Starting my first business:
This story will make you realise that anyone can start a business, you sometimes just need to DO IT!.
When I was in my final year at ‘Uni’ I woke up one day with an idea! I had designed an outfit as part of a project on my Fashion Design course. A blouse, waistcoat, skirt and petticoat. I wanted to dress the world. It was my ambition to see lots of people wearing my clothes. So I took my ‘ensemble’ to a fashion editor of a magazine called Honey, It was a very popular mag of the time, and they agreed to include a sketch of the design. My idea was to sell packs of the garments ‘ready to sew’ as mail order. The reason for this was that I knew I did not have the resources to make everything from scratch myself. I had no money, no equipment and I lived in a bedsit. I also had no Business Plan!
Incredibly, 3 months later after the magazine came out I was inundated with cheques. I got orders for about 80 outfits in 5 days. I had never had so much money in my bank account before! But I now had the money to buy the fabrics and trimmings to make up the packs to post out. I had to get help from a few friends to cut out all the fabric. I can’t say it was all plain sailing but after three weeks of hard work they were all sent and I had made a nice easy profit. I used the money to buy a car and travel to Hong Kong. After that venture I knew I needed more experience in the fashion industry.
After leaving Kingston University in 1976 with a 2-1 degree in Fashion with textiles, I worked for 4 years as a design consultant for Deryck Healey International. During this time I worked internationally designing ranges for large corporate brands like ICI and Courtaulds. I then worked for a year as a jeanswear designer for Levi Strauss and was based in Bangalore India for a short while. It was there I learnt a lot about production on a large scale. I also found a passion for menswear clothing.
Starting a second business:
In 1980 I moved into Trend Forecasting, initially working for a small company called Design Intelligence based in Covent Garden and then in 1984, with four friends we set up our own Trend Bureau called I.N.D.E.X (International Design Exchange). We luckily had backing from a Belgian textile mill called UCO helped by a maverick entrepreneur called Jacques Fruy.
We based ourselves in the Docklands area of East London, which was fast becoming the trendy place to be in the mid eighties. Within two years we were in profit. We had identified a gap in the market. Trend books aimed at Menswear companies. No other trend bureaus were creating books for men’s products at that time. We produced 16 book titles a year. By 1986 we had a team of about 20 fashion, textile and graphic designers and we had built up a network of agents throughout the world. Initially we were doing a lot of the selling ourselves at Trade shows like Premiere Vision in Paris. I.N.D.E.X sold Trend publications to a variety of design companies like DKNY, Calvin Klein and Marks and Spencers, Debenhams and John Lewis. The company survived 10 fantastic years and we all parted company (still friends) around 1996. This was partly due to the recession of the time and partly we all wanted to do different things within the fashion industry.
Passing on the experience:
I decide that with all my experience I wanted to go into teaching. After gaining a teaching qualification and an MA in Design Studies from Central Saint Martins, I now teach a series of short courses at University of the Arts. In 2004 I started a course called ‘How to start your own fashion Business’ and I like to think that I have inspired many young people to start businesses. The course is always over subscribed and has been popular for the last 10 years. This website includes case studies of some of my ex-students’s business start-ups and also advice about how to do it yourself.