By Janet Christie for The Scotsman
As the label opens a retail space in Edinburgh, we find out why men want a piece of the action too.
Alex Feechan, is the founder of FINDRA active lifestyle clothing. Created in 2014 in the textile village of Innerleithen, the brand takes inspiration from its stunning Tweed Valley surroundings and pride in its Scottish heritage.
It was Feechan’s love of cycling, coupled with her dismay at the lack of adequate outdoor clothing available for women, that inspired her to create her own range. The designer, who is still based in the Borders, explains what inspires her and why it is important to hold on to your original vision as FINDRA launches its first menswear collection and opens a new retail space in Edinburgh.
What is your background?
I received a first class honours degree in Industrial Design and Textiles before going on to do an MA in Knitted Textiles at the Royal College of Art, which started a 20-year career as a fashion designer. Latterly, I was head of design at Peter Scott Knitwear, which was based in the Borders but owned by a South Korean company. I was a frequent traveller to South Korea – it was hectic juggling work and family life with three sons, but an amazing experience.
How did FINDRA come about?
I had started cycling, found that I loved it, but couldn’t find anything to wear that was comfortable and looked good. No-one was making outdoor clothing specifically for women that was functional, fitted well, and was also attractive and comfortable. I knew what I wanted, so I decided to make it myself.
What is the aim for FINDRA?
What is the aim for FINDRA? International growth across our range of womenswear and menswear, while building a community of like-minded people who enjoy getting outdoors and sharing their experiences.
What is different about FINDRA?
We approach design in an innovative and creative way, we create products that have great crossover appeal from activity to lifestyle. Our seamless range has an incredibly innovative manufacturing process – we produce pieces knitted entirely without seams, so there is no rubbing or chafing – nobody else is doing this in the market that we are in.
What challenges have you faced?
Being a new brand, you are an unknown entity, so when it comes to growing the product range and working with suppliers, we are often put to the end of the queue for manufacturing because we don’t want to buy high volumes. We need to buy good quality, lower volumes, while a lot of manufacturers are set up for high volumes. The challenge is finding manufacturers who will work with you as you grow, which helps you grow in a sustainable and organic way.
Anything that has surprised you about your business?
The biggest surprise to me was the interest in menswear, because we had launched specifically for women. It came as a big surprise to me that so many customers asked about menswear, so this year we launched our Designed by Demand menswear collection.
What is the fun part of your business?
The thing I started out doing – design – is a tiny part of what I do now. But I love growing the business – that really feels like the fun part to me now; I enjoy the challenge. I like that I’ve created my own job and jobs for other people – so far, we’ve created six roles – I love seeing my team enjoy what they do.
How has the business evolved?
It started off at my kitchen table with a vision to create a range of products that were specific to women. We moved into a small studio space in March 2016 and took on our first member of staff before moving to our Innerleithen headquarters in February 2017.
What have you learned along the way?
I’ve learned that it is always going to be a bit of a rollercoaster and you have to be prepared for the ups and the downs. For me, it’s being able to hold on to your vision and believe in what you started off. It’s worth remembering that things don’t always go according to plan, but it’s how you respond that is important – you’ve got to be able to pick yourself up.
What is your bestseller?
The Marin merino cowl neck top has consistently been our bestseller throughout and we’ve got an international design award for it; it was one of the first products we launched.
Who are your customers?
Anyone who loves getting outdoors – generally people with busy lives who want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle in their free time.
Any goals for the business?
To grow our online business and to build a community. For me, it’s about building a community around our brand, where customers know that they are valued and recognise that we want to support anybody who enjoys getting outdoors.
What is your design philosophy?
Form follows function – nothing should be there that doesn’t need to be; garments should be practical and stylish. Sustainability is a big part of what we are doing; if it’s not a natural material it needs to be a recycled material.
Where are your products made?
The seamless products are all made in the UK, so around 60 per cent of the product range is made in the UK, otherwise we source and work with the best ethical suppliers we can find overseas.
What is your inspiration?
I look at the outdoors, nature, landscapes, but I also like urban fashion and the combination between the two.
Do you have any style icons?
Iris Apfel – I love that confidence of being able to wear things the way you want to; it’s about being yourself and putting things together in a way that works for you.
Do you have a favourite designer?
When I was a student, I was constantly inspired by Dries Van Noten. I loved the way he used and respected textures and fabrics. I loved that within an outfit he would layer up different textures, textiles and colours. There are elements of that in FINDRA, the layering and the different textures – what inspired me when I was starting out is obviously still with me.
FINDRA Clothing is available from 15 Henderson Row, Edinburgh, 83 High Street, Innerleithen, and online at findraclothing.com