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Re-Working the System: An Insight into the Broken Fashion Business Model

Caitlin Charles-Jones

When I started Caitlin Charles-Jones in 2015 I had my sights set on showing at London Fashion Week.  LFW is essentially a trade show where brands showcase their new collections to potential stockists.  These buyers then place orders which they will then sell in their shops in six months time. 

Fresh Faced! My debut exhibition at London Fashion Week SS16

Fresh Faced! My debut exhibition at London Fashion Week SS16

My AW16 Exhibition at London Fashion Week

My AW16 Exhibition at London Fashion Week

My SS17 Exhibition at London Fashion Week

My SS17 Exhibition at London Fashion Week

The Emerging Designer Dilemma

In the past buyers would be on the look out for exciting new brands to sell in their stores, eager to be the first to introduce the new 'must have' label.  However of recent years retailers have started to feel the pinch and are increasingly reluctant to take a chance on young labels who a) might not sell and b) might not fulfil their orders.

In addition, emerging designers face the challenge of having a workable production plan in place on the off chance that they get an order. Now here lies the problem: factories are also wary of working with emerging brands, they don't like producing small quantities as it's not financially viable for them and even getting them to agree to produce samples for a new brand is tricky. They've been screwed over too many times with new labels not paying their bills and leaving them in the lurch, they prefer a proven track record.  It's also a lot of money for a young designer to lay out when it's unlikely they will get many (if any) wholesale orders in their first season.

Many new designers start by producing samples in house, working with seamstresses and craftspeople.  This means they can make small quantities of pieces, but it also means it's more expensive.  This is very difficult when it comes to pricing, as it means their wholesale price (the price the store pays the designer) is higher than if the pieces were factory produced.  It also means that the subsequent retail price (the price the customer pays) is sky high - stores typically mark garments up three times the wholesale price.

My Start

This is how I started.  I produced my collections in my studio by hand, I was lucky enough to get a stockist in my first season who then continued to work with me for the following seasons, but it was very tough.  I would produce the production order myself - generally the maximum would be 20 pieces but physically it was very demanding. I also found myself in a new predicament: of course I wanted more stockists but I knew that I would really struggle to produce larger quantities in this way - and yet the quantities I would need wouldn't come close to a minimum order required at a factory. A small order in a factory is around 150 pieces per style - i.e. 150 of each garment in the collection.

Moving Forward

I'll be honest, I felt very stuck in this cycle.  I wanted my business to grow and I loved that it was grounded in the craft and the handmade, but I knew this would never be a viable or indeed practical way to run my business in this industry - and then I had the epiphany! 

I realised that instead of changing my business to fit the traditional model, I would change the model to fit my business.  It would be on my terms.  This is why for the next few crucial years while I establish my brand I will not be wholesaling my pieces.  I will only sell direct to the customer via my online store and pop up shops and sales.

What This Means

-  I can continue to produce small quantities of pieces in house and outsource to craftspeople and small production studios 

- I will establish core brand staple pieces as well as introducing new designs every couple of months

- I will be selling all year round as opposed to producing two seasonal collections a year

- I will restock depending on what is popular rather than producing large quantities of pieces that I don't know will sell

The Kickstarter

The Kickstarter campaign aims to raise money to jumpstart this new business model.  The pieces available to buy through the campaign are a taste of what to expect from CC-J in the future.  So if you like the sound of what we're doing, head over to our campaign page and show your support! It's a great opportunity to treat yourself or even better, get some Christmas shopping done while making a huge difference to a small business.