I can formally reveal the identity of my mentor on the Crafted programme. We met on Tuesday in the hallowed confines of bespoke Savile Row tailors, Anderson & Sheppard. Entering the premises is completely different from a 'shop'. Wood, leather-bound books, fabric, gentle lighting, sofas. It felt like going into a previous era, with neither fustiness nor fakery. A warm friendly and professional welcome. I was then invited into the cutting room and then downstairs where the making takes place and met Anda Rowland, the CEO.
Anda is delightful and charming as well as being a astute businesswoman. She is infectiously passionate about her product and customers. I could hardly contain my delight at getting to know Anda in the workroom basement while all these craftsmen and women were carefully working away around me. There is something calming and serious about being in the presence of this type of craftsmanship. I couldn't help sneak a peak at a gentleman expertly pressing a midnight blue velvet dinner jacket. (Or does one say, smoking jacket?.. and while I'm being precise, I think he was actually steaming rather than pressing the velvet.) Look at the detail on this rather luscious grey velvet smoking jacket:
Anda Rowland works primarily on the business and marketing side, leaving the managing director to oversee production and ensuring the customer experience is second to none. And it is. It was rivetting hearing about that process and seeing it before my eyes. It was also quite straightforward. You have a special product and you have a set of customers, and a desire to maintain and grow this. You learn what your customers want in terms of product, and how they want to be informed about your product in order to remain loyal. For example, no advertising, ultimate discretion, a sensible openness to changing modern needs and a product second to none. It felt and was so different to mainstream retail.
Thankfully, Anda perfectly understood what I was doing and we discussed many aspects of my business and she revealed the Anderson & Sheppard approach. I enjoyed being able to talk through my thoughts around luxury and quality and hear that this chimed with hers. In the course of the conversation and in my reflections afterwards it became clear that I have been trying to do too much, that I need to really focus on my core product, my message and continually return to that. Over the next year we will meet regularly and this will help me to position my product correctly, develop it within this space, and grow my customer base.
There is a version of luxury and quality which is about the product, the process and the experience which Anderson & Sheppard embody. This is the real deal, if you ask me, compared to the over-branded, trend-led luxury industry which to a certain extent has been discredited in the sobering light of recession. These products have huge marketing and retailing spend built into them at the cost of quality and soul. Where once they were made in artisan workrooms like Anderson & Sheppard, they have been re-designed and made out of China and similar places. The connection has been lost. Also, if you want customers to buy the next trend obsolescence is built in, so quality is less important.
I have been battling with whether to focus on wholesale or selling direct to my customers. Each requires focus, dedication and financial investment. More immediately I've been trying to decide whether to show at London Fashion Week this February for AW10/11. I am resisting. I feel it in my bones. I need to evolve organically and the cost of going to tradeshows and producing a whole new collection is steep. My next move along that trajectory would be to show in Paris as this would put my work in front of more international buyers such as the Japanese or Americans. However, it's a long and slow process and one can't expect to make sales for some time.
At the same time I want to serve my customers and grow those precious relationships. Opening my boutique, however modest, has been a good start in the right direction. So my conclusion, at the moment is to focus on that. Therefore I shall develop my summer collection and extract myself from the process of creating new collections twice a year. It's not the right pace for me, nor my customers I should say. I shall always do something new; new tweeds, on or two new styles and let them evolve, organically rather than fitting into the trade show system. It was good for me to show last February and I shall continue to wholesale in a more discrete way. I find wholesale customers really need to understand what I am doing for it to work. My product has a strong story which needs to be communicated.
So, I left the tailors and Anda with a strong sense that this year ahead would be invaluable and exciting. I am hoping it will ground me and give my label a good base and grow my customer numbers. As we were leaving she showed me a tailcoat from the 1960's which a customer had brought in to adjust. There are very few businesses that would have such a relationship with their customers. Of course, having Evelyn Waugh as your customer is something to be proud of: