As a relatively new business woman and entrepreneur, I have been lucky to have many new and exciting opportunities come my way. I was thrilled to be invited to show some of my garments in the London School of Economics Annual Charity Fashion Show in February this year and was not going to pass this up! Having the chance to take part in a show, with my own work, is something I have not been able to do since I was at college and now I was able to show my own designs which I hope will showcase my business and the attract interest in my designs.
I had already made a capsule collection of six pieces (currently on my website) which I was initially intending to show when I was asked to participate. However, I wanted to make more statement pieces to really show what my business and label is all about. The theme of the new capsule collection is "The Power of a Woman", contrasting the strong, powerful side of women, against the softer more vulnerable side. This is depicted using strong shapes in the silhouettes and the use of leather and crisp heavy satin, alongside the soft, fluid lines created by using the crepe de chines. I was inspired to create a collection around strong women, based on the media's portrayal of powerful women in society in general, thus leading me to examine high profile dominant female characters from history to recent times.
Above Satin Pleated Jacket with Peplum /Flare Satin Skirt with Sleeveless Tie Neck Blouse
Above Leather and Crepe De Chine Backless Dress/ Leather and Crepe De Chine Cuff and Cape Dress
Above Hooded Heavy Satin Evening Gown with Flared Skirt
Above is the final line up!
I was so pleased that two of my garments were used in the finale! There were so many talented designers taking part in the show, such an inspiration. I love seeing what other designers create!
I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to show some of my designs and would like to thank the LSE SU fashion show organisers, The DSTRKT nightclub, in central London, for holding the event and to the photographers for the use of the amazing images. Also I have to say a big thank you to family and friends for the support they have given me as I started out and continue to grow my business.They all know it is a passion I have had all my life, so to finally be doing the thing I love the most is amazing for me! This has been a rewarding experience for me and one that has inspired me to keep creating my unique designs!
Me outside DSTRKT nightclub, London, waiting for the show to begin!
From October 2015 to April 2016 I have been taking part in the Women's Enterprise Kent course. I was so pleased to have been accepted onto the programme as many Kent women entrepreneurs applied for but only 30 of us were lucky enough to get a place!
The scheme was a government initiative set up by the equalities office to help promote women in business all over the country, develop their digital skills and grow their businesses, and was all completely free! My local council, KCC, organised the events throughout the six months the programme was running in various interesting locations. Some of the events were open to women who were not on the core programme but still welcome to join in the tutorials, which led to lots of extra networking!
Here is Lucy, one of the course organisers, giving us a brilliant tutorial on Canva, which I enjoyed discovering, as it is a creative platform totally new to me! Much of what I personally learned I did not even realise was available to me and we were taught how to use these tools for our businesses. Many notes have been made as there was so much information to take in and I'm sure I will be applying as much as I can to my business in the coming months and years.
Photograph courtesy of Jane Mucklow Photography
Above is a photograph from a Lunch and Learn session held at County Hall in Maidstone with the guys from Engine Room Web, helping us to create our websites and analyze what we had built already. These were just two the amazing professional speakers we were lucky enough to have expertise advice from. Others included Zoe Cairns,TV social media expert, helping us with Facebook tips, Emma Cox with Linkedin advise, Lucy Hall on Pinterest and Daniel Knowlton on Snapchat, to name a few!
Above at Port Lympne another beautiful photograph courtesy of Jane Mucklow Photography
My most memorable and enjoyable event was the day we spent at Port Lympne in January. This was a huge networking and learning event hosted by the fabulous Eileen Brown, CEO of Amastra and set in the most amazing location on a beautiful sunny day! We had a speed social media session, lots of networking, great speakers including Susannah Schofield OBE and from Allister Frost from Wild Orange Media and some great food!
We had many useful tutorials from accounting to Pinterest, with Deborah Turner owner of You Image Consultancy, to name a few. Above we had a tutorial by Laura Gillespie from Pie Accounts on cloud based accounting which I found helpful!
Here are just a few of us celebrating in the photo booth on the last day of the course at County Hall, we couldn't fit everyone in!
The final event was a treat for us all with more amazing speakers including Hilary Steel editor of Kent Women in Business (KWIB) magazine and founder of Kent Women in Business Awards (and more!), plus Penny Power OBE, who has written the Manifesto for Digital Business Britain, not to mention award winning marketing agency owner Amy McManus amongst others!
All the women on the course were invited to showcase their business during the event and so I took the opportunity to display a selection of my dresses! Also wearing one of my designs!
Me and my dresses! Photographed by the lovely Jane Mucklow of Jane Mucklow Photography!
The final event was very inspiring! Personally for me, I could look back and see how far I have come and what I have achieved! I believe it has had a very positive impact on me by improving my confidence not only within my digital skills, but has boosted my self confidence too! There is so muchto tellthat I have NOT included in this blog, but if you get the chance to learn anything new or are interested in starting your own business then my advice is just do it! Also if you get the chance to take part on this course next year I highly recommend it!
One last note is a massive THANK YOU to all those who organised, hosted, contributed and of course to those responsible for funding the programme, the government and let's hope it is run for a third year and longer!
Close up photographs of my satin pleated peplum jacket (and me below with Louise, another of the organisers of the Women's Enterprise Kent programme) by Nikki Price Photography www.nikkipphotography.co.uk
Tea and cake at every event!
Hello everyone, I would like to introduce myself and my business Caroline Bruce.
I would like just to tell you about why I decided to start my own fashion business and the steps I have taken so far.
My journey into business and slow fashion has been exactly that, slow, but it is and always has been the only thing I have ever wanted to do with my life!
When I was very small I would watch my mother creating lovely dresses from my older sisters’ clothes and old curtains using her Singer hand sewing machine, recycling is definitely not a new idea! I would use the scraps to clothe my Sindy dolls and play for hours with the button tin! My friends say we used to sit on my door step in the summer holidays and I would make dolls clothes. Anyway it stuck with me and as I went through my school life the only things I really enjoyed doing were Art subjects and needlework. As the time grew to choose a career path I decided on fashion design so I applied to go to college and go for my dream!
I managed to get a place in college on a clothing technology course, which was exactly what I needed, but it was not the fashion course I really wanted to be on. However I was learning garment construction inside out and I really enjoyed it, I was so pleased I did it! The whole aim of that was to learn how to be self-sufficient, learning how to create a garment, any garment I wanted from start to finish.
After I passed I straight away applied for jobs and manage to get one in London as a sample cutter for a catalogue manufacturers sample room. The next job I had was a sample room assistant and this was great experience with sample cutting, grading, pattern cutting and designing and this was for an outer wear company. The next lucky break I had was working at French Connection who was also Nicole Farhi in Central London and here I was able to train as a pattern cutter and would make toiles for the designers including Nicole Farhi herself! That was
To cut a long story short I then had a family and continued to work for private client’s dressmaking and altering garments, which was fine but as my children grew I really wanted to get back into the real fun which is fashion. I had developed a love for well-made luxury garments after working for Nicole Farhi and decided this was something I like to pursue. Firstly though I had to find a fashion job locally to me as I didn’t live in London and being not so young and not so well I was very limited and to be honest came to realise there were only a few such companies nearby. I had been to the job centre enquiring but nothing was available, then one day I saw an advert for a small fashion company needing some experienced help. It turned out to be not too far away and so I went along and ended up working there for a few years practically running the place at times. The job began to take its toll on my health and so I ended up resigning to recover and look at my options.
I made a decision to go freelance as a pattern cutter, seamstress, alteration hand or whatever it was to earn a living but as a professional business and doing what I do best. What was the alternative, I had literally no other skills that I recognised as skills, apart from the big one of course housewife and mother! At that time I didn’t even have a smart phone or a computer of my own and also by this time I was on my own with my grown up daughters. Any way in starting my own business I decided that if I could take work on for other people I could run my own business making my own designs and selling them which is what I had always wanted to do! I knew I had the skills to do the creative side of things but it was the business side I had no knowledge of, not to mention social media skills and self-promoting!
I knew it wouldn’t be easy starting up alone with no financial backing, was not familiar with modern technology and had no contacts and was desperately scanning through my old phone book looking for people from many moons ago hoping to find someone who could perhaps help in some way with links to the fashion industry. Never mind I thought I will just have start all over at the beginning, I could survive with my own skills but would definitely need some help with everything else!
Through the job centre I attended a computer course to try and get myself up to speed with the basics, and managed to pass. I then asked for some business help, the clerk helped me apply for the New Enterprise Scheme which aims to help people start up their own businesses with the help of the government. I had the basic help but still felt quite lost and confused from the business side of things in general. Then one day my daughter gave me a leaflet her colleague had handed her put up in her housing block by the housing association. I was a tenant but lived in another town and the flyers were not advertised there. My daughters’ colleague explained that I may be interested in this 10 day popup business course as I was starting up on my own.
So by chance I found a free pop up business course and went along, although I was a bit hesitant at first I soon text my daughter and said that it was brilliant just what I needed! This course was helping with all aspects of starting your business as well as learning the basics of social media which was extremely helpful and kick started me on my way. By the end of the ten days we had started our own websites for free and learnt enough about promoting myself and confidence to go forwards and that is what I did! As a result of attending the Popup Business school, myself and another Popup attendee who started her own cleaning business were invited to speak About our experiences at a House of Commons reception, at Portcullis House next to the Houses of Parliament in London, for landlords around the country And the Give Us a Chance organisation, which was an amazing experience and a real privilege to take part in!
As time went on I was getting a few good clients coming in for making bespoke garments and was also pattern cutting for some really lovely companies but I needed to put the next part of my plan into action. I started to make up a few garments for a small capsule collection of ladies evening dresses in between the work and business side of things so that I could try and start selling and also have some examples of my designs rather than on paper and only having bespoke items to show for myself. I asked friends for help with modelling and photography as I had no spare cash to invest in the other side of the business at that time.
The following year or so was a busy time for me getting to grips with making invoices, creating a template for my business that could work for me at the time and lead me down the path I wanted to be on. So I searched various companies on the internet and put my company details on various made in Britain websites to try and get some exposure. A website called Utelier approached me and offered to let me use their website as a platform for my business so I did, then completely forgot about.
Various opportunities came along with business help in networking and local council business help, one thing led to another and I was told about the Women’s Enterprise Kent broadband in business course for women who use or want to learn how to use broadband in their business, which is run by the UK Government and I am still taking part until April. With this process soon to end I have been extremely grateful to be on this course, as it has taught me many new skills I did not even know I needed to know and met some really inspiring and creative women who are also on their own business journeys.
Going back to the Utelier website I mentioned earlier that I uploaded all my details to, unbeknown to me I was spotted by a student at the London School of Economics who was organising their annual student Union charity fashion show in February just gone. Of course I said yes immediately and proceeded to work out what I would like to show and how I wanted to present myself. I had already made a small capsule collection of 6 dresses which were on my website, but decided for the show to make some special pieces and so made another 6 dresses. Working on the theme ‘A Woman of Character’ I was designing with the comparisons of a strong female character versus a fragile female character in mind, using various modern day and past heroines from fiction and real life as inspiration.
The show went ahead in London’s DSTRKT Night club in Mayfair in February and was very exciting! I have some of the photos back and am trying to utilise them in the best way I can. As for organising the show I was lucky enough to just be showing and not have to arrange for all the models, make up, venue, converse with the various designers and collect and show the garments properly, the making was hard enough work as I designed and made all the pieces myself. Now the show is over and I have had time to analyse my work and how I feel the garments looked, as an artist and perfectionist I know there is always room for improvement and development!
I have been refining my brand ideals and philosophy and my reasons for doing what I do. I have always believed in building good relationships with people I work with in business and with my clients, having worked in the past for places who I thought did not respect the people they employed, I aim to do better. I aim to always do my best and I aim to create the best product that I can using the best most sustainable resources that I can. I am building a brand that respects the people and the planet. I have started off as a made to order business and make bespoke and one off garments rather than making up many garments and using resources for garments that I may not sell.
As I grow I want to employ people in the UK and not in factories thousands of miles away not only to reduce my carbon foot print but to employ locally and make use of the skills we have in the well renowned UK fashion industry. I am trying to source UK manufactured fabrics alongside eco luxury fabrics from around the world, this researching seems to have become a very time consuming process and a slow one. As my garments are handmade and not fast fashion made in a large factory half way round the world, my product is slow fashion and a luxury niche brand. My final say is that everything has to be beautiful, the fabric the style the fit and the journey and the way you feel when you wear one of my dresses! I have learnt a great deal since I started in 2014 but I know I still have a very long way to go. Thank you for letting me share the start of my slow fashion journey!