KerrieALDO: Handmade and practical designs
As we move into May, the focus on design in Dundee increases by the day. To tie in with Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we wanted to highlight craftsmanship in our city and looked no further than Kerrie Alexander, owner of coat and jacket brand, KerrieALDO. Kerrie believes that in a time filled with mass-produced fast fashion, it is important to emphasise the expert craftsmanship, time and care that goes into her designs.
Can you describe a typical working day in the life of Kerrie Alexander?
It’s a bit of a cliché to say that everyday is different but genuinely this is true for me. When I arrive in the morning my day can begin with working on customer orders, cutting fabric, working on new designs, replying to customer enquiries – anything really! It’s a total mix. I might also be out at meetings or sourcing new fabric so each day really is different!
Tell us about your journey to founding your label – what inspired you?
I wouldn’t say it was an accident but I didn’t originally plan to work in fashion, instead I hoped to study Fine Art but I went to college to work on a portfolio, something clicked and I decided to progress onto university where I studied Fashion Design for Industry for Heriott-Watt. Even though it wasn’t originally what I had planned, they are both creative fields so I enjoyed designing clothes. When I left uni, I had made my boyfriend a coat as a gift and people then started asking me to make ones for them so I started making custom orders. By that time I was already working part-time and made coats on my days off but due to demand I ended up starting my own business… and the rest is history! I wouldn’t change anything now and it just shows that sometimes you can end up really enjoying something you never expected to do.
Can you tell us about your latest designs?
I’m currently working on finishing up my summer collection which is soon to launch in June. My main focus when designing collections is the jackets but normally I produce more for autumn/winter as obviously it’s a bit chillier. For summer I like to keep it casual – at the moment I’m working on accessories, t-shirts and lightweight jackets to be rolled out soon.
I’m also doing a pop-up event this month with Tea Green Events which is a bit different to traditional pop-ups, it is a unique concept atelier which will be host to many artists and designers along with a live studio space and exhibition. This will allow for a soft launch of the new collection with a sneak peak of my designs, and I’ll also have a few limited edition pieces available which is exciting!
What has been your highlight of working in design?
After launching my website, one of my favourite achievements is being stocked in Manifesto Clothing. The independent retailer sold my coats and jackets alongside big brands such as Adidas, Barbour and Fred Perry – it was probably the first ‘big’ thing to happen to my business.
Being picked for the Scotland Re:Designed showcase was also a definite highlight for me because I’ve always followed it but never thought that I’d get involved. When I was chosen, I was showcased with some established and popular Scottish brands that have a large following so it has helped increase awareness of my brand.
What has been the biggest challenge in your design based career?
Probably doing everything myself – it can be difficult to make time for marketing, social media, replying to customers on time and working on new designed when it’s just me. When I first set up I was only working part-time on my label and the rest of the week I was working in Hayley Scanlan’s studio but since I’ve began focusing my full attention on my own label, it’s a lot easier to do this.
What do you think the future of Dundee’s design industry holds for businesses like your own?
I think there’s probably going to be a lot of change in the next few years which could lead to a lot more opportunities for people who work in design. With the regeneration of the waterfront there might be more creative spaces in Dundee. Obviously the focus is to encourage people to stay and work here and I can already see this happening now – I imagine the design industry in the city will continue to grow as young designers like myself continue to be based here. As my label has began to grow, I’ve not felt the need to leave Dundee – I’m happy and able to run my own business here and it’d be great to see even more designers based here than there are at the moment. I think setting up in the likes of London would be a lot harder for startup brands because whilst there are more opportunities, the cost of rent and studio space is extortionate in comparison to here.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’ve got a lot of musical influences but I think when you work alone, you’ve got less time to focus on inspiration – normally at university you’ve got a lot more time to figure this out so my time there helped form my first collection. Sometimes newer collections are an evolution of previous ones with select styles carried through but with different colours or material. I don’t tend to stick to one particular theme but I would say they all have a lot of musical influences because I’ve always admired music.
How did you engage with potential customers in the early stages to make sure your designs were something they would buy?
A lot of it was, and still is, through social media – I might make a sample of an item or post a preview and gauge the reaction. I might also put up a custom order and see how that does. I find social media is a good way to discover what my customers like as it encourages engagement. I wouldn’t say social media is the be all and end all as previous collections also help inform what my customers want and like.
What advice would you give to start-up design businesses in Dundee?
I don’t know if I have any direct advice but for me, when I was setting up my business I did it gradually and this really worked for me. To begin with, I only did custom orders so it was almost like consumer research and I found this a lot more sensible than making 400 jackets straight away without having an established brand. Taking my time to grow the brand has also meant that since launching I’ve been able to build up a following and look at a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ details such as where to source the best fabric. Starting slow has really been the best thing I could have done as it allowed me to test the brand whilst having another job.
I think also taking a lot of opportunities are good as you don’t know where they will lead you. I used to do alterations on the side which helped me learn a lot more about how clothing is made and I find you can always develop your skills from not doing what is your dream to begin with.
Learn more about KerrieALDO at KerrieALDO.com or by following her brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also catch Kerrie at Pecha Kucha Night Volume 15 on Thursday 26th May at West Ward Works as part of Dundee Design Festival. Learn more and purchase tickets here.