After years of toying with the idea of starting my own clothing brand (I’m 6ft tall and had been bemoaning for years the lack of choice – and quality – of clothing available for tall women), at the ripe old age of 47 I finally decided to give it a go.
I had no idea of where to start or how to find out the information I would need to get established but was pleasantly surprised by the information that is readily available to anyone with access the worldwide web. This blog recounts my experience of accessing and using those resources. I hope to show that help is out there for anyone considering dipping their toes into the world of business and setting up their own fashion company. Many of the support packages involve a fee, but there are also lots of people out there to be met at networking events or online via various relevant groups, who are willing to help for nothing.
With no background in fashion – other than buying and wearing clothes – I had no idea of where to start. I had only unknown unknowns and didn’t know what to focus on first. Like most people, my initial attempts to glean information were made via a combination of Google and Amazon.
I decided it would be useful to actually understand the process of garment making as I had not made anything since a rather sorry attempt at a ballgown when I was at university.
Knowing that I wanted to focus on jackets in my first range, I searched Amazon and ordered a few relevant titles:
- Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket (Creative Publishing International)
- Complete Dressmaking Skills (Lorna Knight)
- Garment Construction (Peg Couch)
Whilst browsing similar titles I might like, I saw what looked like a useful volume:
How to Set up and Run a Fashion Label by Toby Meadows
This surprisingly slim and readable book (approx. 200 pages broken down into the key areas covering setting up your company structure, understanding fashion trends, sourcing fabrics and manufacturers and marketing) became my bible and informed me that not only was there a wealth of useful websites, books and directories to consult, but also told me that the author, Toby Meadows, was one of the lecturers at the London College of Fashion.
London has an international reputation as a fashion hub, and its Fashion College is a cornerstone of that, so I was keen to know more about what LCF had to offer. I assumed its courses would be mostly art foundation level focusing on the design side of the industry. What I didn’t realise was that the London College of Fashion – part of the University of the Arts, London – offers a whole range of short courses, including several under the heading ‘Fashion Business’.
I signed up to the Introduction to the Fashion Industry short course, which introduced me to fashion business consultant, Alison Lowe, MBE. As well as lecturing for LCF, Alison runs the fashion incubator Felicities and has set up StartYourOwnFashionLabel.com. This is an online resource giving members access to events, masterclasses, toolkits and networking opportunities. The building blocks were starting to fall into place. Check out the website for membership pricing.
After my weekend introductory course with Alison, I joined Start Your Own Fashion Label and downloaded her Black Book of essential contacts. My next step was to sign up for LCF’s week-long course on setting up a Fashion Label, which was run by Toby Meadows. Over the five days of the course, we covered the different aspects of establishing a fashion brand in some detail and gained further pointers about other local bodies that could provide useful resources. I discovered the UK Fashion and Textile Association, the networking body for fashion and textile companies in the UK. Through Start Your Own Fashion Label I also found out about the Make It British network and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, both of which were to prove invaluable in helping me to source the manufacturers I wanted to work with.
I completed a couple of other short courses at the London College of Fashion. The Introduction to Design course, was helpful in converting visual inspiration into clothing designs and a further course on Technical Drawing has enabled me to put together the flat plans I need to supply with tech packs to manufacturers.
By this stage, I had found out the basics of setting up a fashion business and had a few design ideas. I now knew how I needed to present them to a manufacturer, but I didn’t know how to find a manufacturer or fabric supplier. I didn’t know how to commission a sample, much less how to get a batch of garments made, quality checked and delivered. And as for funding, I had some money thanks to the recent sale of a property in London, but I had no idea of the funding opportunities available to start-ups like myself.
I had been told about the start-up support offered by the British Library from their Business & IP Centre. Browsing the events and workshops on offer there, I signed up to a Marketing Masterclass and once on their newsletter circulation list received regular updates on other courses being held there. This is also how I came to find out about Fashion Angel, another fashion business consultancy led by Alison Lewy, MBE. Fashion Angel’s offer differs from the previous agencies I had come into contact with as it focuses more on the practical elements: funding and production. Thanks to a Fashion Angel panel event, I found out about the different sources of funding I could call upon from crowdfunding to start-up loans and even angel investors and venture capitalists. Another seminar: ‘Getting it Made’ took newbies like me through every step of the garment production process and included a handy set of templates including costings sheets, tech packs and production dockets, which provide essential information to manufacturers. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre offers a range of workshops and courses for business start-ups. Members of the centre get a discount, but the events are also open to non-members, like me.
Fashion Angel helped take me another step towards bringing my plans to life, but I still didn’t have any fabric suppliers or manufacturers, which is where the Make It British events helped.
I have attended four Make It British exhibitions in London, where suppliers and brands can showcase their products to anyone who wants to keep their manufacturing in the UK. Turning up at the first of these events introduced me to a garment factory, Fashion Enter, who I ended up using for my first run of jackets. I also met the wool producer Abraham Moon, whose Shetland wool twill would be used in all of my blazers. Chatting to a British clothing brand about fabrics gave me a lead on sourcing some of the cotton I wanted for my utility jackets, and I was also advised to attend the London Textile Fair, where I was able to source the linings, buttons and trims I needed to finish my first collection.
After a year of attending workshops, events and exhibitions I had the information and contacts needed to commission my first samples and then press the button on getting the jackets I had been planning made and brought to market.
I’m still learning all the time and finding new resources, but for anyone feeling like a rabbit in the headlights, blinded by the overwhelming scale of the project ahead of them, I can offer the following useful tips:
1. Find the industry association for what you do. Join or at least attend a networking event to make useful contacts.
2. Buy a relevant book and check out its recommendations for further reading or useful contacts usually given at the back.
3. See if your local Chamber of Commerce can offer guidance in terms of local businesses you could contact for guidance, networking events or funding advice.
4. Facebook is a free resource and includes hundreds of specialist groups for people just like you. I’m a member of around a dozen groups, either for female entrepreneurs, fashion start-ups or tall women, which are great sources of market knowledge and supplier insights.
5. Network, network, network: the path you’re starting out on has already been trodden by many people before you and most are happy to let you pick their brains. There are formal networking organisations (e.g. Athena, WIBN), or groups such as Found & Flourish where you can meet like-minded people who might just be able to help you with their wisdom and experience. Or who may know someone else who can.
About your author
Emma Stewart, is 6ft tall, 50 year old woman who launched Allta in 2017. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and dog.
You can find out more about Emma and her business here.
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