Taking The Plunge

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taking-the-plunge

Currently the UK is in the grip of a general election. I say grip, it’s more of a weak handshake.

You may know that I am a part-time scribbler and hobby-ist on matters clothing and dress. My day job is a researcher to an MP, and whoever wins the election the time is fast approaching when I shall have to seek a new career path. As my last post made clear I’m more interested in product than dispensing advice, so I doubt scribbling full time is really an option. However, this week I’ve been arguing with my girlfriend about setting up my own label. Do I take the plunge or not?

The question I’m asking myself is does my idea have appeal and is it practical? Every year there are items I’m after, and more often than not existing retailers just don’t provide it. Experience – and you only have my word for this – tells me that I’m often ahead of the curve. Whatever I want normally comes out about 12-18 months later.

My basic idea is that every season I’d produce just one or two items in limited runs. Once they’re gone they’re gone. They will be core items around which you can add other items from other sources and build a look with. But the products will change from season to season; a shoe one season, a particular style of shirt the next. Manufacture will predominantly be in England, and if I can’t manage that then from a reputable source – no low rent, low wage sweat shops. Prices will be fair and reasonable, no big mark-ups for its own sake. Limited runs will be the determinate of exclusivity not mere price. For these reasons it obviously makes sense to sell online rather than from a retail outlet.

There isn’t much to prove this type of business model has legs, but then just because a thing hasn’t been done before is no reason to assume it won’t work.

So, do I follow the lead of so many of the people I’ve been writing about the last few years and take the plunge?


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Andrew Williams blogs at BespokeMe and is based in London. His clothing label Bulldog & Wasp represents his philosophy that style is a frame of mind not just a state of dress.

Comments

  1. Derrik Ollar says:

    Hello Andrew, I may be one of your older readers (48 years). The advantage that gives me is time and experience. I have bought and sold a couple businesses and most recently worked as the senior salesman for a small manufacturing business (which I am now in negotiations to purchase). What I do know is that a narrower approach is always easier to learn, market and get known for. I think my advice would be to specialize in one thing, like shoes for example. I would also keep that narrow too. Become known for the most awesome split toes shoes. Of course it’s up to you and your heart, but don’t forget your brains too. I don’t know what saying you have in Britain that correlates to this (my British blood goes way back to the original Virginia Colonies), but in the U.S.A., we always say, “This is America, and I can do whatever the hell I want!” Cheers and keep us posted, Derrik

  2. Patrick says:

    Interesting plan. Are the items pictured examples of the aesthetic that you’d like in a clothing line? Go for it!

  3. Nick says:

    Agree with Derrik – start narrow, expand slowly. Otherwise get involved and have fun! Sure you know all about it but have a look at the Leffot blog/sales website, a good model to work off I think… http://blog.leffot.com

  4. Peter B says:

    Found this – aparently the guy who set the website up did the same sort of thing as you are doing…

    http://www.offthelist.co.uk

  5. Harry says:

    Go for it! And be sure to stock/make some fishtail trousers. Start with classic cuts and fabrics, with little details to make them unique.

  6. John says:

    I’m no expert, but it could be a risky move. I’d be worried that you will have a hard time building customer loyalty with this type of model. Let’s say I buy a sportcoat from you one season. Maybe I like it. Next season you have shoes on offer. I have no way of knowing if they’re any good, if they fit properly…i’m buying blind every time. The other problem is that I’m not sure who would shop with you if they don’t really know what to expect. Most consumers are lazy. If I’m looking for pants do i come to your site? Maybe you’re selling them today, but not tomorrow. I imagine it can might get frustrating.

    I’d hate for you to spend a small fortune on production, only to spend the next few years staring at any unsold items.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that I have no idea what I’m talkinga about. Good luck.

  7. Patrick says:

    Hmm very true. We’re awfully spoiled. I almost never buy anything online from an unknown brand without being able to try it on first. In fact, the only time I order online is if I can find the item at a greater discount, or it’s unavailable otherwise. Even brands in which I know my size have some variation between pieces, so I usually go into a b&m store to try it on first.

    If there was absolute consistency with sizing, then I think this would be easy to overcome, as once people knew their size in particular types of clothing, they could place future orders more confidently.

    I suppose this doesn’t apply to one-size accessories.

  8. gary says:

    yes you have to give it a go

  9. Andrew says:

    Derrik, Nick, Harry, John, Patrick thank you for your wise advice, my idea may need a little refinement.

    Gary, Patrick and Peter thanks for your encouragement. I will keep you posted.

    Patrick, the items in the photo are from people who took the plunge and whom I’ve written about. Many of them had no background in clothing but took an idea and their interests and ran with it. Their aesthetic is naturally very close to my own.

    Regards
    A

  10. Geoff says:

    Hi Andrew, I don’t have any experience setting up a business like this so I can’t really offer any advice on side of things. But I do spend a lot of time searching out (especially online) small producers of really interesting, quality items, which makes it sound like your idea applies quite well to me.
    I would disagree with one of the earlier posts above (again remember, no business experience!) which suggested you become really strong in a particular product line. I think that works for a company planning to be a reasonable size, pushing out stable, reliable products.
    This doesn’t really sound like what you’re trying to set up, and I’m not sure it works for a very small company. Mainly because, like you said, you’ll end up selling a very small product line (maybe 5 items or less) and if they don’t change regularly then there’s no excitement for me re-checking your website or reading your shop’s blog, emails etc. You’d be the guy who makes the excellent couple of items, and once I’d seen them, maybe bought them, that’s it I’ve no reason to return unless I need a replacement.
    Personally I’d be much more excited in your original suggestion, a website with small runs of interesting products, which change dramatically on a regular basis. One day a military watch, the next a penny loafer. That I’ll bookmark and check regularly, in the same way that I check Lodger’s shoe of the month, because it’s so different each time it’s really exciting. One thing I would love though, is a range of prices to draw me in, Lodger shoes are great, as are camel hair coats, but it takes commitment to part with 500 pounds or more in a blind sale. Some smaller items for less money really help me to try you out and find out if the quality and design are really my thing, and give me confidence to buy the bigger products.

  11. Hi Andrew

    Instead of producing your own pieces why not draw together pieces from all of the brands that you love and create your own online shop? As you know the brands well they may do small runs of specific pieces for you anyway. After the succes of net-a-porter perhaps it is time that there was a men’s site that did something similar (perhaps there already is but I have yet to find it). That mix of things that are just cool, exquisite or expensive.

    It’s a lovely idea, but without significant backing I just wouldn’t venture into manufacturing…plus British production costs are too high realistically to keep things locally made and accessible. Why not source and sell the best from each country across the globe – then sell it online – that’s my advice!

    A low initial outlay plus existing audience (via blog) plus individuality plus total dedication…could be a winner!

  12. Erick says:

    Andrew,
    There are two great regrets that I have in my life:
    1. I didn’t marry that amazing German girl that I was in love with in college.
    2. I didn’t try making it as a full time musician or actor (I’m good at both) because I was afraid I would fail.
    Now as I approach 40, I recognize how foolish I was because in both cases I didn’t follow my heart. If you love it do it. You will find out soon enough if you can make it work or not. But win or lose, you will feel so much more satisfaction from having tried. No regrets, my friend, no regrets.

  13. Andrew says:

    Geoff, Deborah, Erick,
    Thank you for your supportive comments and ideas. Very useful all. I’ve got to do, just need to refine the idea slightly I think. Thank you again.
    Regards
    A