With 3 and a half years of trading under our belt, team FINDRA are preparing to launch our new range of products in April. Alex explains to us the long and length nature of bringing a new product to the market.
Why has it taken so long, you might well ask? Well lots of reason, in this blog I reflect back on growing a brand and building a business with a small, capsule range of products and why I felt it was the best way to start this journey.
Starting a business is a big risk, building a brand is a big challenge, designing your own products sourcing the raw material and finding reliable manufacturers and ultimately marketing and selling those products is an enormous undertaking.
When I started FINDRA I felt that I had a bit of a head start having built a career designing, product developing and overseeing the manufacture of some of the most luxurious knitwear for the world's leading fashion houses. I felt fairly confident that I knew what I was doing. However, even with the solid grounding I had in the industry I still wasn’t prepared for the journey that lay ahead and the many pitfalls and challenges I would have to overcome to extend my product offering and build my brand.
I am passionate about well-designed well-made products. I am passionate about sourcing and working with the best suppliers we can find, whether that’s in Scotland the UK, China or Europe. My aim is to build partnerships with suppliers who understand my brand ethos and our values. Building a strong supply chain is so important and key to the success of the business. Creating a great product but not having the supply chain in place to fulfil the demand undermines the foundations of the business. You can market your story all over social media take nice photos and promise your customer the earth but if you can't deliver then you fail on so many levels, from customer satisfaction to false marketing and poor cash-flow.
Finding good suppliers takes time and effort, and even then it can go wrong. The last 18 months at FINDRA have been a big challenge as we set out to take the designs I had created and find suitable manufacturers to work with who could bring these to life.
When I launched FINDRA I had a big vision for what I wanted to create and build, I also had limited resources, I was still working full time as a designer, but I had done a huge amount of ground-work to validate the business idea by speaking directly to potential customers within the cycling and outdoor market, validating my business concept but now I had to validate my product ideas.
I knew I had to start with a small run of designs, in limited colours and sizes which would allow me to test the market and see if there would be any demand for them. I didn’t have the cash to invest heavily in stock and in many ways that was a good thing.
I knew that I wanted to work with Merino, (for me it’s the ideal raw material for the outdoors) so I started there and designed a small number of styles and accessories that I could have made in the UK. This was I important for several reasons, I could communicate easily with the factory and could also visit if any problems arose. I also knew I was entering into an unknown. In December 2014 FINDRA was launched to market with 4 garment designs and 2 accessory designs, it was an exciting but nerve-wracking time. I had no idea what would happen or if anyone would like what I had produced.
Fast-forward to Christmas 2017 and the garments and accessories I launched with continue to be our best sellers. These styles now form our core range. These designs have sustained me through the early years of my start-up, allowing me to build the brand and a loyal customer base. Keeping the range tight allowed us to create a strong relationship with a key supplier to improve the product design to ensure it got better and better. It also meant we minimized the risk of buying too much stock too soon, which often leads brand into the world of discounting an area I spoke about in a previous blog and one which I avoid at all cost.
The original styles are still the bestsellers with the Caddon top and Betty neckwarmer.
Keeping the product line lean has been hugely beneficial to us as a startup, but like with most things, there are also negatives and I was aware that we had to grow our range and widen our product offering, to keep things fresh and appeal to a wider audience as well as offering our loyal customers something new.
As a creative person designing was no problem, I am constantly coming up with new ideas and designs for garments, however, the reality of bringing them to life is a much bigger challenge.
Generally speaking, the clothing industry is set up for volume manufacturing; fast fashion means suppliers are used to producing huge volumes of styles with a quick turn around. Short production runs are seen as inefficient and more labour intensive, causing many suppliers to avoid small start-ups, which in turn makes it extremely difficult for smaller brands to become established.
I was aware of this problem and knew we needed to source suppliers who could see beyond our present situation and understand our potential.
The first step on the journey was finding these suitable suppliers, there are many out there but how do you know which one is right? Its difficult and there doesn’t seem to be any great resources available to help mitigate these risks. In the end, we have had to test and try many suppliers some of who fell by the wayside due to lack of commitment or poor quality, some just didn’t bother communicating and never really got back to us, and some have been fantastic! These are the gems and the ones to hold on to and ensure you build strong relationships with.
So now you have a supplier, next for consideration is volume, with most suppliers you must hit a minimum volume which can often be extremely high, this is a challenge as you are going in blind not knowing if the customer will like what you have created and if they don’t, you have a lot of stock to shift. You are limited to the type of fabrics you can select and the number of colour options you can have so from the outset your beautifully curated design range is being decimated as you realise key to the success of this process is compromise!
A supportive supplier will work with you on this, if they can see the long-term potential then you have the opportunity to negotiate hard on minimums and reduce the volume down to a more manageable level that allows you to test the market first before over-committing, this however often comes with a surcharge but it’s better to take that hit than be forced to discount later down the line.
Volume impacts on everything, from the fabric to the colour choice to the branding applied to the design. As a designer, this is a great way to learn how to create a well-designed yet commercially viable product. Thinking through the detail of the design and how the range will sit together with all of these restrictions is challenging but also a great learning curve. It has taken 18 months to work through all of these issues, to overcome many hurdles and produce a range of products that the team is proud of, products that have the FINDRA handwriting designs. Designs that are considered with key features and design elements that our customers will love but that also fit the bill commercially and enable us to continue to grow organically and in a way that is managed and aligned with our brand and business values. It’s a true labour of love but we wouldn’t have it any other way. The new FINDRA range is available online NOW. We hope you love it as much as we do!