible for all aspects of corporate finance, and financial and management accounting. They also ensure the company remains in compliance with local and international regulations.

Her team also acts as a business partner to the commercial divisions, while also working closely with the CFO, FP&A and legal teams on fundraising and managing investor relationships.

Additionally, omnichannel retail brings its own set of modern challenges, especially in terms of supply chain management, inventory, international tax, accounts receivable, and data and performance analysis.

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Getting in and getting on

Fashion industry experience is not essential, and you will be competitive for roles if you’re coming from a high-growth or technology company, while retail and multi- or omnichannel will also certainly put you in a strong position.

For Pham, the most important quality for working in such a fast-paced growth environment is a willingness to learn. ‘You don't need to know everything,’ she says. ‘Attitude is important. When faced with a challenge, you need to know where to find the answer and who you can talk to – for example, finding the right tax adviser for tax restructuring in Thailand.’

People skills, including strong communication and negotiating, are vital, as you’ll work with people from different departments and with different characters. Working with creatives and designers, as well as with founders, can be exciting, but you also need to find a style that means you can communicate well and get the job done.

If you have a strong track record with a fast-growth business, there will be the chance to grow your career within the company and achieve CFO quicker than in larger more traditional firms.

You may also notice an increase in approaches from headhunters looking to poach you for other startup ventures, or to lead specific projects based on your track record.

If you enjoy the fundraising aspect, you might want to concentrate more on the investor relationship side. Equally, you might move into consulting or become a founder of your own startup.

Global fashion figures

$3 trillion, or 2% of GDP
Global fashion industry

Luxury goods market

Menswear industry

Womenswear industry

Domestic fashion market values

US: $318bn

China: $312bn

UK: $94bn

Germany: $84bn

France: $43bn

Author: Neil Johnson, journalist

This article was first published in AB magazine July 2022

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