As General Manager of Womenswear and Menswear at David Jones, David Bush was a force in Australian fashion: he landed major international deals, expanded the reach of now-ubiquitous brands like Sass & Bide and Willow and ensured that the department store was at the forefront when it came to innovative business strategies.
Now, after departing David Jones with 20 years of insider experience, he fronts his own company, David Bush Consulting, and works closely with Australian brands like Camilla and The Upside to drive business success and create real, lasting relationships between company and consumer.
Here, he tells Collective Hub about his approach, what drives his strategy and why listening is always better than talking.
When you partner with a new label, what’s the first thing you look at to decide what type of business strategy needs to be employed for that client?
For me, it’s all about the customer and the business model. Does the label have a clear view on who their customer is and have they got the right product that matches the intended customer? Secondly, is the business model sustainable?
You’ve worked with a range of fashion companies. What are some of the key factors you always employ while working on a business strategy for any label, no matter what the intended consumer is?
I like to spend as much time taking the brief from the key stakeholders as I can. A clear and relevant brief is always the right place to start. From there, it’s all about agreeing who the target customer is and then [asking], ‘What does the competitive landscape look like?’
At VAMFF this year, you’re going to be discussing the issue of ‘planning with a purpose’: why is it important to have a clear purpose when you’re building a brand/business?
I think of strategy and planning as a compass. No matter how hard the winds blow, strategy will always ensure you’re never off course. It helps keeps everyone in the business focused on the end game.
You were instrumental in securing deals with major international labels during your time at David Jones. What were the most important aspects of networking/rapport building you learnt during those negotiations?
Listening [and] understanding what’s important to the other party. I have learnt more from keeping my mouth shut than when I open it.
What was the hardest aspect of taking the leap from employee to going out on your own with David Bush Consulting?
Not having a team around you for support. The team I worked with at DJ’s were the best. In addition, it was about self-confidence and keeping myself motivated. I was blessed to almost immediately start working with people like Jodhi Meares and Camilla Franks who have been an amazing support to my business.
Although labels like Ellery are raising the profile of Australian fashion internationally, Australia remains a relatively ‘niche’ market on the world stage. What do you think Australian labels can do to reach a more international clientele?
Sadly, there is no perfect formula for success in our universe. However, I find myself saying the same words over and over to young designers: authenticity, design integrity, quality, value. Create a community and understand your profit and loss. These should pass your lips daily.
What’s the biggest lesson you learnt about fashion business strategy in your 20 years at David Jones?
Ignore the customer at your own peril.
Why do you think it’s important to share your advice and lessons at something like the VAMFF industry forum?
I have been blessed to work with and for some amazing individuals and learnt so much from listening to them speak about their own journeys. What I learnt from them has certainly assisted during my career. I hope that I can impart some experience that will assist others in the same way.