Saturday, 15 December 2012

#ESPspotlight REVIEW: StartUp Fashion Event

It's a wonderful tool, that EventBrite website. I'll confess that I often forget to read the monthly 'Picks for You' newsletter (you know we all do when the day-to-day tasks overtake us) but for some reason this month, I took a look at what was on as soon as it arrived.

When I came across the StartUp Fashion listing, I got that familiar gut instinct that stops you in your tracks. Whilst EricaSharlette Promotions Ltd. is not a Fashion Brand, I'm a firm believer in always finding the lesson in everything. I've found that some of the biggest come from going back to your roots and reminding yourself why you do whatever it is that you do. The bare bones of operations management is one of those things, so already my interest was piqued.

Looking at the amazing line up of speakers though, I felt sure that such a day had to come with some extortionate price tag, so had already half left the page mentally, before I saw the fee of £0.00. That's right. ASOS, Harvey Nick'sHouse of Fraser Head Honcho's to name but a few and the bill for the day came to precisely ZERO. There was no question of where you were going to find me come November 28th...

Alison Lewy, Founder of Fashion Angel
After my usual 'Little Lamb Lost' routine - this time with the backing of three others, all as Google Mapped-out and completely clueless as I as to our whereabouts; we eventually found the Iris London venue, nestled in the Southwark's Olympic-refurbished back-streets.

Name-badged up and seated, Fashion Angel Founder Alison Lewy, had just begun giving invaluable guidance on the importance of creating the most important foundation for any company - the dreaded and scary business plan in her seminar, Planning for Success.

The company head, who provides 'Mentoring, Networking and Business Funding for Fashion Industry Start Ups', gave hope and encouragement to those in attendance, by announcing they were joining the Government's funding and training scheme for start ups at the event. Kicking off a day of standout quotes, her borrowed quip of "Failing to plan, is planning to fail" was a day-long hit with attendees and speakers alike.

Nick Wheeler's bitter pill came with a hopeful coating...
The talk by Nick Wheeler, Founder of Charles Tyrwhitt was next and it has to be said, was my favourite segment of the day. 

Hilarious yet inspirational, Wheeler did not shy away from talking about his failures, or personal mistakes. Brutally (and refreshingly) honest, one of his most interesting anecdotes was that he reads every piece of bad company feedback personally - everyday. With 21 stores worldwide and married to Chrissie Rucker, Founder and Owner of The White Company, I couldn't fathom where on Earth he must find the time...?

It made perfect sense that Wheeler's talk was entitled an 'Inspirational Snapshot' on the programme, being that its only downside was that it was entirely too short! The kind of speaker you would pay a full day's fee to hear; many a great motivational quote came out of his 20 minute session, with my personal favourite being:

"You can either take a beating and go and do something else, or it just gives you that little push to try harder...Sometimes you'll get bored, but you just have to
Re-find that passion,
Revisit that Vision
and FOCUS!"

Emma Brown, Mark Hammersley and Joseph Wan's
varied opinions made for a great debate
The first panel of the day - 'Promoting & Pitching Your Products' was a wealth of information, with recipes for success based on a combined experience range of 4 months to 20 years.

Milliner and Company Founder Emma Brown, Zoggs CEO Mark Hammersley and Harvey Nichols CEO Joseph Wan, all talked of the approaches that worked for them and how they went about achieving their success. What was most interesting to hear, was the variation in the preference of each. A strong social media presence versus good old tried and trusted paper print, versus a middle ground for both.

Key quote came from Mr Wan. Serving out his fourth 5-year contract with London's most high-fashion department store, he provided serious food for thought when answering an audience question on the best use of Social Media:

"Ensure you know exactly which angle you're targeting social media (marketing) from - for communications or customer service? Know what aspect of your business you want to assist before you attempt to send a message."

Fraser Smeaton's main message was to always
"Reinforce your positioning" brand-wise
Morphsuits CEO's Fraser Smeaton gave my second favourite seminar of the day: 'Standing Out From The Crowd'.

Billed as guidance around 'developing your own USP and the art of good presentation / branding and packaging'; again  it was the candid willingness to not only hold his hands up and admit fault, but talk about how his company managed turning the failures into successes that provided the most benefit

His take away quote:

"When people are confused, they don't support a product."

Claire Watt-Smith (left) borrowed a great Olympic quote
for inspiration: "You can't give up if you go wrong...
doors and opportunities will close if you do"
The Making It In Fashion Panel offered firsthand experience into the hardships of starting with just an idea and no clue where to go, from self-starters Daniel Morris (Brand Clout Ltd.), Amber Atherton (My Flash Trash) and Claire Watt-Smith (BoBelle London).

Starting out on market stalls and in bedrooms, the trio gave helpful insight into how they turned pipe dreams into profit and used social media to drive their online sales. I must admit that I never thought the day would come when I learned something important from a Made In Chelsea star, but Amber Atherton's advice on really knowing and understanding the equity versus the valuation of your product was key; along with the seemingly easy exercise of trying to pick 5 images that best describe your brand (try it, it's not as easy as you would think..).

Morris' 'K.I.S.S. Concept' (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) drew a lot of laughs with its obvious, yet overlooked basis in common sense. It was his response to the audience question asking for advice in driving online sales though, that drew the seminar's top quote:

"(If) you're treating online businesses differently, DON'T! Opening a business online is NO different to (opening) a bricks and mortar; you're all in business, your goal is to TRADE!"

Investment vs. Crowd Funding vs. StartUp Loans -
all three pitched good cases for their options...
The scary money talks followed, in the shape of the Finance in Fashion - How to source money panel with Richard Alvin, of Capital Business Media (and occasional 'Dragon's Den' venture capitalist), Danae Ringlemann, Founder of Indiegogo and Crowd Funding Specialist and Remy Jansons from StartUp Britain's own Loans Division.

What struck me most about Richard Alvin's introduction and advice, is that you don't really tend to associate venture capitalists with heart and emotion, which surprisingly, was what he was full of when talking about the people behind some of his investments. Learning that moneybags have hearts too went a very long way to making that part of the programme much less daunting for any non-finance naturals.

Danae Ringlemann gave a warm and welcome introduction to the unfamiliar concept of crowd funding and made clear why her success has been built upon social forums. Her ability to draw and hold an audience, despite a PowerPoint mishap that really should have lost her all interest, was proof that you really can take the heart of a social network offline, put it in a person and have it still work equally well, if not better.

Remy Jansons rounded up the segment, talking through the Government's £82.5 million budget for StartUp loan schemes to help 18-30 year old's get off the ground.

Talking Cash Flow...
Like most creatives, when you start talking technicals and finance, my eyes tend to glaze over and even I'm not sure whether or not I'm awake, but I steeled myself to follow the Taking Care of Money panel with Johnny Martin of small business accounting software company Intuit; who kindly made simple enough sense of Equity, VAT and basic business practice for even Yours Truly to follow. Emily Coltman of FreeAgent politely put the fear in many an attendee by breaking down exactly what's required for tax returns and accounting to Companies House. My timbres are still shivering.

(l-r) John Lewis, Zalando UK and House of Fraser buyers
were impressed with the standard of pitches presented on the day...
The Meet The Buyers panel and Q&A was a brilliant opportunity for 3 very different, up and coming labels to pitch their collections to representatives from retailers that as small brands, they would likely never get anywhere near in everyday life.

Kim Humphries and Verity Parker from John Lewis, Kevin Rogers from House of Fraser and Lucy Dunn from Zalando UK, all listened and fed back with useful pointers that each design house in the room would successfully benefit from if used correctly.

ASOS Marketplace Editor Joanna Wiggins
Joanna Wiggins, Editor of ASOS Marketplace taught the best practice for using powerful platforms like her own to boost your Online Sales. Kindly saving the day after a last-minute cancellation; the key quote from her had to have been:

"Think about the story that you tell across a whole year - not just one season."

(l-r) Mike Salter, Zoe Boomer, Edoardo Cannarsa
and Becky Jones

Not to be overlooked, the High Street Sales panel talked through their self-made successes with pop-up shops. Becky Jones flew the flag for StartUp Britain, as did Edoardo Cannarsa, Founder of MyEdo and StartUp Britain alum. Brand namesake Zoe Boomer and Mike Salter, Co-founder of We Are Pop Up, the organisation that connects you with available space in 4 simple steps, rounded out the line up.

Boomer's comment about changing your personal mindset early in your company history got everyone thinking:

"Talk about WE instead of I - give the impression that you're bigger than you are..."

Paul Alger and the ladies of SPINNA

The final panel of the day, Support for fashion rounded up by focusing on resources. Fashion Angel's Alison Lewy returned, along with Elizia Volkmann from SPINNA (The Women's International Textile Alliance). Paul Alger flew the flag for UKFT (UK Fashion and Textiles Association).

With the emphasis on networking, membership bodies and ensuring no-one left the day without knowing that there is help, assistance and guidance out there; it was valuable to learn about some of the companies and facilities that exist, solely to help so many realise their dreams.

The post-event, the evening's drinks reception was a brilliant networking opportunity created by event co-hosts UKFT Rise. Not just for the chance to mingle with other attendees from the day, the extra time meant that I got to speak with host and organiser Richard Hurtley, Founder of Rampant Sporting about why he chose to create such a rare gateway for those trying to get a foot in the door:

"The purpose of the Startup Fashion event was to inspire and educate people about how to set up a business in the fashion industry. As the one of the first events of its kind we were hoping it would be a success, and we expected about 250 people throughout the day. We in fact got closer to 400!

The StartUp Fashion event was Richard Hurtley's brainchild

The overwhelming feedback was that people learnt a huge amount and that the calibre of speakers and diversity of topics left people feeling inspired, educated and enabled them to take their ideas further, not to mention meeting some great people. So I am really chuffed that it worked so well and will look to continue these events in the future."

Supply and demand at it's most fundamentalStartUp events are a resource that new UK businesses literally cannot afford to be without.

See you at the next one!
ES ;o)

Follow StartUp Britain on Facebook or visit the Website for more information on coming events.