SE­CRET SALES fash­ion­istas don’t want you to know about

Jimmy Choos for £60. Mul­berry bag for £100. And Joseph cardies for £40. Get your el­bows sharp­ened for...

Scottish Daily Mail - - Inspire - by Gemma Champ

ThE year is 2002 and i, as a wide-eyed 25year-old writer from the Mid­lands, am fight­ing and con­tort­ing my way into a crowd of sharp-el­bowed Lon­don fash­ion in­sid­ers.

it’s in­tim­i­dat­ing, un­com­fort­able and over­pow­er­ingly per­fumed, but will be worth ev­ery bruise be­cause, in this small room, lies treasure.

You see, this is the Mul­berry sam­ple sale, and i, fresh to the world of glossy mag­a­zines, am hell­bent on buy­ing a large Scotch­grain holdall, cov­eted by my mother, for a fifth of its usual price. That’s still half my rent — £100 for the £500 bag — but pic­tur­ing Mum’s face light­ing up on Christ­mas Day de­liv­ers a shot of oxy­tocin to my brain and an in­stant ad­dic­tion to sam­ple sales.

in those days, ac­cess to such bar­gain de­signer goods was jeal­ously guarded — in­vi­ta­tions came straight from fash­ion brands and PRs to se­lected jour­nal­ists, stylists and ‘friends’.

The bun­fights were ruth­less, but the re­wards great: an Anya hind­march bag for £70 not £700. Gina shoes for £150 in­stead of £500. Joseph cash­mere cardi­gans for £40. A Diane von Fursten­berg dress for £10, just be­fore clos­ing time. it was how most fash­ion jour­nal­ists af­forded the prod­ucts we wrote about.

Nearly 20 years later, things couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Be­cause, last week­end, Jimmy Choo held its first sam­ple sale in Birmingham, sell­ing shoes and bags at 80 per cent off, with prices start­ing at £60.

To go, all you had to do was sign up for an alert from one of the apps or web­sites keep­ing fash­ion lovers in­formed of sam­ple sales, such as Chicmi or Show­case.

YOu couldn’t get much less ‘fash­ion type’ than tech en­tre­pre­neur Jamie Brown, who runs Chicmi. The site launched as a place to find fash­ion events and news, but what’s re­ally taken off is the ser­vice no­ti­fy­ing mem­bers of sam­ple sales.

Thanks to changes in how fash­ion sea­sons work, now any­one can ac­cess the bar­gains.

‘We got into sam­ple sales al­most by ac­ci­dent,’ he says. ‘We just saw peo­ple get so emo­tional and pas­sion­ate about them. We’ve got a big set of de­voted shop­pers, who post on the app about what’s in each sale, how good it is, price lists. it’s not about ex­clu­siv­ity any more, but it’s def­i­nitely a com­mu­nity.’

For the old-school fash­ion crowd, ex­clu­siv­ity was the point about de­signer sales, and many are seething that every­one now gets a look-in. But how clothes are man­u­fac­tured and dis­trib­uted has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion.

Once, sales were a way to get rid of old cat­walk pieces and press sam­ples. Now, fast fash­ion and in­ter­net shop­ping mean clothes are pro­duced year-round in huge quan­ti­ties. And, since fash­ion com­pa­nies have been rightly con­demned for send­ing ex­cesses to land­fill or burn­ing them, sam­ple sales are seen as the best way to clear stock.

‘Now, fash­ion brands plan for sam­ple sales as part of their busi­ness,’ says Brown.

Kim Winser, founder of Winser Lon­don, does ex­actly that. ‘The prob­lem with sell­ing on­line is that when you’re down to half a dozen pieces in stock, you have to take them off the site, as it’s frus­trat­ing for peo­ple try­ing to or­der them. So this is how we sell them, along­side man­u­fac­tur­ing sam­ples.’

Per­haps, sur­pris­ingly for an up­mar­ket brand worn by ac­tresses Gil­lian An­der­son, Emma Wat­son and model Yas­min Le Bon, her sam­ple sales take place in vil­lage halls in places like Betch­worth in Sur­rey and Whix­ley in York­shire. ‘Peo­ple travel from Cen­tral Lon­don to the sales,’ says Kim. ‘But it’s our way of giv­ing peo­ple around the coun­try the op­por­tu­nity to try our prod­ucts be­fore they dis­ap­pear. They can dis­cover the fab­rics, check the fit and take a risk on some­thing dif­fer­ent with­out hav­ing to spend too much.’

But how big are the dis­counts? Kim says you might find a wool coat for £199, re­duced from £499, or a Gil­lian An­der­son-de­signed cash­mere-blend roll-neck for £79, down from £195.

Mean­while, Chicmi’s com­mu­nity of sale-go­ers glee­fully share best buys on the site. One was thrilled with her £350 Chloe tote (orig­i­nally £1,220); an­other filled bags with Karen Millen tops, skirts and dresses priced be­tween £4 and £8.

Other great buys in­cluded Mul­berry shoes for £75 (nor­mally £300 to £600), Ted Baker shoes for £35 (usu­ally over £100) and Whis­tles dresses for £40.

But be­fore you ask why shop full­price again, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing less pos­i­tive com­ments, too: ‘all the good stuff had gone’; ‘hardly any sizes’; ‘clothes look tired and have de­fects’; ‘staff were rude’.

There can be lim­ited stock, items may have hung around for a sea­son or longer, there may be lower-qual­ity man­u­fac­tur­ing sam­ples and you are un­able to re­turn any­thing — so you are pay­ing a price for a dis­count. Plus, oc­ca­sion­ally, there’s an en­trance fee of £2 or more, so you might pay to shop, but find noth­ing.

ChiCMi’S Brown has some good tips from its mes­sage boards. ‘The more fa­mil­iar you are with a brand, the bet­ter,’ he says. ‘if you can, try on their clothes to work out your size, and browse the web­site first so you have an idea of what you’re look­ing for.

‘Come wear­ing some­thing sen­si­ble, be­cause there may not be a chang­ing room. Sea­soned shop­pers of­ten wear ath­leisure, or even a swim­ming cos­tume, so they can try on in the open.

‘Take both cash and cards. in the first hour, you’ll get the best picks, but the last hour of­ten yields ex­tra dis­counts.’

Reg­u­lar sam­ple-sale-go­ers would add: don’t panic-buy. That Marni dress might be £45, but if it’s cut asym­met­ri­cally so you can’t lift one arm, is it a good buy? (Reader, i bought it.)

While sales hap­pen year-round, it can be a sea­sonal game. Jamie says, with spring and win­ter the best times. ‘Right now, you could eas­ily fill a few days in Lon­don with back-to-back sam­ple sales.’

With Christ­mas com­ing, sav­ings on gifts could jus­tify a fes­tive trip to Lon­don’s sam­ple sales.

if my mum’s Mul­berry holdall is any­thing to go by, it’s worth it: the bag is still in reg­u­lar ser­vice — a good re­turn for a few el­bowed ribs.

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