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My Orange phone lost its number … and four sim cards

Category : Business

All EE will say is an ‘isolated technical error’ is to blame

I bought a mobile phone for emergency use only from Orange, now EE, in 2011 and retained my old phone number. In January this year a message claimed the sim card was invalid. A new one was fitted, but the same problem occurred. I was told the phone was faulty and bought a new handset. Within days messages warned the sim card was invalid and simultaneously showed my credit as being £62.50 and 40p. Again the problem was fixed and again it recurred. Then, when my wife called my phone, it was answered by a stranger who said the number had been allocated to her when she bought a phone in February. After numerous complaints we were promised that I would be given a new number and my credit would be restored but two weeks on we are still waiting, I’ve received a call for the stranger and my credit is now 1p. JS, Ashreigny, Devon

EE blames an “isolated technical error” which left you “without service”. Quite how this allocated your number and, presumably, your credit to someone else, as well as invalidating four sim cards, it can’t explain. Nor does it clarify why it took media intervention to rescue you but it’s decided to give you £250 for the inconvenience.

If you need help email Anna Tims at or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number.

Kim Winser: ‘My clothes, and my business, are made to last’

Category : Business

After success at M&S, Pringle and Aquascutum, Kim Winser is about to sell fashion under her own name at last

She is probably one of the most influential women in fashion retailing that you have never heard of. And unlike some industry types, wrapped up in the crazy world of champagne-swilling, shoulder-rubbing and back-slapping, Kim Winser seems to prefer it that way.

The 53-year-old former commercial director of Marks & Spencer, boss of Aquascutum and chairman of Agent Provocateur, is almost nervous about putting her name to her new clothing business, despite her deep conviction that Winser London will be a worldwide brand in just a few years.

“To use my name is such a big decision, but it’s such a good name, or so people tell me,” Winser laughs. “It has a nice twist in that it doesn’t have the same spelling as our lovely royal family.”

That would be the royal family that presented her with an OBE in 2006 for services to the fashion industry, where she has worked since 1977, after joining Marks & Spencer’s management trainee scheme.

She raced up the corporate ladder to become Marks’s first female – and youngest ever – commercial director, moving on to become menswear executive and then attaining the holy grail of retail – director of womenswear.

However smooth it looked, she says, it certainly wasn’t straightforward to get into what had been a male-dominated part of the fashion industry – the commercial, or merchandising side.

“I was rejected two or three times because they said, ‘But you’re not male.’ I said, ‘I had noticed, but I want to be in the commercial side of the business’, only to be told ‘no female goes into that’.

“I wanted it because I thought I’d be good at it, rather than because I would be the first woman to do it. So, it was never about breaking rules or getting badges, it was because I knew that that would be where I would flourish.”

The straight-talking and sometimes self-deprecating businesswoman is keen to point out that she doesn’t know it all. Her secret to success, she says, is surrounding herself with people who are the very best in their area of expertise.

“I think the best thing is to recruit people who are better than you, then you’ve got experts in every field in your team.

“Unfortunately, I see sometimes that CEOs and chairmen whom I don’t admire want to recruit people who are weaker than them because they are a bit frightened about people being too good, and are unable to admit they might have some weaknesses – which is bizarre because we can’t all be perfect at everything.”

She adds: “There are still a lot of companies that are stuck in a period where everything is very bureaucratic, which is a great shame because the young talent kicking around in the business don’t get their say.”

And this philosophy is at the heart of her latest business, an online-only venture selling high-quality women’s clothing at affordable prices, where she is employing 25 people ranging from senior and experienced retailers to rookie fashion graduates.

She believes now is the perfect time to launch an internet business focusing on quality, because the price competition elsewhere in the industry has become so intense that shoppers are no longer surprised if their cherished garments start to fall apart not long after arriving in their wardrobes.

“We’re in the Primark generation, where people want three items for the price of one. It’s shocking how much the quality of clothing has deteriorated since I was at Marks and Spencer.

“But I think we’re coming full circle, to a point where women want to buy one really nice piece instead of three. I think there’s something really distasteful about buying clothes you know you’re going to throw away within a year.”

Winser hopes to use her vast contacts book to connect directly with manufacturers around the world.

“Look at this,” she says, pointing to the knitted sweater she’s wearing in her hotel suite in the heart of Mayfair. “If you find something similar around here for under £500 you’ll be doing well. On my website, it’s just £200.”

So certain is she about the website’s success that discussions about worldwide expansion in around three years’ time are already under way with her Middle Eastern backers – whose identity she declines to reveal.

And Winser has good reason to feel confident: after all, she managed to turn Pringle of Scotland from what she calls, “a discounted men’s golf clothes business”, into a successful fashion house attracting customers including David Beckham, Robbie Williams, Guy Richie and Madonna.

Then, in 2006, she became boss of Aquascutum, again turning the business around and attempting a management buyout, before quitting when it became apparent the Japanese owners intended to split up the company and sell it.

It sounds as though that experience still rankles. “I didn’t have a back-up plan at that point because I was totally and utterly dedicated to Aquascutum.”

However, within days of her departure being announced, online retailer Net-a-Porter signed her as an adviser, and private equity firm 3i requested her services.

While working advising family investment funds stretching from Brazil to the Middle East, she set about searching for a retail brand to snap up and call her own. But it soon became apparent that businesses were either overburdened with debt, stuck with landlords unwilling to lower their rent, or treating their online business like an unwanted appendage. “I then decided to approach my investors with the idea for, which they agreed to fund.”

Insisting that this is a long-term project, she says: “I would have gone with private equity if I wanted to build and sell something within three years, not caring if it went under; I want to build something that lasts.”

But while she hopes her own brand will last for generations, she fears for the future of other fashion retailers operating in today’s tough environment.

The downturn has already swallowed up the likes of Peacocks, La Senza and her former company, Aquascutum, in the past 12 months. All have fallen into administration, although the latter was later saved.

She says: “I think business was easier up until the past five years. You could have really good people and you could have average people, but because there was so much money out there, lots of companies that should have been in more difficulty weren’t.

“I think what’s happening now is you have to be better than average, and those who aren’t are struggling and falling into administration. You can’t be just average any more. That, in a way, is quite exciting because it’s making people work harder, and I think there are going to be some brands that develop well.”

So if everything is harder, why try launching a company now? “I remember Warren Buffett said, ‘I quite often do what people don’t expect me to do, so I buy when everybody else is selling and sell when everyone else is buying’.”

As soon as Winser starts quoting the legendary US investor she stops herself. “Don’t put me down as quoting Warren Buffett. I don’t want to be seen as comparing myself to him, because I’m not, but I do share his sentiment.”

With the same self-deprecating charm, she asks as she finishes posing for the Observer’s photographer: “Would you rather not use pictures of Yasmin Le

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