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The accountant looking for a DEI fashion fix

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Mar 2024

Chartered accountant Jamie Gill has devised a programme to help professionals of colour from outside the fashion industry break into leadership roles in the sector.

By his own admission, Jamie Gill has always been intrigued by the fashion industry. But growing up in a working-class family with Indian parents, in a former mining town in the Midlands, he admits that the glitz and glamour of the Gucci campaign lifestyle he aspired to was a million miles away from his reality.

Despite those secret ambitions to study fashion, Gill decided instead to express his creative side via a degree in architecture, something that he felt would be more acceptable to his parents. But, he says: “I graduated in the thick of the recession and really struggled, going from one small architecture practice to another. I just couldn’t make a career out of it and didn’t earn any money.” 

One of Gill’s friends was on a training contract at Deloitte, studying for the ACA, and suggested Jamie might want to follow suit. The creative nature of his architecture background was embraced by the firm, he says, and also highlighted to Gill how experience of other sectors could make him a more rounded accountant.

“Throughout my four and a half years at Deloitte, working across a client portfolio of luxury goods and real estate, I saw the benefit of being trained as an architect in a financial services firm and I was able to use my creativity in a professional services environment.” 

At the same time, the growing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the firm – and across the Big Four generally – struck a chord. As a gay man, Gill says the exposure to role models from diverse backgrounds was a huge factor in his decision to come out. 

“When I saw partners who were gay and they were leading divisions, that gave me the courage to come out. I didn’t do it through my architecture degree. I didn’t do it through school. But as soon as I was at Deloitte, I felt that I could really be myself. I will always be grateful for that journey.”

Gill’s passion for fashion undiminished, he left Deloitte age 25 and headed to India to turn his dream of running a fashion business into reality, an experience he describes as his real-life MBA.

On returning to London, Gill worked at a venture capital fund investing in fashion and luxury brands, quickly rising up the ranks to investment director. It led to Gill becoming CEO of luxury womenswear brand Roksanda in March 2018, a position he held for more than four years. 

“It was the accounting and financial skill set that enabled me to look at the business and say, let’s get this into profitability, let’s scale this and raise our brand awareness. Coming from an alternate industry, it’s easier to challenge the status quo.”

In September 2020, Gill became a non-executive director of the British Fashion Council, the body that promotes British fashion designers around the world and the organisation behind London Fashion Week. His remit included a focus on the lack of diversity across the fashion industry. “We could see the world struggle with Black Lives Matter but nobody knew what to do. Nothing was moving.”

His passion for DEI, combined with first-hand view of the benefits of other-industry experience, has spawned Gill’s current brainchild – a not-for-profit incubator to increase representation of people of colour in the luxury fashion sector. “We’re struggling with representation in the fashion industry and we’re also really struggling with succession planning and talent. So I set up an organisation that addresses the two.”

The Outsiders Perspective sources diverse candidates looking to get a Jimmy Choo-clad foot (other brands are available) in the fashion door. “There’s great talent out there from alternative industries that just isn’t visible because they’re getting vetoed for not having the industry experience,” Gill says. 

Sponsored by fashion brands, The Outsiders Perspective helps candidates to identify and develop transferable skills, and gives them access to industry mentors and industry insight to increase their chances of career success – while also trying to move the dial on DEI across the sector.

“Effectively, you get a crash course in working in fashion and pivoting your skills from the business vertical that you’re already in. We’ll go through the nuances of what’s going on in the industry, the skills you need to transfer to a finance role in fashion. But we want to increase the visibility of highly skilled talent from underrepresented communities.” 

In January this year, The Outsiders Perspective together with the (Fashion) Minority Report and the British Fashion Council, with the support of McKinsey & Company, published The UK Fashion DEI Report. It highlights the huge gulf between the diversity of catwalks, campaigns and consumers and that of the workforce and decision-makers.

“DEI is often seen as a social-impact imperative and rarely seen as an imperative for economic success, yet data proves that those businesses who do embrace it, thrive,” the report says. McKinsey research found that businesses with diverse leadership teams are 39% more likely to financially outperform than those that don’t.

Unfortunately, the industry has been plagued with a lack of clarity on what the leadership trajectory looks like, Gill says. “It’s not clear how you become CEO of a fashion brand. Historically, the industry has been very insular. Edward Enninful [when] at British Vogue really changed the narrative, but we need to be running this forward. At The Outsiders Perspective we lay out a strategy for industry on how to do it.” 

Now working with its fourth cohort of fashion industry hopefuls, the organisation has partnered with around 20 household-name fashion brands including Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Chanel, as well as the British Fashion Council. The programme culminates in a speed-networking event where candidates meet fashion industry leaders and compete for active roles. 

Gill says he’d love to receive applications from accountants who want to work in fashion, and that this would also meet his objective of professionalising the industry: “The fashion industry contributes significantly to GDP but, because it’s creative, it’s seen as soft, fluffy. It’s also true that there’s a high failure rate across the fashion sector because designers don’t necessarily have the business skill sets.

“We need the rigour that accountants bring to stress-test the numbers and perform due diligence to enable the creatives to thrive.”

Planning to make the next step in your chartered accountancy career? ICAEW Jobs can help you find your dream job. You can find out more about the latest job opportunities and careers advice on the ICAEW Jobs website today.

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