As part of a series highlighting some of the amazing brands we support, we interviewed our Start Up Loan alumni, Rachel James, co-founder and creative director of her eponymous, innovative British menswear label.
Rachel kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her journey so far, and how she found the Start Up Loan process.
What is your brand’s USP?
Rachel James is a British menswear designer label, known for our innovative prints, bold use of colour and creative yet slick streetwear. We’re 100% made in Great Britain.
What made you want to start your business?
After finishing my graduate collection (with BA (hons) in Fashion Design at University of Westminster), and loving the momentum of turning my ideas into real and exciting clothing, I just wanted to keep going! I saw a niche in the menswear market for luxury streetwear and believed I could offer something different and desirable.
I started the business part time at first while I formulated a plan with my partner Tom, but then was spotted by the British Fashion Council and invited to show the collection at London Collections Men(LCM)in January 2015 . I saw this as the moment to seize and launch my business full time with everything I had.
How did you hear about the Fashion Angel Start Up Loan scheme?
I did lots of research online about the kind of financial support available and it made a lot of sense to apply, as they were the only delivery partner focusing just on supporting fashion businesses.
What did you use the loan for?
We used the money to create another collection for LCM (which also showed at Paris), to pay for trade shows, and towards general overheads eg rent and PR.
How did you find the loan application process?
The loan process was reasonably straight forward once our business plan was right.
Did you find the one to one pre loan support useful?
Our initial mentoring session with another mentor wasn’t particularly useful as it was from someone with quite a different background to ours. But then we started working with Alison at Fashion Angel, who has been really helpful and supportive.
Have you found post-loan mentoring helpful?
Again, Alison has been supportive and encouraging with strong ideas for us going forward.
When did you launch and how was the response?
We launched our first range in January 2015 and have produced three collections to date. We have a growing fan base and each collection has been praised as being more creative, refined & fashion forward than the last one by, journalists, stylists, buyers and customers.
What is your route to market?
We have signed up with a couple of small stockists and one large stockist and will be launching with them this year. We also sell online and so far have held two pop up events which were great successes, and plan to continue this to familiarise people with the brand.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are in general men aged between 25-40, who take a keen interest in their clothes and have enough disposable income to support purchasing luxury fashion.
What so far has been the biggest set up challenge and in hindsight, your biggest mistake?
I don’t consider us to have made any huge mistakes – but certainly lots of little ones. But I don’t regret any of them, as we have learnt from each one.
The biggest challenge is certainly managing our cashflow! Learning to juggle overheads, invoices and current spending whilst planning ahead is always tricky, and never quite knowing where our next influx of money will come from. But I’m proud that we always find a way of doing things and have learnt to make smart compromises.
What would be your advice to anyone starting out?
Don’t rush in to it straight away. The business is going to eat up so much more money than you think! Spend time looking into what support and funding there is available and have a strategy in place – people won’t think any less of you if you can’t afford to do it full time at the start .
You’ll also need lot’s of energy, and be prepared to be flexible and change plans if something isn’t working.
What are your hopes for the future?
We want to remain flexible and expand the company so that we’re not just a cool menswear label, but a well-known brand: doings lots of cool collaborations and creations along the way.
Interview by Meg Plenderleith
See how the Fashion Angel Start Up Loan Programme can help your fashion business.