Tatum Thirgood is one of the Cotton On Group’s longest-standing team members. From her beginnings in one of the first stores in Australia to visual merchandising across the USA, Tatum has seen the business grow from humble beginnings to more than 1,500 stores in 19 countries.
Her journey with the Cotton On Group first began in Chapel Street, Melbourne 17 years ago. Tatum was hoping to get a foot in the door with a fashion retailer while she figured out exactly where her passion lay in the industry. In true Cotton On Group style, she began work only two days after handing in her resume.
“It was small enough back in those days that we would see Nige (Cotton On Group Founder, Owner and Managing Director), Marsh (Group Executive) and Ash (Owner and Director) almost every week. Nige’s favourite trick was to pull fixtures out of your store to make sure the team was paying attention to what was going on.”
It was Tatum’s attention to detail that saw her career flourish with the Group, starting out as a casual before quickly moving through the ranks to a full time role and eventually onto Store Manager.
She thrived in the fast-paced environment of sales but it wasn’t long before her love for visual merchandising (VM) was discovered. The Group had spotted a talent they could nurture.
“I was asked if I could continue to run the store while also providing visual support to the flagships a few days a week. Before I knew it, it became a full time job,” she said.
The new role was a change of pace from working on the floor. Tatum began jet setting around the country supporting VM teams and thriving in the creative environment.
Tatum worked in the field as a visual merchandiser for 18 months before joining the Group’s head office in North Geelong. With this move came a world of new opportunities, and her passport quickly began accumulating stamps from Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand, as she handled the VM of stores internationally.
At around this time, the business was amid plans to expand into the United States and Tatum was hungry for the opportunity to create the new region’s visual merchandising strategy.
“The prospect of relocating to the U.S. was incredibly exciting and when my manager approached me about moving there for one to two years I was over the moon. I tried to play it cool, but all I was thinking was ‘when can I pack my bags?’.”
Shortly after, a specialist team from the Group’s headquarters, Tatum included, relocated to the U.S. to establish the business ahead of the country launch in 2009. This ranged from securing retail space and fitting out the store to training and developing retail and VM teams.
“When the builders didn’t know exactly what colour the wood needed to be, we were the people giving them direction. If there was an issue with product levels, we were the ones chasing it up from the distribution centre. When we needed approval for a permit to open the store, we were at City Hall in Los Angeles sorting it out.”
It’s this hands-on approach that has helped the Group’s global team of more than 20,000 team members retain its family business roots.
“The Group is unique because it has become such a large business but kept its family mentality. You’re a human being here, not just employee number 1,859,” says Tatum.
What was supposed to be a two year placement in the U.S. turned into six, until Tatum decided earlier this year to return to home soil and apply her insights from abroad to the role of VM Specialist for Australia.
Tatum describes her decision to move as both tough and easy; she misses her USA team and the endless summer of California, but enjoys her role’s new challenges and the fact she’s returned to Australia’s chicken parmigiana dish. In the end, the passion she has for her career with the retailer made the decision a no-brainer.
“We are so lucky to work somewhere that has endless opportunities because of continuous growth. From movement to other brands, departments or even countries, the sky is the limit.”