It's hard to believe but it's time for us to visit Düsseldorf again.
Every six months we board a plane at Leeds Bradford airport and fly to Germany to look at the next year's fashion ranges from our best selling collections. The aim is to bring back the cream of what's on show, taking into account our customers' likes and dislikes. This time we'll be looking for Spring and Summer outfits for 2020.
Why Germany? Wouldn't it be easier to go to the London Fashion Week in September or even stay at home and buy everything from our local Harrogate show at the end of July? Well, actually, no it isn't.
By travelling to the home of our customers' and our most popular collections we can view them in their entirety, not just parts of them. Space is cheaper in Germany than London and so the fashion houses can afford to have much larger showrooms to house the complete interpretation of a collection including the full range of styles, colours and accessories.
We also get to meet the whole team - designers, managers and owners - and build relationships with them, making it easier when we need to call the company from England to ask questions and order more stock.
We've learnt over the years that it pays to go early so we arrive before the official show begins and the local German and European buyers turn up. This allows us to look in relative peace and quiet and talk to the fashion houses about their ideas for the coming seasons.
As part of the international buying community we often meet up with buyers from Australia, Canada and the US and compare notes on fashion trends around the world. Interestingly, fashion trends do go viral and progress around the globe as the seasons change! Germany is not always known for its fashion forward design like France, Italy and the UK but this is to our advantage as they take inspiration from last year's avant-garde fashions and turn them into stylish yet eminently wearable clothes which are popular around the world.
Each visit allows us to buy around 80% of our new stock as the majority of our best selling collections are represented there. The remaining 20% is purchased in London and Harrogate later in the year where we can see collections from French, British and some Scandinavian designers. By this stage we also know what we need to fill any gaps and the colours and styles that will work with the clothes we have ordered from Germany.
Our overriding principles when buying new stock are design, fit and quality. We're looking for clothes to suit women who enjoy dressing in stylish clothes but also want outfits that are comfortable and easy to care for. We always buy with our customers in mind; this may sound simplistic but is quite the opposite. Knowing our customers well we understand their tastes and existing wardrobes so can look at a collection and ask ourselves if there is something there that will fit and enhance.
We also take along personal wish lists from our customers. Perhaps someone is looking for a jacket in a particular style and colour; we will look around and try to find one that will suit them and their existing wardrobe. Now that's something the average dress shop on the High Street wouldn't do!
Our own wish list includes new suppliers of outerwear and skirts; the latter are not worn much in Germany and it can be hard to find them among the major fashion house collections (have you ever seen Angela Merkel in a skirt?). This is when we have to rely on the Harrogate show or London Fashion Week to come up with the goods.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to find something we were not even looking for. Last summer we were mooching around the Godske showroom and came across some T-shirts lying innocuously in a corner. No advertising, no information; we had no idea where they came from but we knew we wanted them for our customers. Those of you who came to our styling event in May will recognise the name - Femme! They were so popular that lots of our customers bought two while they were available. Never fear, we will be looking for them again this year - and hoping for other surprises too.