Ruth Chapman is the founder of London-based retail monolith MatchesFashion.com, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year (festivities are kicking off this week). As co-chairman (with her husband Tom), Chapman receives some 140 emails a day, makes up to 20 phone calls, and oversees more than 400 employees. Here’s how she gets it done.
On a day in the life:
It’s always hectic here. Today I had my personal trainer at the crack of dawn, then I was out meeting a jewelry designer for coffee, and then I came into the office and I did some performance reviews, I had a creative meeting with our buying director around the exclusives we’re driving out for next season, I talked to our HR heads about strategy and what we do to make life more exciting for our employees, who at the end of the day have to be treated like customers and well looked after. My husband and I Uber to work most days, I try to go on the Tube if I can but I don’t like to do it at rush hour, it’s not pleasant. The drive takes nearly an hour so we use it to catch up on emails.
On my way in I often go to Colbert which is a restaurant in Sloane Square where I have a meeting, some porridge and coffee, and arrive at the office maybe around eleven. If I have a meeting here, I’ll be in at nine.
This evening we have our monthly drinks in the building, last night we were out at dinner with friends in London, so we have long days and they’re fun and they’re filled with both exciting creative moments and then some more professional moments. It’s very much, how does the team work together?
On leaving work:
Every day is different, but it’s usually around seven-ish. Today I’m going to leave a bit earlier because I’m going to see my daughter. There’s a lot of flexibility.
On her office:
We have the most incredible views of London because we’re on three floors of the Shard. My office has two huge glass walls, and Tom has very good taste in mid-century modern furniture so I have these beautiful velvet chairs around my meeting table. It’s quite zen. We have a clear-desk policy through the building which I’m probably the worst at, but we try to keep every surface clear. At this moment on my desk there’s my Smythson thank-you notes and magazines and books people have sent me and Pippa has very kindly put the itinerary for my trip to L.A. on here as well.
On staying organized:
Pippa, who assists us, is the reason we stay organized. I don’t think I could stay organized without her. She’s completely brilliant and a real problem solver. I would be probably a quarter as productive if she wasn’t here. I also have somebody helping me at home, a domestic assistant, a P.A., so I’m covered. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do anything.
On the importance of eating well:
Breakfast is one of my favorite things, it’s a time before the days starts that feels a bit like a meditation. I still like to read my print newspaper as well as digital. I’ll be reading the Guardian online, The Financial Times, the New York Times … Then I like to eat some sourdough bread, some coffee; a piece of fruit. Often if my 18-year-old is home we’ll have breakfast together. I don’t drink tea, actually I have a coffee or maybe two in morning then switch to peppermint or chamomile or green tea, something just a bit calmer. I’ll be too wired otherwise.
I usually eat lunch at the desk or in a meeting, we’ve got a brilliant chain in London called Leon; it’s organic and they’ve got good healthy options so we generally have something from there.
On taking the show on the road:
I travel quite often although less so now as we have a really strong buying team. But I tend to travel for all show markets, I love to come to New York, it’s a big favorite, so I try to come before Christmas for the pre-collection market if I can get it in. It’s more for my own curiosity than anything else. I pack far too much, but I always manage to forget something. The weather can change, your day can change, so I just like to have all bases covered. For New York if I’m there for a week I’ll take two suitcases — one with clothes, and one with shoes, cosmetics, chargers, things friends have asked for. I’m going to L.A. tomorrow and I’ve been asked to bring some marmalade, so I have a whole stash of marmalade to take out there. In case something leaks, I put everything in plastic bags as well.
I really like to have a phone conversation, I find it so much easier, and then I’ll send a follow-up, rather than emailing from the start. I think things get lost in translation. I make about 10, sometimes 20 phone calls of varying significance. I do get anything between 100 and 140 emails a day, but a lot will be delete, delete, delete. You find yourself getting things from all kinds of curious places you don’t need.
On her favorite thing about the job:
Definitely the people we work with. Tom and I have this strategy that we try to have people who are way smarter than us, so that makes it very interesting and fun. You’re always working with people who can think outside the box and think creatively and it’s the biggest pleasure.
On managing stress:
I think most people who know me consider me quite calm. I do get anxious sometimes about little things or I can feel it just building up and that’s not good. I rely on weekends, exercise, and sleep is key. I try and make sure I get a good seven hours a night. That will make a big difference. I love yoga, and I try to do it on Friday morning. I’m not very consistent but I’d like to work harder at it. If I find a situation stressful I’ll try to reflect on why. I also really believe in that energetic power of going into something with kindness and positivity.
On keeping energy up:
I work with a really great nutritionist called Eve Kalinik who has gotten me on a reasonable protocol, which helps immensely. I don’t have a lot of dairy, I don’t have a lot of gluten, I don’t have a lot of sugar, and then she has me taking supplements each day to maintain energy and de-stress.
On her fashion uniform:
It’s different every day, but I tend to wear a lot of trousers and shirts and knitwear; it depends on my mood. As gets warmer I’ll wear a few more dresses. It depends on the morning and how I’m feeling. It’s really about being smart, elegant, and comfortable. Today I have on Martin Margiela silk pants, Nicholas Kirkwood boots that have the pearls underneath, an old Missoni knit on top, and a Blazé blazer.
On what’s in her bag:
I’m carrying a black Margiela bag, it’s the one … it’s quite big and businesslike but very cool. It’s got a separate compartment inside. And my purse is in it and my sunglasses and glasses some lipstick, my expenses. The sunglasses are Oliver Peoples for The Row sunglasses and The Row spectacles as well.
On the one thing she’d change about her work life:
I wouldn’t mind a little more time to travel. Tom and I have three children together, and one is in L.A. and one is in South Carolina and what would be brilliant would be to have a little more time to spend with them. But I think that’s coming, it’s just about carving out that time.
On how her work habits have changed since starting the company:
It’s a different world now. When we started it was just the two of us so we did everything, from the hiring, to the finance, to the store, to the sales, to the display, to the buying, to restocking the fridges with wine and coffee, to keeping the data on customers. And now because we are co-chairmen we have a lot of people who are doing that. We now have a more overarching vision of the business and are more there to mentor the team and guide, but everybody’s empowered to do their roles. I work probably the same amount [as I did then] but it’s much more thoughtful and considered and easy. Back then, doing everything yourself, you’re running around constantly. I don’t feel I run around now. I glide.
On how she unwinds:
I love to read when I can, which is more on holiday. I’ve got books piled up to hopefully start this week. The last books I’ve really enjoyed are by Junot Díaz. I also quite enjoy cooking — I like to make a roast chicken — but Tom is a better cook. Sometimes we’ll sit in the garden as the weather gets nicer, or invite friends round. We’ll have dinner, a glass of wine; we might watch television. I’m not that great on TV, Tom really enjoys it, it’s a good switch off for him. I like a good movie or box sets of things, like an episode of House of Cards, or we watched Taboo with Tom Hardy. Last night I tried to watch the old Cary Grant To Kill a Mockingbird with my 18-year-old but she got bored, I think that generation expects everything in vibrant color. We have two dogs at home as well, a Labrador and a Jack Russell. The little one is much older, and the big one’s young and very silly and quite immature. Our children are crazy about them; they get so much attention, these dogs.
I have the best of intentions so I’ll start thinking about going to bed around ten, but often I end up going to bed at 11:30 — sometimes later.
On how she’s celebrating 30 years:
We are doing a residency in New York with three days of events. Our press day is first, followed by dinners and customer events every single day — designer consultations and designers like Gabriela Hearst, and Joseph Altuzarra in conversation [with Julie Gilhart and Garance Doré, respectively]. We tend to work on a serendipitous basis — Joseph is a friend, now Gabriela [Hearst] is a friend, it comes really down to serendipity and chemistry … Gabriela Hearst will be talking about the sustainable part of her brand; because she grew up on a farm, and she’s really keen to make sure that we’re sustaining and maintaining those artisanal industries. We’re not about looking back, more about celebrating what the future looks like. That is why our hashtag is #30yearsandcounting.
What does the future look like?
It’s all about finding innovative ways of connecting with the customer. We’re very big believers in the concept of brick and mortar in addition to e-commerce, even though it’s a tiny part of our revenue. We’re interested in what we offer to the customer coming into our stores — it’s not about inventory, but an experience. You have time to meet someone highly educated about the product, and seeing and touching and feeling new and exciting ideas. Also online, bringing more innovative ideas and ways to inspire, and making our shipping faster. We’ve introduced 90-minute delivery in London. We love to hear criticism and we always take it on board and use it to make the experience a better one.