This the last part of our conversations with makers in the local fashion industry, produced by Chris Hunt – PR & Events Director at Genuine, and Founder/Director of Social Enterprise Scotland Re:Designed CIC,
What do you do?
I am the Creative Director of Isolated Heroes, which is my E-commerce Womenswear brand. Isolated Heroes is on a mission to empower babes of all shapes,
Designing feel-good clothing that helps customers feel like the sassiest versions of themselves. One of the first independent brands to champion body positivity, we have developed collections in a size range that is accessible to all. (Designs available from UK6 – UK28), 60% of our online store revenue comes from UK sales with the rest of our direct-to-consumer sales coming from an international audience. This has rapidly changed from when I started the brand when we used to receive a majority in International sales. I believe this is down to changing e-commerce trends with more and more UK consumers choosing to shop with independent and sustainable brands.
My early designs were ahead of their time, sold internationally and received a lot of celebrity and artist talent attention but UK sales were slower to develop. Over the last couple of years, we have focused on listening to customer feedback, continuing to provide statement pieces that can be passed through generations but also introducing practical elements into the clothing range such as softer fabrics, sustainable sequin sweaters and the introduction of #zerowaste Childrenswear made from our offcuts.
How do you do it?
I work from a studio in WASPS, and have six people on Production, Customer Service and Creative Content, but since lockdown we can only have 1 person in the Business and 1 on Production in the premises, so everyone else is working from home around Dundee and Angus.
As everyone is working on other projects and mostly had their own sewing machines, with a bit of juggling we have managed to implement new ways of working.
As Covid-19 support was either too hard to access or nonexistent for us as a tenant creative business without a rateable value, we decided to keep going and focus instead on our Sales plans.
Most of the people I work with are Heriot-Watt Technology graduates, as I look for manufacture and technical skills sets for quality control. I am really strict on that, I want to build suppliers who are passionate and motivated, long term and grow with the company, and share technical know-how and skills.
My Customer Relations supplier is from Grays School of Art Fashion Business course.
What do you think are the Challenges and Opportunities working in this sector locally?
I am a working Mum and everything is taking so much longer to do at the moment since lockdown, but being a digital first company anyway this lockdown has enabled us to take time to reconnect with our customers, community and audience and really look again at systems, changing working patterns.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on my Supplier networks here and overseas too, and then Brexit has made that so much worse; for anything abroad, we have experienced some really long supplier delays on fabrics. With some 2 Day FEDEX shipments taking weeks to clear customs, it has been a nightmare. I think loads of Indie brands have experienced the same problems; that taking Sales has not been an issue, the issue lies with Suppliers and receiving the raw materials needed in a timely manner to be able to produce Customer orders.
I have spent a lot of lockdown working with Suppliers to honour orders and work things out with delays for the customers, but I am fortunate as we do weekly drops and make to order so it is concise for me. We believe in transparency within our supply chain, so this has been another opportunity to show our Audience the realities of running a small independent clothing business during a global pandemic.
Spending money on furlough and spending at least 6.5 hours a day on social media has been a major shift for the business with lockdown, which we will unpick again going forward, but we have been able to adapt our designs and products quickly.
Although 2020 has been a stressful business year for many there have been some benefits with consumers spending online. Our particular audience demographic has increased their online spending, and we have seen a surge in sales with our community still wanting to look sassy whilst they are lounging, so we have looked at fabrics, colourways and trims, and how many times our customers can wear and rewear their items.
Why do you love Dundee?
My main draw for coming back to Dundee was ultimately cost as I knew studio space was affordable and it was clear that Dundee was a great place to base a startup business with a strong creative community within the city. There is a really vibey feeling around Dundee and great people live here. Now the business has grown, we stayed working here because I love the location, and it is full of opportunities. We have staff who travel from both Edinburgh and Aberdeen and we regularly use photographers and models from Glasgow creative agencies, so Dundee is the ideal space for my business to grow as it is so easily accessible.
What do you think is happening to Fashion right now, in Scotland and generally?
Scottish Fashion needs to be more sustained, with regular activities and ongoing work. To me there is no conversion funnel for graduates in Scotland and a real lack of industry events to attend to network and get to know your peers.
We need more events to attend that bring back the fun and glamour of the industry rather than sales-based or educational events. I feel that there are so many amazing Fashion businesses operating within Scotland however there is no opportunity to network between them and we do not celebrate our industry success stories within the sector.
At Isolated Heroes we provide a platform for a strong, diverse workforce. Offering employment for Freelancers and Creatives within the Scottish Fashion industry, showing that Fashion success stories can exist north of the border. We use our online platform to show the behind-the-scenes process of our Design Studio and communicate with other Creatives in Scotland. The IH studio is a thriving hub of Fashion tech, Design and Communications professionals who bring their skill sets together to make the Isolated Heroes dream a reality, however it would be so nice to host or attend regular industry events directed at our sector.
What would you like to see happen in Scottish Fashion, or in Dundee for Fashion?
More networking events and fun launch nights / openings etc. that have a mixed guest list and provide collaborative opportunities.
I have been thinking generally since Covid-19 that people did not know what support was for them or not, or what business fitted where. It was all so overwhelming, and then as a Fashion business who do you ask, and locally?
A lot of the support was great, but for us in Fashion it was not really business support as it was all too vague, each application was a huge hit or miss on whether we would even qualify in the correct categories to receive funding and each application process takes time out of the business when we needed something immediate.
Some kind of support system for the Scottish Fashion industry is long needed and overdue really, from discussions around access to space and events to 1-to-1 support, we do not even have an industry body for Fashion in Scotland which is crazy and all the events stopped even before lockdown, but I think since Covid-19 everyone is ramping up again, and a new network is in the pipeline locally, and I cannot wait.
What are your hopes long term?
I really hope we see a return to all the Fashion events, which used to be really great learning and emotional experiences, meeting others, and also getting loads of photos and great videos for my business and it’s audiences. I do not know if people behind the scenes really understand how valuable all that was to us, and I really miss it.
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