Taking on the global fashion industry
Making it in the fashion industry, regardless of the role you choose, requires grit, determination and a lot of hard work. NI Business Now spoke to two leading ladies sharing local fashion and style with the rest of the world.
Belfast- based Art on Fashion recently caused a bit of a media storm following the announcement that they are to create 12 new jobs, with support from the Growth Loan Fund. The loan will fund working capital requirements and put the company in a position to market and export their products globally.
Celine Magill, Managing Director, established the company in February 2012 with plans to take traditional designs and turn them on their head. She now collaborates with international artists to print their artwork on to her fashion designs.
She said: “When you are pitching your products into retailers you need to have something different that they can talk about. That will help you get across the door. Each of our garments are only produced in small quantities so there is an exclusive factor to our clothes. Also the story of the artists and the designs give the retailers a great promotional angle. I knew I had to create a unique concept with a strong brand identity that would enable me to succeed in a competitive industry. ”
The firm is currently exporting to the UK, Ireland, Germany, Holland and, most recently, America. This year Ms Magill has plans to target the United Arab Emirates, with interest already trickling through from some leading retailers in the region.
Ms Magill was no stranger to the industry when she launched her own brand: “I have over 25 years’ experience in the fashion industry and wanted to use this experience to create a brand that was unique and different. It is hard to build relationships with buyers and retailers. I have spent a lot of time knocking on doors, now I have an agent to do that side of the business for me as they have strong networks with key contacts.”
2014 has been an exciting year for the business and Ms Magill added: “The investment has also allowed me to attend the Scoop International trade show, one of the most exciting trade events of the fashion calendar in England recently. The event has proved very successful in generating new international business and in January next year I have plans to attend shows across Europe and New York. We have also been showcasing our Autumn/ Winter Collection at Create 2014 in Brown Thomas’ Dublin store in August and we hope to work alongside this retailer in the future.”
Fiona Kennedy of Red Ruby Rouge in Holywood is also trying to bring beautiful and unusual products to a ‘very saturated high street marketplace’: “Having travelled and lived abroad for most of my young adult life, I have always collected beautiful items from wherever I’ve lived. I loved finding those interesting, unique items that were not mainstream or high street, that felt a little more ‘local’ to the area in which they were designed or made.”
Ms Kennedy has seen first-hand that this is a fast paced and competitive industry. Taking on large companies with deep pockets and unlimited resources puts smaller independent organisations such as her own under pressure: “It’s important to find what makes you different, what is your USP and what would interest a customer in coming to you above the bigger stores. Once you’ve found that niche, yes, the competition still exists but at least you have a more reasonable field to play against. It’s never going to be a market place in which you can stop however, looking for the next story, the next up and coming designer or the next trend is always going to be necessary.”
Both Ms Magill and Ms Kennedy said that success in the fashion industry takes determination, serious hard work and belligerence. You also need to be able to take the knock backs and pick yourself up to carry on to knock on the next door.
Ms Kennedy added: “I also believe strongly that you really need to love what you do, you need to be passionate about what you’re selling so that your customers can really buy into the ethos behind your business.”
Online shopping has become a vital part of Ms Kennedy’s business and, with this in mind, she approaches everything as if she is targeting a global audience. Currently she exports to the rest of the UK, Ireland and more frequently now to Europe.
She said: “With the increase of customers using social networking for inspiration, there is a great amount of cross over between the types of sales we see in store and online and I’d expect the lines to blur even further in the future. We have focused on the online side of our business right from the outset and although it has always been an important side of the business it has been in the last 18 months that we have really seen a spike in growth which has allowed us to expand our reach in a meaningful way. Online and multi-channel growth will continue to be our main focus going forward.”
Ms Kennedy concluded: “We have always worked hard to develop good relationships with editors and press in the UK which has helped us to grow the brand and raise the profile of our designers outside of Northern Ireland. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have great press coverage from glossies to newspapers, blogs and weeklies.”