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Fashion expert wears mentoring hat

Helping hand: Melissa Leach brings business expertise to Bermuda Fashion Festival (Photograph supplied)

Melissa Leach jumped at the chance to lend a hand with this year’s Bermuda Fashion Festival.

The Bermuda resident has worked in the London offices of industry heavyweights, Burberry, Jimmy Choo and the British Fashion Council.

She is using that knowledge to school Christine Jones on “the strategy side of fashion”.

“I was really pleased to see the dedication and the opportunities that are being provided to young designers here,” she said.

“Stylists, fashion editors — it’s great the people that the Bermuda Fashion Festival has attracted as mentors. My background is commercial, so I’m focused on the practical side of developing a collection and how to make that collection a success.”

Ms Jones’s brand, Thirty86, is a line of plus-size womenswear.

“It’s great to be able to pass on my knowledge and expertise to help her understand the industry — not only from a creative aspect but also from a commercial one.

“When I had my first meeting with Christine and she had all of her drawings completed and ready to go. I was really impressed by her enthusiasm and her passion.”

Mrs Leach modelled through her teens and early 20s but was “always more interested in what was going on behind the scenes”.

She gained a business degree from St Mary’s University in Canada and then moved to England to study fashion business at the London College of Fashion.

The pairing landed her a business development role with the British Fashion Council.

“My job was to help the accessories designers — primarily shoe designers — to understand the market and the requirements within the market to develop their businesses,” she explained.

“I would take them to Russia and all different countries to understand what it would take to penetrate each one of those countries commercially.”

She worked independently as sales and marketing director for Georgina Goodman, best known for designing shoes for Alexander McQueen Runway, before taking a job at Burberry for ten years.

“I wore a lot of hats,” she said.

“When I first came on I was brought on to oversee the wholesale of the emerging markets for Prorsum, the runway line. After some restructuring, I was in charge of wholesale in different regions within the Middle East, Europe and Asia.”

Towards the end of her time at the British fashion house she joined a special project to redevelop the strategy for travel retail, the business within airports.

“It was very empowering to be one of the heads of a team that was developing one of the most important strategies at Burberry at that time,” she said.

She was then recruited by the president of Jimmy Choo, Hannah Coleman, for her expertise in design, pricing and visual merchandising.

“In essence, most of my background is very commercial and very strategic, but I do also work with the designers to relay to them the importance of designing a product that is right for the customer,” she said.

She moved here with her Bermudian husband, Nicholas Leach, two years ago.

“Most mentors have been based in New York or Toronto and are only really able to Skype in,” she said. “Being here on the ground is great because [Christine] can contact me whenever.

“For the most part, many designers start in the fashion industry with an incredible amount of passion, which is essential, but very little knowledge of the commercial aspects of creating a brand — which is where many of them fail.

“What I bring to the table is a background on the business side to help them develop their collections not only from a design perspective but also from a commercial and strategic point of view, to enable them to position themselves well and have the best possible chance of success.”