Innovation and enterprise blog

30 September 2020

How the BIPC can help you Reset. Restart

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What does the future of business look like? In normal times many things can be uncertain, but with a pandemic almost everything is - demand might have increased, operations closed, plans paused, or business models changed entirely.

We know that businesses need as much support as possible and we’re here to help. Our newly launched free Reset. Restart programme helps you to understand your business, give you the tools to plan for future success and prepare for change in the short-term. The BIPC is here to help you take the power back and become more resilient, sustainable and agile.

To tie in with the launch of our new programme, we are featuring just a small selection of businesses who have come through the Business & IP Centre’s doors throughout the years and who have successfully adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.

Becky Griffiths is the founder of Mother’s Ruin and a former Innovating for Growth alumna, who’s been running her business in its current format since 2014.

“I manufacture a small range of alcoholic drinks from things that I grow or forage. So, by a year-long process of cold infusion I make fruit liqueurs, sloe gin, damson gin, etc. I also make two distilled gins, for which I grow some of the botanicals. On top of this, I run a small weekend cocktail bar, which showcases the products I make... A bit like a brewery tap room, the building I rent acts as manufacturing unit, bottle shop and bar. I also sell my products wholesale to local delis, bars and direct to the public through my website. There are lots of different strands to the business which I think was my saving grace when COVID-19 came along!

Mothers Ruin Gin Palace building

Due to the pandemic, we had to close the bar, which can be up to 90% of our income in some months. Very quickly I saw that alcohol was considered essential shopping (phew!). So I set up myself as an off-license with a table moved out into our doorway – we opened the day after lockdown. We had a lot of people come and buy direct from us – being an outside activity I think people felt safe.

The established online business went crazy. I offered free delivery to a fairly wide area of East London, which I did on my bike. I also created some new products, a hand sanitiser, two bottled cocktails which had previously been favourites in the bar and a bar in a box, where people could buy gin, tonic, snacks and have it delivered to their door. The new products and the free delivery were both taken up well by customers. And so we stayed connected to our customers and got by pretty well throughout the months of closure.”

Mother's Ruin gin bottle on bed of botanicals

Another business who has continued to flourish throughout the pandemic by capitalising on the benefits of an online offering is I Can Make Shoes. Its founder, Amanda Overs, explains how she’s managed to keep her head, or should it be feet, above water.

Amanda Overs, founder of I Can Make Shoes in her office

“During one of my mentoring sessions with Innovating for Growth delivery partner, Fluxx, they helped me realise the importance of starting an online community, which I went on to do. This community has steadily been growing and when COVID struck (which, in theory, should have put me out of business). I spoke to this community and heard what they wanted, which was online courses. I quickly pivoted my business, filmed and released my online course in two weeks and have since made over £100,000 of online course sales in under six months. It's kept my business open, my staff employed and opened up a whole new revenue stream.”

A woman holding shoes she's made with I Can Make Shoes

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, it was also a good time to reflect on the business. “An opportunity to ask myself if I were to do it all again would I do anything differently? We had to incorporate COVID-19 secure regulations into the re-opening of the bar on Saturday 4 July, but it has also actually enabled me to do things I had wanted to do i.e. Table service, a smaller more sustainable menu, better use of staff resources, a lower impact business with lower overheads – all good.

Plus, I had been quite old school in my approach to the business, never borrowed any money and have no debts. I have always run the business in a way that has felt personally sustainable – and not having to worry about servicing a debt is great.

One thing the Innovating for Growth programme taught me when I thought I was looking to scale-up (as I thought this was the way that businesses inevitably must progress), was a clearer understanding of what I didn’t want. Which is a difficult but extremely useful lesson! Not to be confused with feeling like a failure because you don’t fit with what appears to be the standard of success...”

Another business, who previously used BIPC Norfolk for support on intellectual property, has also used this as a time to reflect and refocus their business. Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project, had onboarded over 20 retailers when they launched to wholesale in September 2019 and she partnered with Not on the High Street and Joules a couple of months later. By January 2020, they were looking to increase this number to 45 after a successful trade show. However, when COVID-19 struck, retailer orders stopped and conversations were put on hold.

Hazel and her husband Jimmy

Hazel explains, “This enabled us to focus our efforts on our online sales, via our own website, as well as Not on the High Street and Joules. We worked on our SEO/CRO, blogs, and used social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness. As a result of this, our sales far surpassed those experienced last Christmas.”

Hazel continues, “The rise in sales can of course be explained by the change in consumer habits in the lockdown period; shoppers were no longer hitting the high street to find gifts for loved ones, they did this from the comfort and safety of their homes instead.”

Much like Becky and Mother’s Ruin, The Wood Life Project were also able to work on their sustainability, “During this period, we spent time preparing for becoming Grown in Britain (GiB) certified, and successfully gained accreditation in June. We also gained our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation in July.”

The Wood Life Project children's plates

Hazel is now looking forward and is currently working on a new range of products to complement their existing product range. These include seasonal children’s products especially for Christmas as well as some products for adults and the hospitality trade. They are also now back in discussions with the large retailers too. Watch this space for The Wood Life Project products in a retailer near you soon!

New products and innovations are continuing to pave the way for businesses to continue trading and move forward. Innovating for Growth alumna, Central Vision Opticians, founded by Bhavin Shah has done just that. Bhavin explains “We’ve had to adapt the business as a result of coronavirus and I believe it has had a positive effect. We were already a multi-award winning practice and I’ve always been looking at ways to innovate and offer more to our patients. As a result, safety now became a very important priority in a way that we’d never considered before. Not just for our patients but for my staff and myself. I re-mapped our entire customer journey from the point of first contact, to when patients entered the premises, how the examination was conducted to trying spectacles. After identifying all of the potential risk points with my staff, we planned and found ways to make everything as safe as possible.

I had been planning to invest in new technology that would allow us to examine our patients’ eyes in more depth, so we could identify problems more quickly and accurately. This technology also had the benefit that we could examine patients without getting as close as before, which meant that it would be safer as well as more thorough.

We also noticed a few common symptoms that patients were experiencing as a result of lockdown and working from home. Many children have become more short-sighted because of reduced outdoor time, excessive screen use and close-up work. We had already been successfully working on innovative programmes to help reduce the rate of this type of deterioration, so we were able to help many children who became short-sighted (myopic). We also noted a surge in patients who were experiencing symptoms of eyestrain as a result of working from home and additional VDU/screen time. We created blog posts and information guides to help alleviate the symptoms from home where possible and invited those with lingering eyestrain to attend the practice for a specialised assessment to solve their problems.

I believe that the crisis has helped to focus the way we help our patients and has increased the value we can offer in keeping their eyes safer and healthier with better vision than ever before.”

For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, there continues to be positivity, “It is hard to know what the future will bring for us. What the crisis has taught me is that the business does have a good resilient core, and that we can only live in the moment and try and respond creatively to changes as they happen. So I ask myself, is everything OK today? This week? And if so, I think that is all I can hope for, and I am grateful! I think being a tiny multi-stranded business makes all this possible.”

If you are looking to Reset. Restart your mind set, business model, market opportunities, customer offer, social and environmental impact, products and services, marketing, finances, funding options or digital productivity, visit our free programme page to find out more and to sign up to our webinars.

17 September 2020

Julie Deane: Living proof that you can start and adapt a business from your kitchen table

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Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.

To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.

Julie Deane sat at her kitchen table

Championing the self-employed cause

Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.

“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”

Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.

Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"

The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."

Classic Satchel in brown

Overcoming limited budgets with creativity

With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.

In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.

The importance of staying true to your roots

Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.

Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.

Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.

“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.

When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."

This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:

  1. Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
  2. We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
  3. I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics. 

The Sophie in red

Guard your intellectual property with your life

One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.

Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.

In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.

“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.

“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”

Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.

The Emily Tote in French Grey

Work with honesty and integrity

The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.

Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."

Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.

The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.

26 May 2020

A week in the life of… Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

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This month's week in the life of follows Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumna, Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro, a London boutique reviving 1920s to 1940s glamour in its vintage-inspired and reproduction outfits and footwear. Her diary takes place during the week everything changed and includes details of what's happened since. Here's Rowena...

You never know what’s coming next when you run a small business. Least of all a global pandemic!

I’ve been asked to write ‘a week in the life’ of a small business owner. The week I shall describe was both life changing and, actually, nothing out of the ordinary. Responding to challenges, overcoming problems, finding a path to a better future is in our entrepreneurial DNA.

Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro
Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro

Tuesday 10 March was one of my favourite kinds of day: I got to be creative, I was at the culmination of a project and we were getting ready for launch, it was exciting. I would be working with a group of talented and highly skilled freelancers. I’ve worked with many of them for years as I value and admire them. As we all know each other, it’s less tense and more fun, the stakes are still high on a photoshoot, we have to get the shots we need but the team knows what’s expected and I know I can rely on them to deliver.

During the first three hours of prep, as hair and make up starts on our models for the day and the photographer, runner and I set up, we fall in to our usual easy rhythm of chat. This time, however, there’s a new hot topic Coronavirus.

This is the week when everything changed, awareness, attitudes, actions. It was before the government announced any lockdown plan it is essentially when Coronavirus changed from something everybody talked about as affecting other people to the realisation that this would change our lives, our businesses, our behaviours, our economy.

That Tuesday we talked about the video that had just been released exposing how bad the situation was inside Italian hospitals. We talked about what had been happening in China. I explained how this was going to affect our supply chain and how this might affect our Autumn/Winter collection and therefore the work that we might be able to collaborate on in six months time. My team were impressed that I had even been interviewed for The Sunday Times and Radio 4 Today programme about this.

Model in Revival Retro outfit

All of our talk was of a distant and remote problem, one that didn’t really seem to affect us directly. I asked the team lots of questions, what do you think? Is this a threat? What are people’s perceptions vs reality? No-one was worried, except me, and mine wasn’t fear it was endless questions with no answers.

As a business owner you need to be working several steps ahead, planning, preparing ready to bend and flex, willing to change which path you take as long as you keep your destination in sight. On that Tuesday the shoot was fun and forward looking. We sanitised our hands, fist bumped rather than hugged and followed the current advice. We were productive and positive about the collection and the campaign launch, everyone thought the garments I had designed and made were fantastic, everyone imagined they would sell really well.

Wednesday was a busy day with a long to do list. Events like photoshoots are all-consuming and you can’t get anything else done. So, my inbox was full, I had breakfast and lunch engagements and there was a trade show that I would need to get to (I was still in normal buying mode). I even had a date planned that evening, a rare prioritising of personal over professional life that I was still managing eight weeks after enacting a new year's resolution.

Our award-winning boutique is ‘not just a shop’ it is the heart of a community, it is a place where you are welcomed, where we connect people, products and passions. As such my bricks and mortar shop is my pride and joy, it’s also a place where I can get very little work done! Being in the shop is fantastic for collaborating with the team, getting feedback from customers, and working on joint projects but it’s the worst place to be when I need to plough through a to do list.

The Revival Retro Boutique shopfront

I’m a perfectionist and an ideas person and I only have to raise my head from my laptop to see something that could be done, to catch a voice through an open doorway to remind me or suggest something to me. Being in the shop, even the back office, just adds to everyone’s to do list! On this day, I had headed to a local co-working space for some solitary and silent work production. There was still lots to do for the upcoming launch. Getting everything prepared to go live in our online shop by the Friday deadline meant I had to help make this happen whilst staff in the shop were busy receiving stock deliveries in the boutique and processing these ready for the shop floor.

I was so engrossed and hammering through the list I almost forgot the trade show and had to rush over Marylebone for the final hours of the show. I ordered fabric samples for the next collection and addressed a difficult situation with a trusted supplier where they had delivered 300 metres of inferior fabric, which had not been returned at point of delivery but already been made in to garments. There’s no clear resolution to this it depends on your relationship and your negotiating skills.

It was on the whole, a pretty good day.... Until everything fell apart! Late in the afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had delivered the Budget and despite the intention to help businesses mitigate any impact of Coronavirus my small business had effectively been excluded from help. The criteria for business rates relief had been based on the open market rent valuation of your premises, not turnover, not the number of staff, not profitability. A measure that was intended to help small businesses was being withheld because of the cost of doing business in London.

I’ve learnt over the years that toddler type tantrums can be helpful and cathartic but should be conducted away from the eyes of all employees, customers and pretty much everyone so the next 24 hours didn’t go as planned. Despite all the deadlines, this was a disruption I didn’t need but it wasn’t just the rates relief, this challenge was representative of many of the problems you encounter as you grow and scale and take bigger risks and manage bigger overheads. However, I find that metaphorically ‘throwing your toys out the pram’ can bring clarity as you mentally knock down everything and start again. When you know what’s important and what is of value it is possible to look more objectively at what you can do without, what you can change and what to focus on.

Thursday Sometimes fresh new ideas occur but mainly I believe that with a business that has been going a certain amount of time, that has a strategy and knows its purpose, that you come out with a sense of resolve and focus.

I had created something I was proud of, that the team believed in, that initial feedback had shown customers wanted. This was the future, my own range of products, our first summer collection, consistency in our range, exclusivity rather than price competition, better margin, we decide delivery to market, we have greater control over a whole range of commercial factors that will benefit our future viability and profitability.

Everything was back on track for the launch of our new collection.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Friday Today I would send out wholesale line sheets, I would prepare for a sell-out private launch party for customers on Sunday, everything needed to be ready to put the whole collection live online for e-commerce sales on Monday. We also needed all the photography from Tuesday’s photoshoot retouched and formatted to create the visuals for web and social media along with product shots for the webshop.

90% of production had been delivered and was being prepped for the shop floor by the team. We were ready. Months of work had brought me to this point. But the news was changing.

Saturday In three days the coverage of Coronavirus had amplified, changed its tone and pace of reporting, the news of what had been affecting other parts of the world now seemed very much closer to home, the threat was real, the evidence credible, the tension palpable.

Whereas the discussion on Tuesday had seemed to place peoples perception of the problem at maybe a three out of 10, Wednesday, plus the budget, had moved it to four, reaction to the help (or lack of it) announced in the budget and new data had raised it to five by Thursday. Now difficult questions were being asked everywhere with obviously no satisfying answers from government or experts making it a seven out of 10, as I shopped for prosecco and cake at the supermarket on Saturday.

My launch party was tomorrow and despite the media frenzy, it looked like everybody was still enthusiastic to come.

Sunday As I journeyed through empty streets to the shop to set up, I passed a newsagent and I saw the headlines. I stood still, I took stock, I saw that everything on this grey March morning was different now. People would be scared, people would stay home, people would not be buying new clothes, people would not be responsive in the way they would have to our lovely photographs, they would be distracted by bigger issues and thinking about protecting their near and dear. It didn’t matter how much work I had done to get to this point.

A couple of hours later the apologies and cancellations started to come through, people couldn’t or wouldn’t make the event. That Sunday seemed like the day where the true extent of the pandemic revealed itself to the UK. As people spent the day at home and consumed the media it seemed to sink in, we began to realise the implications of how this was going to affect us. Questions still didn't have answers yet but we began to plan and prepare mentally. A change happened.

Some people did turn up to that little party, some of our most loyal customers and as I expected, they did love the collection and we did get some sales. More importantly though, between the reasons given for peoples absence and the chat over tea and cake with some of our most enthusiastic supporters I was able to take a measure of how my business might be affected in the coming weeks and months.

Everything and nothing happened on that Sunday. But I could take the resolve I had found on Thursday to direct my response to this challenge. I would use the insights I had learned from customers on Sunday. I would gather my team on Monday to discuss and then help focus our response. I needed to direct everyone on how we would overcome problems so people didn’t lose heart, I would find a pathway through this to ensure there is a future for our much loved small business post pandemic.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Monday It was a quiet day with virtually no customers. There was still work to be done with the online launch of the collection, but we were already wise enough to what was coming to hold back stock and revise our plans.

I received a call from my full-time member of staff, they had symptoms. Updated Government advice made it clear Charlotte would be distancing for the next 14 days and suddenly what seemed like ‘just a cold’ carried a weight of worry, a concern for our colleague and even more questions about our safety, our work, our lives.

It’s important to remember that your business is nothing without people. Quite simply, tending to the mental and physical needs of employees is, I believe, of paramount importance. Those of us in work that day talked and I reflected on priorities.

Tomorrow I would not require any staff to come to work and I would run the shop tending to any customers who happened to come. I would consider our next steps and wait for a much anticipated announcement from the Government at a new daily evening information broadcast that was about to start.

My week in the life ends there. It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since.

One of the reasons I work with the British Library is my passion for innovation. Some people think innovation is purely technical/digital or product development but it’s not it’s just as important to your business strategy. A resilience measure, it can be about understanding change happening around you and being able to pivot accordingly, changing your processes and practices to overcome the challenge. The Business & IP Centre have asked me to add to my week in the life to tell you what happened next…

One week later

In just one week sales had fallen away to virtually zero but despite this vacuum, the pace had quickened. I immediately began to review all cash flow forecasts and financial planning for the year. I updated the business and marketing plan and wrote a contingency plan. I knew all of these documents would be required if I were to apply for funding and I needed to focus my mind.

I was also mindful of the needs of my staff right now, lockdown hadn’t been announced yet but I decided to close the shop to the public because the news was now concerning everyone.

Revival Retro staff

Communication was vital; with staff, with suppliers, with other business owners. Understanding the landscape, not just our own experience, was vital to navigating our way through it.

Two weeks later

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had made further announcements and I moved swiftly to furlough all our part-time staff to save jobs long-term. I had defaulted on my rent and my landlady hadn’t answered any of my proposals. Business had dropped off a cliff edge, including web sales. People were stockpiling and on a long list of discretionary spending, fashion comes last in people’s priorities when all they will do is stay at home.

I had decided not to launch the entirety of the new collection, the demand simply wouldn’t be there to achieve sales through and seeing future gaps in my supply chain I figured it was better to hold back stock and release some items as new in Summer 2021.

Lockdown had been officially announced and I was working from home trying to access finance. Major problems with the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) had brought about press opportunities and I appeared on all the major news channels, radio and print media about the plight of my small business.

Three weeks later

Getting nowhere fast with my CBILS application I couldn’t see how the business could even make it to the end of the month (April).

I think it’s important to note the toll on the mental health of small business owners: Not only is this your dream obliterated due to something beyond your control, but there’s also the responsibility that people’s jobs and livelihoods rely on you, if you care about your customers then failure seems like failing them too. It’s a lot to carry, whilst at the same time having no money to pay yourself, support your family and keep a roof over your head.

Still determined though and still believing in the long-term potential of the business, I’d brought one member of staff back to work and we were working on future facing projects. I was also actively networking online and participating in all kinds of small business support zoom calls, webinars and online learning.

In one of these calls, I heard about the Pay It Forward Crowdfunder campaign and that Sunday, unable to enjoy a scheduled day off as all of this is whirring around in my head, I decided to map out what that might look like for us.

Four weeks later

I’m very proud that we have so many loyal repeat customers. I work exceptionally hard to create a fantastic experience at Revival Retro and build genuine relationships with our customers, not just automated interactions.

Going the extra mile and encouraging my staff to do the same had paid off.

We had launched our Crowdfunder and in week one had already raised more than £12,000 for our small business. It was incredible!

It wasn’t just the money either, alongside the pledges were endless messages of support, promises to come back and shop with us, love for what we do and why we are important to people. This got me through an incredibly tough time and I am immensely thankful.

Customers were happy to buy vouchers now to redeem later, which turned around our cash flow position. Followers and fans were all too happy to champion our brand. People far and wide donated anything from £5 to £500 to save a high street hero much loved by many.

Model wearing Revival Retro outfit

Seven weeks later

By the end of April we had met and exceeded our £25,000 Crowdfunder target. Our small business was saved (particularly as we were excluded from Government grants and the CBILS loan money was still not available). We were able not just to meet payroll and necessary obligations, but pay what we owed to other small business suppliers and plan for the future.

The success of the Pay It Forward campaign for Revival Retro was transformative. We would not be in the position we are today without it. Many small business owners have asked my for tips on how they might run a successful campaign and I’ve written a blog about this which you can read here.

From resilience, we can now begin to look to recovery. I am encouraged that our customers see us as “not just a shop” which offers opportunity as we shape the future of the brand. It’s going to be more important than ever to innovate for growth.

17 April 2020

From silk wedding dresses to cotton scrubs for the NHS

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Sabina Ali is a bridalwear designer, based in North London. Only a few weeks ago, she launched her 2020 collection and was looking forward to the busiest time of year for brides-to-be. Like so many entrepreneurs and small businesses, her bridal boutique, Sabina Motasem, has been severely affected by the Coronavirus and has shut its doors for the time being. But in a time of crisis, Sabina and her team saw an opportunity to put their fashion expertise behind those on the front lines of the pandemic. Read on to find out how.

Sabina Ali

Can you tell us a bit more about your business?

Although I have a degree in fashion, this actually started as a hobby. I designed my first wedding dress for a friend as a special gift. Word quickly spread and my hobby soon turned into a business.

In 2012, we discovered the Innovating for Growth Programme at the British Library Business & IP Centre. It was a transformative experience. Our business expanded and became an established brand, dressing brides all over the world. We’ve seen a lot of growth since we started out in 2007, but we’re proud to say our dresses are still made right here in London, with the best craftsmanship, by an extraordinarily talented team.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business and what changes have you made to your business model to keep on operating?

Like most small businesses, we have been affected by Coronavirus. All our brides have either had to cancel or postpone their weddings until 2021. Essentially, the bridal industry has stopped. In the week that lockdown happened, we were about to shoot our new sustainable and vegan wedding dress collection, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, we have been doing virtual appointments with brides, enabling us to talk them through different options and show them the dresses, as well as the fabrics. Being stuck in lockdown means more valuable time to plan a wedding, so we’re also trying to keep our brides inspired by creating useful content on our blog and social media channels

Sabina and bride

In the meantime, you and your staff have volunteered to use your skills and facilities to make scrubs for NHS front line staff. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

When the lockdown started, it really made me feel a little redundant, with no way of being able to continue meeting and greeting brides. Sitting around at home doesn’t feel natural to me. Like most people, I like to keep busy. 

Through the North East London Sewing Group and De Beauvoir Association, which I am part of, I became aware of the great shortage of scrubs for NHS front-line staff. Scrubs are plain clothes worn by medics when dealing with patients, and they are being used by an increasing number of NHS staff as part of their personal protective equipment. They need to be changed frequently in order to stop the spread of the virus.

We also started receiving many requests from friends, brides, and Instagram followers who are doctors and nurses, asking us if we can help the Coronavirus effort by using our specialist skills. So our dedicated team of professional machinists and pattern cutters have swapped sewing wedding dresses in silk by day for making NHS scrubs in cotton drill and poly/cotton during lockdown, whilst still carefully abiding by the rules for social distancing.

I am stunned at the sheer volume of doctors and nurses who have been left with no scrubs. “Scrub hubs” are bringing together a small army of volunteers to make up the shortfall. That’s why, alongside the work our bridal boutique is doing, I decided to create the Islington and North Hackney scrub hub, to mobilise our local community of sewers.

Sabina's team making scrubs

Finally, in these turbulent times, what would be your message to our readers?

Postpone, pause… but don’t cancel. This is what we’re saying to ourselves and to all our friends and brides: just pause for a bit, but don't cancel your plans. 2020 will go down in history as the year we all stayed indoors… come 2021, hopefully we’ll all be looking for ways to celebrate life and all the good things in it. There are going to be so many weddings, and people getting married! Lots of our brides who were supposed to be getting married will be doing just that in 2021, including some of those couples who decided to move in early together just before the lockdown. We’ll enjoy reconnecting, although we seem to be doing that already, engaging and talking a lot more with one another, and we’ll appreciate it even more once we are all out of this mess. I really hope the world will be a kinder one. I hope 2021 will become the year of love, that’s something worth celebrating and looking forward to.

 

 

 

Ewa Domaradzka, Marketing Manager

27 January 2020

A week in the life of… Siobhan Thomas, founder of What’s Your Skirt

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Siobhan Thomas graduated from the University of Huddersfield 10 years ago from BA (Hons) Fashion with Marketing, Manufacturing and Promotion. This was where her creativity was harnessed and birthed in fashion. Once she graduated, she went on to building her fashion and marketing career and worked for Mamas and Papas as well as some other local designers and companies. In 2018, Siobhan decided to go for her own dreams and launch her brand What’s Your Skirt?, a collection of beautifully crafted skirts for the individual woman. Since launching at Liverpool Fashion Week, Siobhan has gone on to receiving multiple awards including Business of the Year 2019 and Best Fashion Designer at some incredibly prestigious events. 

Siobhan Thomas, founder of What’s Your Skirt

Siobhan used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, which provided her with basic business acumen and allowed her access to reports such as Mintel for market research. Siobhan also received free of charge guidance from the BIPC staff, as well as an appointment with the local solicitors the BIPC was working with. Due to the advice from these sessions, Siobhan was able to ask about her trademark and successfully got her brand name protected. In addition, Siobhan attended numerous free courses and workshops that helped with areas like marketing, business planning, intellectual property and securing finance.

What's Your Skirt? The Afrika Skirt
The Afrika Skirt

Siobhan tells us what her week looks like in the day in the life of What’s Your Skirt.

Monday Research, inspiration and fabric sourcing day. I love Mondays, I always think it’s a fresh start to a new week! My alarm sounds at 5.30 every morning and I go for a morning workout at my local gym. After my class, I return home and enjoy my healthy plant-based protein shake and get ready for work. I get to the What’s Your Skirt Studio for 8.00 and I start my day of creativity.

Sometimes I even go for a walk around Roundhay Park lake to gather my thoughts and get inspired. The simple things in nature can sometimes spark a wonderful theme for my next collection. I create mood-boards, research colour palettes and moods for the next season ahead. I love looking at magazines that are unrelated to fashion, for example, interior magazines, I love to see how I can create a collection through creativity in another field. I then go to the local mills and browse the never-ending fabric supplies that surround me, I get to choose the next season fabrics at a competitive price due to the strong relationships I have with the mills. I go back to the studio and start to pin my fabric samples to a mood-board, and I begin creating my collection in more depth. I look at the texture, the fabric qualities, the silhouettes I am going for that season and my core inspiration.

What's Your Skirt? collection showcased on a runway

Tuesday Design development/collections day. Tuesdays are cool just because I am usually getting into the swing of the week by today. Now I have my inspiration, I get to designing! My super favourite part! I draw some illustration styles using my layout pad and pantone colours and I begin to construct some initial design ideas, I try to let my imagination run wild at this point as I can always tame it later on in the process. Sometimes these start off a little extravagant and eventually mellows out to be wearable. I get my favourite music on and I get in my creative bubble. I love being in my zone as my best work is executed. I am constantly touching and feeling the fabrics, seeing how it drapes and I design to the fabric behaviour. By the end of the day, I usually have six strong outfits that I can work with ready for the next day of pattern cutting.

Wednesday Pattern cutting and draping day. A day of execution! This is where the maths skills come in, I absolutely enjoy this process and bringing my drawings to life. I get all my favourite pattern cutting books out and begin to draft my blocks, I then edit them to imitate my designs and start to trace them off. When I feel like I have mastered the flat pattern cutting I move on the drapery, which I really enjoy. I start to drape straight on to the dress stand and I begin manipulating the fabric to my design. I find this process therapeutic and it’s always nice to see the piece 3D.

What's Your Skirt collection fashion show, model wearing What's Your Skirt garment

Thursday Sample sewing day. Today, I get to work on my samples. I firstly cut out my pattern pieces and lay them out on calico so I can see a draft version of the garment. Once I am happy with this, I cut it out of the actual fabric and get sewing. Step by step, I ensure the pockets are inserted and finished with a neat topstitch, I ensure it is perfect and the quality of the garment is at a high standard. If I have any details that require more attention, I tend to sew a small sample to see what it looks like, I usually feel like this is a day of achievement as all my work for the week comes together. I tend to work late in the studio on Thursdays as I like to get a set amount of samples finished by the end of the day.

Friday Marketing/photoshoot and social media day. Ending the week with a marketing day is so cool! It’s great to gather all the little photos I have taken all week and inspiration and share with the world what we are doing as a brand. By now, I am organising photoshoots for look books and recruiting models to start talking some photographs in the studio and looking for a snappy marketing angle to launch our new collection in. I also have quite a few meetings with friends who are photographers, videographers, models, MUAs and hairstylists, this is so I can give them my vision on how I see the collections being. Then they go away and come up with a few ideas based on the collection theme.

What's Your Skirt? model, modelling in one of the collection's skirts

Saturday Fittings and client appointments day. Our busiest day! From 8.00 – 18.00, the day is usually packed with client fittings and orders. It’s usually the best day to fit clients as they tend not to be at work on the weekends and have the time to come into the studio. I have a few members of my team who help with this too, which really creates a buzz in the office on days like today! Lots of happy clients and lots of creative clothing. I simply love it!

Sunday Business admin, planning and rest day. Sundays are for resting and planning for the week ahead. This is usually a day of real evaluation of the week before, seeing what goals I have smashed and which ones I have yet to complete. And I look at setting new goals for the following week. This is a crucial day for me as it means I can get my mind back into plan of action and propel forward into what I want to achieve.

23 October 2019

Meet our delivery partners: Alison Lewy, Fashion Angel

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Fashion Angel is a fashion business support service offering mentoring, training and access to funding to both start-up and established fashion industry entrepreneurs. Their mission is to bridge the gap between creativity and entrepreneurship by offering industry-specific guidance for fashion businesses.

Alison Lewy founder of Fashion Angel

We run monthly workshops from the British Library’s Business & IP Centre (BIPC) based on the popular book, Design Create Sell, a guide to starting and running a successful fashion business, written by Fashion Angel founder Alison Lewy MBE.

These practical and informative workshops cover the key aspects of starting and growing a fashion business. The workshops are aimed at pre-start and early stage fashion businesses, as well as for those that have been trading a while but need assistance on how to take the business to the next level.

Fashion Angel workshop

The workshop programme includes the following topics:

  • Fashion Business Planning Made Easy - advice on how to build a business plan and understand the necessary financial forecasts
  • Getting It Made – guidance on sourcing and production management and working effectively with manufacturers
  • Routes to Market – a review of both B2B and B2C sales channels and how to develop a successful sales strategy
  • Selling Fashion Online – focuses on how to build an online brand and increase brand awareness and sales
  • Range Planning and Retail Merchandising – covers the principals of effective range planning & merchandising, to ensure you have the product your customer wants, when they want it
  • Plan, Pitch, Sell - how to approach and pitch to buyers and be stocked in retail stores
  • Pitching For Fashion funding – how to create a compelling Pitch Deck. This session is for businesses already trading that are looking to reach out to investors or lenders 

The workshops can be taken individually to fill in specific knowledge gaps, but collectively form a comprehensive programme covering everything an entrepreneur needs to know to start and scale a successful fashion business.

Most of the sessions are facilitated by Alison Lewy, a fashion industry expert, speaker, author and Fashion Angel Founder. Alison has extensive experience having run her brand for over 15 years, being a consultant for numerous luxury brands such as Preen and Matthew Williamson, before she went on to be Commercial Director for the Fashion and Textile Museum.

For more information, you can contact Alison on:

Alison@fashion-angel.co.uk
www.fashion-angel.co.uk
@FashionAngel1

Visit the BIPC's workshops and events page to view all upcoming workshops, webinars and events.

23 September 2019

A week in the life of... Keri Jamieson, founder of KeriKit

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Keri Jamieson is the founder of KeriKit, a women's accessories brand that develop bags which cater for all sides of the modern woman and alumni of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme. The designs organise belongings, so for example, for mums there are insulated bottle holders, and D-rings to loop your bag onto your pram, but when you need to switch to work mode, you can easily add your diary, business cards and laptop. The designs are supported by the brand 'Kit' including all the essentials that you need for your day, such as travel wallets, purses, business card holders, PRAM clips, cashmere wraps, muslins and more. Here, Keri tells us what she gets up to in a typically busy week managing and developing her KeriKit brand...

Monday - Day at the Home Office

I get up about 7.40 and then wake up the kids for school which involves breakfast, uniforms, hair brushing, teeth brushing -the usual!- and a quick turnaround to get my three children over to our local primary school. Jasper is seven and my twins have just turned five. I then head back home to my home office via the KeriKit warehouse and collect any orders for the day, or if I’m lucky I can go to yoga for an hour before my workday starts. I’m all about work-life balance since I had a recent hip replacement which unfortunately didn’t go as planned, so I need to do exercise most days to keep myself moving! Balancing all this with the kids is crucial - I’m very grateful not to miss the important things in their lives whilst I balance my work and their schedule.

After yoga or the school drop-off, I check my emails and write a list of the things that need to be done - usually this involves creating a newsletter in MailChimp,  updating or adding product descriptions, doing a video or flat-lay photoshoot, discussing PR opportunities with my PR company and looking at which influencers we would like to target, and then looking if they have posted the pic yet! I also have daily conversations with my marketing director regarding new ways to get KeriKit out into the wider world. I make sure I have answered all the questions and queries on social media too.

I now put time aside each week to schedule my social media with Buffer - before Buffer, I used to find myself working until eight or nine at night whilst I was supposed to be relaxing, but relatively small changes like this allow me to organise my time more efficiently, and have made a huge difference overall. Knowing that posts will go out automatically and to all platforms when I need, is great, especially as I have less energy at night to craft posts after a long day, and with the kids around. I find the morning best for working as the kids are at school, so I can really focus.

Keri Jamieson, founder of KeriKit

With the boring office things out of the way, I then get the enjoyment of creating new designs and looking at trends and colours that are coming through to see how they will fit Kerikit's USP of making life easier and more stylish, for busy women on the go.

I tend to work through lunch so I juice quite regularly, which means my lunch is ready to go and I don’t need to stop for long. Usually I take the kids to after-school activities at 15.30 and then if I’m lucky my day ends at 17.30, so I can prepare dinner for the children and sit down for a family meal with them. After bath time is done, I tend to pop back upstairs and process any orders for the next day so they are left out ready to be packed and processed by my darling mother, who helps me everyday with order fulfilment and accounts - she is 71, bless her!

Bed by 23.00!

Tuesday - Photoshoot in Manchester

It's an early start today, waking up at 6.00. Today is all about creating new photo content as I drive from Chester to Manchester to meet our Manchester-based fashion photographer, Rosie. We recce (scope out) the locations we have pre-planned to check they are as we need them to be with lighting etc, and then get the outfits ready with the bags that we are shooting with. Today I am modelling again (although I much prefer using professionals, and staying behind the scenes!) as we need a few more shots of me with the new bag styles we are launching. 

I am always trying to create beautiful things that make women's life easier and I hope to expand my range in the future to include luggage accessories and other Kit items that support you through your day. The business has just gone through a full rebrand and we are focusing our efforts on an edited collection of perfect items that work seamlessly together, with limited seasonal drops. The rebrand involved a new website, new logo, new fonts, new colours, new imagery - pretty much everything - but retaining the KeriKit feel, which I'm really proud of.

At 12.30 we break for lunch, and Rosie and my good friend and stylist Helen are pretty exhausted as I can be quite a task master when there is a to-do list to work through! Despite my dodgy hip, my energy is high, and we finish the rest of the shot list with a lot of laughter and smiles. 

I'm home by 20.00, to have dinner with the hubby and kiss the kids goodnight, before falling into bed at 22.00!

Wednesday - Meeting in Warrington

This morning I am heading to a meeting with my marketing director and our web developers to review the latest site updates and discuss future plans. I arrive for the meeting at 10.00 and we are hammering out the details right across lunch, having some tasty sandwiches and salads as we go. I leave the meeting at 15.00, and head home to carry on working from there. I respond to urgent emails and note that my to-do list is pretty light for the rest of the day. 

If I ever get to the bottom of my to-do list (which I admit is rare!) I try to look at more strategic things within my business such as targets for next year, ways to be more streamlined, any new systems or applications that will enable me to get the job done more quickly, or improve my website. As I mentioned previously, Buffer is one of the new additions which saves time by allowing me to create all my social media in one go, and I also use Trello which is great for creating lists and making sure I get the job done. Otherwise I use freelancers from various online platforms to help with graphics and PPC. As the business grows, we are looking at other markets and although we have some great success in America, I hope to branch out into Europe and the Far East next. But we do intend to prioritise our own online business now as the margins are far better, and customers are perfectly used to buying online nowadays. We’ve taken the decision not to sell wholesale to retail stores as we have struggled to make the finances work - we would rather pass any savings on to the customer.

I finish the day at 17.30 and make the kids dinner before taking a long luxurious bath, and getting dinner ready for hubby and me. I hit the hay at around 23.30. 

KeriKit products

Thursday - Film Crew Arrive

Today we have a film crew visiting to capture a 'day in the life' at KeriKit for a UK media company, and get the lowdown on all things KeriKit. It's a busy start to the morning getting the house ready around the kids breakfasts and school prep, but by 8.30 the house is quiet and almost ready for it's close-up. I spend time strategically placing KeriKit items around the house so that whatever shots are taken, we can be sure some product always sneaks into view! The crew arrive at 9.00 and once we have found the perfect place to capture me and our hero KeriKit styles, we get straight into filming. It's so lovely that the women in the crew start cooing over each product as I show them some of our bestsellers, and gorgeous new arrivals. Its so nice when I receive genuine feedback, and it always amazes me how surprised industry-types are by the exceptional quality and craftsmanship - exceeding expectations has become pretty commonplace for KeriKit, and fortunately a few sales are made before the video is even released! 

We finish up the filming at 16.30 and I take some time to curl up with a good book on the sofa, before the kids get back from their after-school activities. I relish the time to unwind and 'come down' from my filming high, and feel much more relaxed as I get dinner on and tell the kids about my day, and hear about theirs. After dinner I catch-up with Instagram comments and requests, and get to bed at about 22.30. 

Friday - Day at the home office

After a very busy week, it's nice to get back in the office and deal with more admin-y type stuff, and tie up some loose ends that have been niggling at me all week. I really like to feel organised and in control, but when you're juggling a growing business and family life, it's not easy to maintain. I have found that if I let it get to me each day, I would probably go mad! So when I can take the time to get myself back on track and clear out anything that can be dealt with, I really love to do that. (Must be the Virgo in me!). I finish the day with what is fast-becoming a must-do on a Friday night for our community of Kitgirls - Facebook Live Friday. This involves me speaking to camera and sharing our latest samples or new stock with our Kitgirls, to get their advice on how they would use the items, and preferences on which colours and styles we should buy for the coming seasons. I love having the ability to read their comments on the feed in realtime, and respond on camera. As a small business with limited buying budgets for all the amazing things we'd like to, unfortunately we must always compromise, but having our Kitgirls support to make those decisions definitely helps me sleep better at night! We cant keep everyone happy all of the time, but our amazing community really understand our constraints and try to advise me within those, which is phenomenal. I finish the recording with a nice glass of wine and some easy-watching TV with my lovely husband. 

The weekend is family-focused (with only a few little emails being sent!) and I feel really blessed to have so much love and support in my life, always helping me to be ready to do it all again next week! 

If you are interested in seeing a day in the life of KeriKit, head to our YouTube channel (@KerikitEngland) where you can get more insight into my routine and the business I run around my family.

16 September 2019

Inside an ethical fashion business

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Our Project Manager for the Business & IP Centre's scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth, Vanesa, not only manages the programme by day, but also runs her own sustainable fashion business by night, weekend and everything in between. Here she discusses why she started her side hustle and what values are important to her business.

Vanesa Vinhas jumpsuit

Vanesa Vinhas is a sustainable fashion brand for women, the idea starting when Vanesa couldn’t find ethical clothing in her style below the £500 price mark. “My designs are aimed at women who are looking for elegant and chic sustainable clothes at reasonable prices. Our style takes classic cuts and gives them a contemporary twist, using good quality organic or recycled fabrics. Most of our outfits are the sort of thing you could wear for work or pleasure.” After launching in July 2018 her products have been selling online through her Vanesa Vinhas website, online sustainable fashion marketplaces like MAMOQ and pop-up shops around London.

Starting a business seemed inevitable as Vanesa explains, “It’s definitely something in the blood. I took the name ‘Vinhas’ from my grandma - it means ‘vineyard’ in Spanish. She built two highly successful food shops after becoming widowed in post-Civil War Spain and had to provide for her children. Back then Spain was very much a ‘man’s world’ and life was very hard. But she was a really brave lady and a strong character. She also helped a lot of people in her local area who were in need. My dad followed in her footsteps, starting his own factory and helping a lot of people to start their own businesses. So ‘business talk’ has always been familiar to me from early childhood - but rooted as well in a very strong set of values.”

Seeing first-hand the amount of determination and energy it takes to start and run a business didn’t deter her. “I always had doubts about starting a business myself. My career choice at the start was to support other entrepreneurs. And for over a decade, here in London and also New York, I have done that, helping people at all stages of growing small businesses. But several years’ back I took an evening course in fashion design at St Martins’ and the idea of starting my own line of clothes took root.”

Vanesa Vinhas kaftan

If it wasn’t making dresses for her dolls as a child, or getting hooked on clothes through her three sisters (and the hand-me-downs), which sparked her love of clothes, her career starting in the fashion industry, working for the fashion designer Antonio Miró did. “I can spend hours looking at clothes and never get bored! Last year I finally decided to go part-time at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre so I could set up my clothing brand. In the end the ‘bug’ got me!”

Vanesa started with a simple principle, “our customers shouldn’t have to make a choice between looking good and wearing clothes that have been made responsibly. Sadly most of the clothes on sale today are made in a way that creates so much waste and damage, often in the poorest parts of the world”. From there the creative part begins, “I usually start with a mood board where I play around with ideas, before I start to draw concept designs. The history of the garment itself and the people who’ve made it iconic is a big part of my inspiration. Like Elizabeth Taylor wearing a kaftan in the Palm Springs desert. What interests me is how garments can be identified with a certain place. The jumpsuit collection is inspired by London. The jumpsuit is an outfit with a lot of history, but also very 21st Century. It's something you can wear for work or play. A bit like Londoners, it’s very versatile and constantly reinventing itself.” She then works with a freelance seamstress who works from her home in East London with hourly rates well over the London Living Wage. The outfits are made from GOTS certified organic cotton and TENCEL and are delivered to the customer in recycled packaging by Royal Mail. 10% of the profits go to charities that empower women facing injustice, violence and poverty. 

Vanesa Vinhas collection

Waste is something Vanesa is very cautious of, “I don’t want to make clothes that end up in landfill, so we make small batches and repeat orders in response to demand. Most importantly, I design my clothes for customers who want to feel stylish wearing something day in and day out until it is literally beyond repair”.

Other social causes impact the way Vanesa Vinhas is run, making sure those who make the clothes get a fair salary and work in safe conditions, all values Vanesa grew up with. “My family always took being an employer as an important responsibility. I come from a small town and as a child it was easy to see the role that our businesses had in the community. Buying organic isn’t just about the environment, it also means workers, often in developing countries, aren’t exposed to dangerous chemicals and have basic workplace rights. I couldn’t imagine having a partner in my business who isn’t treated fairly - it’s out of the equation.”

The customer is also an important consideration, “the end product has got to be an essential component of someone’s wardrobe. For me that’s something you can wear day in day out, and feel comfortable in, at work or with friends. The process of making this takes time and a lot of team work, but it’s where the magic happens. It involves sourcing the right fabric, getting the design right with my pattern maker and then figuring out how to construct the clothing with the seamstress or manufacturer. Everything needs to come together - the style, the quality of the fabric, the sustainability of the product and at an affordable price.”

Looking ahead, Vanesa’s looking at future growth and where she sees the business in the future,the brand is very new and I am still learning. What I’m working towards is that by the end of 2020 I can be profitable enough to take a part-time salary. It seems small, but the reality is that businesses take time to be profitable. It would be a big achievement as a micro-entrepreneur!”

Vanesa is currently investing everything she gets back from sales into the business. “I have chosen to grow organically instead of looking for external funding. I would like to continue designing a few new pieces each year and bringing back my most popular garments. My key focus is to increase direct sales through my website and be listed on more online platforms, pop-up shops and boutiques. I am very excited that I am soon going to be joining Gather & See an online sustainable fashion marketplace.”

Working at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre has also been beneficial, “It’s a fantastic place to work and I get to help some amazing entrepreneurs who come through the Innovating for Growth programme, so the business needs to fit around this.” Vanesa has also taken advantage of the market research reports, such as Mintel to access consumer trends, specialist sector-specific workshops which take place at the Business & IP Centre with Fashion Angel, as well as other workshops such as PR with Jessica Huie.

As with any business, there are highs, lows and lightbulb moments, “one of my most memorable moments was doing the first ever shoot for Vanesa Vinhas. The collection was inspired by a trip to the California desert earlier that year when I had my lightbulb moment and realised I wanted to start a ‘slow fashion’ brand, but I didn’t have the budget to go back so soon, so I had to find a creative solution.

“One evening I’d been joking with my husband about using the Tabernas desert in South Spain where the Sergio Leone ‘spaghetti westerns’ and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed. Then we realised it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. And could be combined with our summer holiday!

Vanesa Vinhas
Vanesa, founder of Vanesa Vinhas

“On the day, everything started to go very badly - the model cancelled, some of the samples were delayed and I fell down a marble staircase at the hotel and hurt my arm. But then it all started to go back on track. The photographer Michael knew the desert and the light by the back of his hand, and he found our model Cristina. Together they really captured the mood I wanted the clothes to evoke. It’s moments like this, putting yourself out of your comfort zone, that are the most rewarding!”

 

For more information on the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, visit our website. To see more of Vanesa's collection, visit Vanesa Vinhas' website.

18 February 2019

12 tips for starting up a fashion business

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As London Fashion Week is coming to an end and to coincide with the new season, The British Fashion Council, who organise the bi-annual event, have released figures from Mintel showing the fashion industry directly contributed £32.3bn to the UK GDP in 2017.

This represents a 5.4% increase after 2016; a growth rate 1.6% higher than the rest of the economy. Womenswear represents 51% of the fashion market, with menswear accounting for 26%.

However, despite the importance of the sector, it is one of the hardest to succeed in, due to high start-up costs, sizeable competition and the diversity of products available.

So it’s essential for anyone starting up a fashion business, to have a business plan in place outlining their strategy, and to understand where their fashion brand or idea sits in the overall marketplace.

Cropped headshot2

Fashion Angel is a fashion business accelerator offering mentoring, workshops (including at the Business & IP Centre) and access to funding to both new and established fashion industry entrepreneurs. Alison Lewy MBE, Fashion Angel founder and author of Design, Create, Sell – a guide to starting a successful fashion business, gives some top tips for anyone planning to start a new fashion business:

  1. Develop a business plan before you start – a business plan is your personal roadmap outlining your goals, visions and objectives and not just needed for raising finance. It will be central to your business development and be a useful tool to measure your progress against your projections.
  2. Don’t underestimate your start-up costs – fashion business start-up costs can be high so avoid nasty surprises and list all your potential costs. Include the cost of your sample collection, stock, equipment, marketing materials, website, IP and professional fees, insurance, and of course any deposits required for rent or utilities.
  3. Research the marketplace – find out about the size of the market for your type of product and whether it’s an expanding area. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre is a very useful resource for this as has numerous up-to-date fashion sector specific market research reports you can access for free. Identify your key competitors and analyse their business and marketing strategies. This will help you define your competitive edge and what differentiates your brand from other similar products.
  4. Create a strong brand – your visual branding and brand story are central to the way the public perceives your label. Your customers should develop an emotional connection, and brands that create a strong identity are the ones most likely to endure.
  5. Profile your target customer/s – conduct primary research to understand your customers’ buying and lifestyle habits and create profiles for each type of potential customer. Keep this information in mind when you are designing your collection/products and setting your prices. Remember, you are not designing for yourself!
  6. Plan your product range – offer a focused tight collection to start with, and do it well, rather than try to please everyone. It will be easier to produce too! You can diversify and expand once you have built your reputation and have sales history to base decisions on.
  7. Identify your sales channels – think about your route to market and how you will reach your customers. Do you plan to be a wholesale business selling to retailers? If so how will you manage this? If selling direct to the consumer, are you planning to open a bricks and mortar shop or will it be online or both?
  8. Work out a marketing plan – you may have an amazing product and lovely website, but how are people going to know about it? The marketing strategy is a key element of any business plan and should detail how you will promote the business, and budget needed accordingly.
  9. Adopt a realistic pricing strategy – your pricing must be in line with similar offerings in the marketplace. Unless you are a well-known luxury brand, every product has a ceiling price that customers will pay.
  10. Offer excellent quality and customer service – this area allows a small business to shine and can give you a competitive advantage. Reputation takes a long time to build but can be destroyed very quickly. Customers expect value for money whether you are operating at the value or luxury end of the market.
  11. Keep a tight control of your finances – monitor your cash flow on a regular basis, this will help you foresee any potential problems arising and allow you to find solutions, rather than suddenly being faced with not being able to pay your bills or suppliers.
  12. Take advantage of any networking opportunities – you’ll need all the help you can get, so make sure you tell everyone you meet what your business does. Always carry business cards with you and always ask for one, so you can start to build your own database of useful contacts.

Starting a fashion business isn’t easy, but with passion, drive and a clear vision it can be one of the most exciting and rewarding industries to work in.

To see all of the Business & IP Centre's upcoming workshops, click here.

Fashion Angel

12 February 2019

A week in the life of... Rachel Walker, co-founder of The Fold Line

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Rachel is a co-founder of The Fold Line, an award-winning online sewing community and sewing pattern shop. Championing independent pattern designers, they are the one stop shop for all your dressmaking pattern needs. Founded in 2015 they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes and are alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.

With a background in science research, it wasn’t until after finishing her PhD that Rachel decided she wanted a career change. She started to work part-time for a sewing company in London, teaching classes and helping at events, as she had always enjoyed sewing as a hobby. She then retrained in pattern cutting and over the next year, moved into overseeing pattern production and development, using the project management skills she had gained from her studies. During this time she met Kate (co-founder) and after a couple of months they decided to start a business together.

As avid makers, Rachel and Kate struggled to keep up with all the sewing pattern releases and growing number of bloggers sharing their makes and tips. They were inspired by the growing online sewing community to build a home for everyone interested in dressmaking. From this The Fold Line was born, a place you can meet other makers, share tips and ideas and get lots of inspiration for your next project while keeping up-to-date with the latest sewing news and pattern releases.

Kate and Rachel 2

You can expect to find lots of inspiration and catch up on all the latest sewing news on their sewing blog and vlog. They also have an extensive sewing pattern database where you can use a pattern finder tool to search over 10,000 patterns plus read lots of sewing pattern reviews from the community. 

Monday The first thing I do on a Monday morning is take my enthusiastic Labrador for a long walk to tire him out. Once back home I begin the week with catching up on everything that has been going on over the weekend. I reply to any outstanding emails, pay invoices and browse social media channels for news in the sewing community. I also take the time to reply to questions and comments from our community of makers on our website and social media.

In the afternoon I plan out my tasks for the week ahead and check we have everything we need. I will usually spend the rest of the day on accounts, making sure our freelancers are paid and looking at our spending over the last week.

Tuesday Another long dog walk. When back at home I start the day by emailing the freelancers who work with us on creating content and sharing it across our social media channels. I’ll also order more stock for our warehouse and check on the status of orders that need to be sent out.

In the afternoon I will work on one of our consulting jobs, creating content and scheduling it for the week ahead.

Wednesday First thing in the morning I photograph any sewing patterns that have been delivered so that we can get the new products added to our website. Later in the morning I visit our warehouse and the team that picks and packs all the orders that go out from our online shop. It’s a good opportunity to take any new stock with me and also talk through problems with the team.

In the afternoon I email new pattern designers about adding their sewing patterns to our new online shop. I’ll also update stock levels depending on what products I took to the warehouse. I’ll also spend time on social media looking for new sewing challenges people can take part in, sewing meet ups that have been arranged and sewing pattern releases so we have new content to share with the community.

The Fold Line new website - pattern page

Thursday Another long dog walk! I then meet up with Kate, who is the other founder and director at The Fold Line. Over tea we talk about how we are getting on with big projects we have planned and chat through any difficulties we’ve had during the week. We also analyse sales of sewing patterns from our online shop and look at current trends. We brainstorm about new content for blogs over the coming months as well. If it’s been a challenging week we will treat ourselves to a nice lunch!

In the afternoon I’ll update our diaries and schedule with the plans we have made. I’ll also do more work on one of our consulting jobs.

Friday I usually spend Fridays working on the second consulting job we do, designing and testing creative content for publication.

Weekend We often attend sewing meet ups on Saturdays where we join a group of sewing enthusiasts for fabric shopping or a fashion exhibition. We might also be guest judges of handmade outfits at sewing parties. On Sundays I try not to work. If I have time I’ll try and do a bit of sewing for myself and make a garment such as a top or jacket. I do like to reply to all the emails that we have received over the weekend on a Sunday evening so that I can start Monday with an empty inbox!