I was 12 when I decided I wanted to be a designer. In many ways, I was incredibly lucky that I knew exactly what I wanted to do from a young age. It meant I had a goal, an objective. I knew where I wanted to be and I had a plan of how to get there. Maybe knowing my destination and being incredibly eager to get there is where I learned that hard work pay dividends.
I was fortunate that my father also worked in the industry as a supplier of sportswear goods, and so I was able to learn elements of the trade from a young age. I was often asked if I would take over the family business to which my reply was always “no”. I wanted to succeed on my own, be my own person and find my own way.
I followed the conventional route to becoming a designer. I studied Fashion at university, choosing a 4 year course which included a year of industry placements (I did mine at Topshop…for free!) and I worked really, really hard. I graduated in 2010 with first class honours from Northumbria University and I landed my first job with the design team at Karen Millen shortly after. Obviously that’s an extremely simplified version of events, but you get the gist. It wasn't an easy journey, it took a lot of hard work, determination and tears to get there. But I had an amazing time along the way, meeting people with whom I’m still close friends with over 10 years later.
Once I made it into industry, I quickly realised I still had a lot to learn. Although I had lots of skills from my time at university and work placements, I still had to work really hard to properly learn my trade, prove my worth and start climbing the “ladder”.
Fast forward 8 years to launching Farrar Studio, I have met so many people who have decided to launch brands and businesses without any fashion or design training. To me, it’s highlighted how the industry landscape is changing. We are seeing major high street retailers such as House of Fraser and Debenhams on the edge and closing whilst independent and luxury brands are on the up, opening stores and gaining momentum. There’s no denying the fashion landscape is changing, and it’s becoming more and more accessible. I often talk of my frustrations with how closed off the industry is and that we need more transparency, and I feel like we are making small steps towards that goal.
So how can you run a successful clothing brand, without any design training?
If you had asked me that question 8 years ago I would have said “you can’t, it’s simply not possible”, however, I have met some incredible people over the last 12 months and with the right connections it is definitely possible. My experience is that a lot of people have a great idea and a good strategy, they even have the right marketing tools and experience but they lack a facilitator to turn their vision into a reality…the product is the missing link.
I’ve heard several horror stories of people assuming they can launch a brand within a couple of months, found a factory that will make their goods at cheap prices, paid out a few thousand pounds and then received product that either isn’t what they wanted, poor quality, in the wrong fabric or is delivered late. It’s disheartening and can stop a new project right it in its tracks. So my advice would be to take your time, don’t rush and really take the time to find the RIGHT connections that work for you and your business. You don’t have to be a designer with training or qualifications, but you do need to surround yourself with people who fill in the ‘skills gap’ that you yourself can’t fulfil.
Communicating an idea to a factory can be really difficult, especially when there are language barriers so it’s important that you can provide a tech pack with clear and visual instructions of what you want. This is much easier said than done and so teaming up with people owning that skill set is really important.
There are lots of great B2B platforms such as Utelier that can link up various services within the industry and are making headway in creating a more open and transparent industry whilst offering fantastic inside industry advice.
Although training to be a designer gives you a huge advantage in terms of having product knowledge, understanding fabric, trims and construction and having an clear idea of timelines, it is not essential to do so in order to run a sucessful business. You just need to work with the right people.
Over the last 12 months since I launched Farrar Studio, I have been able to offer different layers of services to my clients, tailored to their individual needs. Whether it’s designing full ranges, working to a tight brief, or just facilitating the sampling and production process, I’ve been able to support brands big and small in areas where they have lacked the expertise.