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Team Whistles: In Conversation With Our Multifaceted Buyer and Product Developer Bibi Roberts

This International Women’s Day, we are thrilled to turn our focus to one of our own, Bibi Roberts, a valued long-term member of Team Whistles. Join us as we delve into Bibi’s extraordinary journey from sales assistant to an integral part of Whistles’ design and buying team. Throughout our conversation, Bibi offers her insights into creativity, innovation, what she loves most about working across accessories, and the timeless appeal of Whistles’ distinctive designs.

Tell us about your journey into fashion and how you found yourself specialising in buying and designing bags, jewellery, accessories, and footwear for Whistles.

When I was 16, I started working at Whistles as a sales assistant, unsure what to do. I pursued my career and worked up to a supervisory level, where I eventually applied the skills I learnt to a head office role, working on my dream department: non-garments. I was really lucky! Now, I’ve progressed as a buyer and designer here and never moved away from my departments. I’ve taken on additional things, but footwear, bags and accessories are still the core of what I do. There’s so much attention to detail in our products and craftsmanship, which carries over to our accessories and jewellery.

There’s so much attention to detail in our products and craftsmanship, which carries over to our accessories and jewellery.

 

What drew you to Whistles as a brand, and what sets it apart from others in the industry?

It was the quality and longevity of the clothing, as my style leans to the clean and curated look. I buy into pieces that I’ll wear time and time again; I like a simple capsule wardrobe that allows for mixing styles within it. I still have Whistles clothing from when I started 13 years ago, so that says a lot. Also, I’d have to say the people and culture have kept me at Whistles; I’ve met some of my best friends here, and they’re friends I’ll have for life. I’ve been a bridesmaid at some of their weddings, which is incredible. I have the most inspirational team around me, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

You now also work across coats, leather, and shearling and seek out exciting brands with which Whistles can collaborate with. Could you elaborate on the evolution of your role and how it has progressed over time?

Whistles are great at allowing you to explore different opportunities. They also seek out people and give them chances to engage in various projects. For example, when the opportunity arose to work across leather and shearling, it felt like a natural progression for me. I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between these areas and accessories, particularly in attention to detail and the product components. Coats, in particular, require much more craftsmanship and effort than you might initially think. I’ve loved immersing myself in this new area and learning more about the fabrics, especially leather.

Whistles are great at allowing you to explore different opportunities. They also seek out people and give them chances to engage in various projects.

 

What does a typical day look like for you as a buyer and designer at Whistles?

I wouldn’t say there is a typical day. The role of a buyer and a designer is so diverse, which is why I love it so much. There’s not a day or week that’s ever the same. There’s not a day or week that’s ever the same, and I get to collaborate with all teams across the business. If I had to say one thing that remains the core of my job, that’s product. Ensuring we’re delivering contemporary but considered styles that will last. I’m always thinking about that in everything I do.

I’ve always been quite a creative person, but I’m also analytical and business-focused. I never really knew they could blend and meet. So, I got very lucky when moving into buying and design, as I got to combine both. I can be creative and think about design, but I’m always thinking about the consumer, too, and what we can do better.

The role of a buyer and a designer is so diverse, which is why I love it so much. There’s not a day or week that’s ever the same.

 

That leads perfectly to the next question. How do you balance fostering creativity and addressing your role’s commercial and practical demands?

We’re always excited about new trends and street style. Our culture thrives on creativity, irrespective of your department. I love it when people from different departments come to me with ideas or things they’ve seen, and I really encourage that. However, we also love our handwriting and design ethos, and we’ve honed in on that over the years. It’s something our customers come to us for, and we are identifiable for it. We always place our customers front and centre, delivering innovative new products with our unmistakable style.

Could you walk us through the inspiration behind the Bibi handbag, named after yourself? What elements or features make it stand out as a staple?

When considering the design of the Bibi bag we asked ourselves, “What do we want from a bag we would wear every day? What would make it the ultimate bag?” The result was something versatile, elevated by thoughtful details. We incorporated a wide, adjustable webbing strap and multiple compartments to make it super practical. Then, we sourced this gorgeous grain leather and added our signature branded hardware. From the initial all-black design, we’ve carefully selected the colours for newer updates, and everyone in the office has a favourite. Building upon its success, we’ve also grown the Bibi range; we’ve just launched a new mini suede design with a chain, which we love for day-to-night.

Can you share any challenges you’ve faced during Whistles’s design, buying and development processes? How do you overcome them?

How customer shopping habits have changed over the past few years has definitely been a challenge but in the best way. We’ve loved hearing back from our customers and working with our store teams to understand our strengths and what we could do better. We’re rethinking how people shop, which is exciting because we’re pushing our boundaries and trying new things. Throughout this process, we remain committed to reinforcing the significance of longevity, quality, and sustainability.
 

We’re rethinking how people shop, which is exciting because we’re pushing our boundaries and trying new things.

 

Which is your favourite product that you have worked on and developed at Whistles?

This is so hard! I’ve done so many things I love, and it’s so exciting to see people walking around wearing one of our pieces. I would say I’ve particularly loved working on our branded collaborations. It’s amazing to work with such talented designers to bring a collective vision together. I also love meeting new people in the creative industry and learning about their inspirations and the roots of their own brands.

What advice would you give aspiring buyers and designers looking to enter the industry?

When I started at Whistles, I had no idea I would be a buyer. I’m not sure I’d even heard of the job role before. If you’d told me back then I’d be where I am now, I’d never have believed you. However, when working in a store, I’d focus on what I enjoyed the most and what I was most interested in. I’d go to my manager and work with her to gain exposure and responsibilities in those areas. I think it’s essential to take the opportunities in front of you, even if you’re unsure where they’ll lead.

I’ve pushed myself by stepping beyond my comfort zone and trying things I didn’t think I had experience with. Through these experiences, I’ve discovered my strengths and identified aspects of the job that truly resonate with me.

Lastly, what excites you most about the future of Whistles products and styles? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re particularly excited about?

We’re just finalising our AW24 Collection, and I think it may be our best one yet. The edit looks so contemporary and effortless; it showcases all the fantastic new interest leathers we have sourced across shoes and bags, adding incredible texture and complementing the mainline.

This March, we will be donating 10% of sales from our most-loved Bibi Bag* to The Prince’s Trust all month to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Whistles is proud to partner with The Prince’s Trust for International Women’s Day to support the #ChangeAGirlsLife campaign.

Whistles will donate 10% of all sales from the Bibi Bag* online at Whistles.com and in all UK standalone stores between 12am on the 1st March 2024 GMT and 11.59pm on the 31st March 2024.

The funds raised will enable The Prince’s Trust to support more young women to overcome challenges they are facing and change their lives for the better.

Find out how The Prince’s Trust uses donated funds and more about their work by visiting princes-trust.org.uk

#ChangeAGirlsLife #WomenSupportingWomen

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