Can entrepreneurs find inspiration from fashion? Paul Smith’s top tips for success

Global fashion icon Sir Paul Smith revealed his top tips for success and where he finds inspiration to a packed audience at the University of Nottingham this week.

Born and raised less than a mile away in nearby Beeston, the Paul Smith brand reaches 75 countries and includes the most ‘instagrammed’ shop in the world – a huge purple edifice in LA.

But his story is not one just about fashion, he had clear messages for all of us who work in entrepreneurial or creative settings, especially in PR and marketing.



Sir Paul’s top tips:

  1. Learn to walk like an Egyptian…Sir Paul gracefully posed with one hand out and another reaching behind…strive for the work you love but take the work which will pay the bills.. his first shop in Nottingham was only opened Friday and Saturday. The rest of the week he worked with his dad, taking photographs.
  2. Quality: “Whatever you do, do it carefully, with quality” and “do things that are right, not which are easy”  He spoke about taking time to protect your personal brand and reputation.
  3. Sir Paul spoke about surrounding himself with inspiring things, art, books, but the everyday as well – such as the way stalls are set out by barrow boys in Notting Hill. Have an inquisitive mind and endless curiosity – it is infectious and rewarding.
  4. Dealing with slings and arrows. He was asked about how he had dealt with set backs and criticism. “Have broad shoulders. Be relaxed in yourself. Find something that relaxes you – a lot of people find relaxation in another activity like sport.”
  5. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses. Sir Paul pointed to the front row and said – here is my MD, my finance director and my head of marketing – I can’t do what they do! Surround yourself with people better than yourself.
  6. “Effort comes for free” – you can be creative, you can obtain your goals but it is not effortless, no matter how it appears to the outside world: you need to back it by hard work.

What Sir Paul didn’t say, which was most impressive, was the fact that he has lost none of the common touch.

He came from humble beginnings in my home town of Beeston. He can look back on a body of work which is iconic and genius, he is a Knight of the Realm and is sought out by the great and the good throughout the world.

And yet he is approachable, likeable and honest.

His name is above the shop and on the labels. He truly lives his brand. And that is a sign of true quality.

My Paul Smith confession…

One final confession. When I worked in Government I had a fabulous colleague, an ex-BBC man, who complimented me on a particular suit every time I wore it on a trip to London. My stock line was:

“I’m from Nottingham James, I only wear Paul Smith.”

The reality was that particularly suit, and it was a sharp fit and colour, was found at the bottom of a Tesco sale bin and cost precisely £24.

I have never owned a Paul Smith suit. After seeing him speak this week, it will be by next purchase.

  • Sir Paul Smith was the first of a series of lectures being hosted by the University’s Vice Chancellor and it was also streamed to the 12,000 students studying at the University of Nottingham’s campuses in China and Malaysia.
  • Stuart Baird has worked in PR for 25 years  including stints at No10 Downing Street. He set up BakerBaird Communications, a Nottingham based PR and strategic communications consultancy with co-founder Richard Baker in 2015.