Business skills can be a challenge for many fashion entrepreneurs around the world - after all, it’s not only about creating! When it comes to learning or improving financial and marketing skills, fashion industry creatives can count on Fashion Angel. This fashion business support agency, founded by Alison Lewy, has been offering mentoring, training, networking events and access to funding to fashion industry entrepreneurs for over 8 years. Would you like to know how the agency helps independent fashion designers and fashion brands to improve or scale their fashion business? Check out our conversation with Alison, the fashion industry expert behind Fashion Angel:
[Digifair] What are the most frequent problems independent fashion designers and fashion startups come to you with?
[Alison Lewy] The 3 main issues they face are funding, finding suitable fabric suppliers and manufacturers to produce their designs, and then the marketing strategy.
[D] Why do you think fashion entrepreneurs have many difficulties when it comes to financing and marketing (business skills)?
[AL] There is often a big gap between creativity and entrepreneurialism and many designers find it difficult to understand the business/marketing side. If they have come through the fashion education system, they are usually not prepared with the skills needed for running a fashion brand. Lenders & investors know this and combined with high development costs and the time needed to build a brand, many consider a fashion brand to be high risk.
Alison Lewy, fashion consultant and founder of Fashion Angel, has been assisting fashion brands and entrepreneurs for over 8 years.
[D] How does Fashion Angel help fashion brands?
[AL] Fashion Angel aims to bridge this gap by offering a range of business support to fashion-related businesses. This includes 1:2:1 mentoring, workshops, a Business Club and access to funding via the government Start Up Loan scheme. With startups, it’s often giving guidance on their business strategy and looking at costing, source, and production routes to market and finance, while for established brands, it’s usually support in scaling the business or preparing for investment.
[D] What is the most popular service offered by Fashion Angel? Why do you think it's the most popular?
[AL] For startups, it is the support to apply for the Start-Up Loan as this also comes with free mentoring, but even if they are not looking for funding, the 1:2:1 mentoring is always in demand and we have both national & international clients. Getting objective advice and access to experienced industry professionals and their contacts can be invaluable.
[D] What are the workshops and events offered by Fashion Angel?
[AL] We run monthly workshops including Fashion Business Planning, Getting It Made (our most popular), Routes To Market, and Selling Fashion Online. We’ve just launched a new Range Planning workshop and Retail Merchandising Masterclass as for many brands, their business model is selling direct to consumers, yet they don’t have retail merchandising skills. The Getting It Made workshop is also available as an online course. In addition, we run quarterly networking events where industry speakers are invited to join us which gives designers the opportunity to network, share information and forge collaborations with other brands.
Solace London is a British womenswear brand founded by Laura Taylor and Ryan Holliday-Stevens in 2013, and a customer of Fashion Angel's consulting services. Image courtesy of Solace London
[D] How can technology improve the success rate of fashion entrepreneurs?
[AL] Technology has made it much easier to launch a brand as it’s relatively quick and low-cost to set up an online store using template platforms, and social media can help build brand awareness. All the platforms have sophisticated data capture that can help you understand your customers and how best to reach them. Also, the emergence of accessible CAD software saves time and money and we are seeing a growth in online sourcing platforms that can help them source suppliers.
[D] How often do you encounter fashion entrepreneurs struggling with fabric and material sourcing? What do they complain about?
[AL] This is a constant issue, so probably daily! They complain that it’s very difficult to access the materials they want in small quantities or know where to look, so they can prototype their designs, particularly if they have specific requirements. If they are a startup, they will also only want to produce small quantities of a product while testing the market, and to reduce waste. The options to date have been very limited.
[D] Can you tell us more about the Start-Up Loan program? What type of fashion businesses usually apply for it?
[AL] This is a UK government scheme which offers pre-start or businesses trading for 2 years or less, access to a flexible loan that comes with free mentoring as part of the support package. Traditional lenders are often reluctant to lend to fashion startups for the reasons mentioned previously so this has been a lifeline for our community. To access the loan, they have to have a business plan and show they have researched and understood the market, have sourced suppliers and understand their direct costs, and have a clear marketing strategy. We’ve supported brands covering all product areas and niches, as well as service-led businesses & fashion-tech entrepreneurs. The loan will help them prove their concept so they are better placed when looking at the next stage in funding.
A detail of the wide range available from the London Socks Co., one of the brands that used Fashion Angel's services. Image courtesy of London Socks Co.
[D] Fashion Angel has been helping fashion entrepreneurs for nearly 8 years. What are the next steps?
[AL] We are led by what is needed by our clients and are always looking to see how we can further support them. Once the brands we work with start to grow, the challenges change, so we are offering more support to established businesses. We launched our Getting It made online course last year which has had a good response, so we intend to develop more online resources to increase our reach and satisfy our growing international community.
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