Richard Wilson was a fresh-faced 15-year-old when he started at Sparrows on East Street and 40 years on he’s still loving the job of selling clothes.
The former Ashburton College student was keen to get into the workforce and after a short stint in his uncle’s garage, saw an opportunity to get into clothing retail.
“Euan Sparrow came into the garage one day and we agreed I’d come along for a chat with him, his dad Cip and wife Christine.
“It was a semi-formal interview and went well. I made them laugh and got the job.”
Richard learned the fashion trade from the ground up and from veteran “gentlemen” like Cip Sparrow and others.
He dusted and cleaned the shop and brushed the hats on display for his first three months before being allowed to serve customers.
“In those early days half the shop was shoes, and the rest was menswear.
“It was only later that we brought in women’s wear into the store.”
Forty years ago there were 12 staff in the shop and today there are three, including Richard.
“It was a bit of a different world back them.
“A shirt and tie was compulsory for sales staff and it was very much a case of sir and madam.”
Fashion had not changed hugely over the years, Richard said.
“There’s still tweed jackets, knitted ties and check shirts today.
“The jackets might be more fitted and fabrics more technical, but things haven’t changed as much as many people think.”
Richard said late night Fridays had been very busy at Sparrows back in the day and had been replaced over the years with weekend opening.
Something else that has changed over the years is increased competition on the high street and online shopping.
“We used to hire around 100 suits for the annual Ashburton College ball, but in recent years, and with suits more affordable, we typically sell 50 and hire 20 today.”
Sparrows set up an online platform during covid and is now selling clothes through its website.
Another change has seen Sparrows develop into a “house of brands” and move away from a buying group approach.
RM Williams and Icebreaker are two popular brands available and soon Mons Royale will be stocked.
Richard said fashion retail was a fantastic trade to get into if you had a passion for clothes and people.
He had plenty of fond memories over the years and had also dealt with shoplifters, problem customers and staff, the odd embarrassing incident and had even promoted clothes through local fashion shows that had also acted as fundraisers.
“I still love the job and I’m still working from the ground floor up.
“It’s been a real pleasure for me to deal with loyal customers and sales reps and building relationships and friendships over so many years.”
-By Mick Jensen