How to start a fashion brand

22 Sep 2020

Creating an iconic fashion label has long been the dream of many budding creatives. Recently, emerging creatives are proving that you don’t need a fashion degree from a prestigious university to create a stand-out brand. But what are the practical steps to getting started and create a label that stands the test of time – outside of trends and seasons?

Who better to ask than two founders at the helm of this new generation of fashion brands? Read on as Becky Okell, co-Founder of Paynter Jacket Co. and Joel Jeffery, CEO of Desmond & Dempsey share their tips on how to launch an unforgettable fashion label.


Build your concept

First things first, you'll need a unique concept that won't make you blend into the background. This is something Becky says new brands should consider from the get-go: “It’s so important to have an absolute need to exist – the world doesn’t need more ‘stuff’. Paynter Jacket Co. came from not wanting to create waste, and to bring back meaning to the clothing we all wear.”

Finding a gap in the market isn’t just a necessity, it’s also a way to drive some serious business. This is exactly what happened when Joel of Desmond & Dempsey was shopping for something that his partner Molly Goddard could wear in the mornings (aside from his shirts). “There were so many beautiful silk [pyjama] brands, but having to dry-clean was just not going to work. So, we went to a tailor and asked them to help make one of my shirts into PJ's for Molly.” From this, Desmond & Dempsey was born. Now growing at a rate of 250% every year with a customer return rate of 49%, it’s clear that defining a niche can pay dividends.


Consider sustainability

Right now, it's impossible to talk about fashion without considering sustainability. “I’d strongly recommend thinking about how to build sustainability into your business from day one,” Becky advised. “To not consider sustainability would be to write off many prospective customers. Get used to paying fair prices for good quality materials and services from the beginning. If you start off by valuing price over sustainability, it’s going to be harder to turn that ship around later.”

Sustainability also lies at the core of Desmond & Dempsey, who have garnered attention from eco-conscious customers and those part of the slow-fashion movement. Joel suggested that to incorporate this effectively, brands should focus on improving one area at a time, rather than tackling it all at once: “Early on, we focused on the human element: we've always worked with great suppliers who looked after their employees. Over the years, as we've educated ourselves about the environmental impact of the industry, we've worked hard with our teams to minimise our footprint. We're proud that our cotton is organic and our suppliers are all GOTS certified, meeting the highest level environmental criteria throughout the supply chain.”


Create an airtight supply chain

When it comes to the supply chain, everything from materials to fulfilment will need to be planned meticulously. No one knows this better than Becky. Around 100 pairs of hands touch each Paynter Jacket, and she believes it’s important to nurture a relationship with every one of them. “Finding suppliers is about finding the best quality while finding mutually beneficial relationships. When you’re meeting prospective makers, take samples or sketches of your product and ask about quantities, payment terms and how they like to work with brands. Listen to them – they see so much behind the scenes and their insights will be valuable.”

Platforms like Shopify or Squarespace will help you keep your ecommerce organised, but Joel suggests that brands take the time to add a personal touch – seeing ecommerce as a crucial touchpoint between a brand and a customer. “Starting out, you need to pack every order yourself, this way you get to know your product and your customer. For as long as possible we handwrote every single order and the postcard that went with it. We wanted to ensure that we kept the authenticity of Desmond & Dempsey as the brand developed.”


Get the word out

Now you have a great product – how do you let the world know about it? For brands just starting out, Joel stressed the importance of blending on and offline marketing. “I invested early on in social ads,” Joel told us, “but at the same time, Molly would work tirelessly to convince editors to meet her for a coffee. For us as founders, it was also important that we felt connected with our customers, so we would host brunches and invest a lot in offline initiatives like The Sunday Paper. We want to give people something tactile that they can get lost in.”

Becky advised that however you promote your brand, it shouldn’t be left until the product is released. “There will be so many stories, ups, downs, experiments and learnings along your journey that people will love to hear about. By the time we sold our first jacket, we had a waiting list of over 2,500 people – it was all because we’d shared these stories of our design process and people felt part of what we were building.”


Branch out into the physical world

Once a pipe-dream for most, flexible leasing is now making retail accessible for emerging fashion labels. The benefits go beyond financial: retail space offers an opportunity to tell your story and build meaningful relationships with your community – both Becky and Joel noted this. “A temporary retail experience is a great way to test out the market, we are big believers in the power of the physical store,” Joel told us. “We chose to launch in the middle of busy Covent Garden with Appear Here, and build our own version of a Morrocan souk. The customers loved it. Within 10 days of the pop up, our entire collection displayed sold out.”

Although Paynter Jacket Co. are yet to have a store of their own, Becky recalled the importance of a community space to building a community. “Last year, as an anti-Black Friday experiment we hosted ‘Paynter at the Pub’. It was amazing to actually meet our customers and for them to meet each other. We’ve even had a few relationships start because of meet ups! If we were to open a store, it would definitely be focused on relationships and experiences. Day to day we might not actually retail from the space at all, it would more likely be about deepening people’s understanding of the way their clothes are made. For us, it’s always been as much about people as it is about jackets.”