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!
At the end of 2015 I have much to be thankful for and can look back on the last year at all I have achieved and the new opportunities that are unfolding for me.
One of the main things I have been working on is a small collection of dresses which I hope to have on my website and available to order very soon! I am hoping to have a professional photo shoot to show all angles of the dresses. However I would like to take the chance to say a huge thank you to Charlotte and Jenny for creating the images I have so far! Below is one of my favourites from the new collection.
Among the projects I have been working on was a lovely black crepe dress (shown below) I made for a customer attending a special party last November, another happy customer! Which leads me to the news of the finding a fabulous new fabric supplier through networking with other business women in Kent!
I have been able to buy quality fabrics which I may not have been able to source otherwise. Sourcing fabrics and other items I need for the day to day running of a clothing business can prove very tricky when relying on local shops or the internet for what you need, so having a local fabric supplier is so helpful!
Networking around Kent has helped me make invaluable contacts and also led me to my latest venture which is on the business side of things. I was made aware of the Women's Enterprise Kent course which I am currently taking part in and is aimed at women who earn their living from home and using the internet, so I am very pleased to have been chosen to take part in the course! We are having seminars from some very highly achieved business women which has been a great source of inspiration to me.
I have also had a lot help from my local council which has proven invaluable to my business. I have business mentors who help with practical problems in the day to day running of my business drawing on their years of business experience. Not only that, I also get to attend various business seminars hosted by long established companies who are giving advice on various topics including accounting. I can also say that my new website address is now www.carolinebruce.co.uk which they have helped me with and I am very happy about! (the co.uk! )
Amid the busy times and trying to squeeze so much into my days, I have had a chance to visit a couple of exhibitions, fashion related of course! Firstly a small Vivienne Westwood exhibition set in the beautiful Danson House in Bexley and I also enjoyed the Liberty print exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London!
One of my projects later last year was another set of marching band uniform which usually starts in the smallest toddler size right up to the biggest man size, which can be a challenge!
I have taken on a variety of projects in the last few months including mother of the bride outfits, men's designer shirts and this costume I made for a young lad who wanted to dress up as Carlos from the latest Disney film The Descendants. Although this is not the kind of project I would normally take on I really enjoyed creating this costume and had to share it with everyone!
At the start of a fresh new year I am getting really excited as I have been invited to show some of my work at a special charity fashion show organised by The London School Of Economics in mId-February! So now the opportunity to show my best work has arisen and I have been working on some extra special garments to show for this event! I look forward to sharing pictures of this event and all my news in my next blog. Have a happy, creative and prosperous new year!
I have decided to move my Union Jack dress to my blog page and make way for my new Limited Edition Collection which I am currently working on. Even though I designed and made the dress to highlight my made in the UK brand I now have my brilliant new logo courtesy of createwithimpact.com to revive the look of my website, so a big thank you to Impact for all the hard work that went into that!
Below are the various stages it took to make my unique Union Jack dress
Below is the finished look which may still be used to promote my made in the UK brand!
Today marks my first year in business and what a busy year I have had!
Not too long after I had even started out I was speaking at a House of Commons reception in front of landlords, MPs and business people from around the country! What an experience that was!
I worked for Tempest Fashions Ltd and Cecille London Ltd on their collections which I found
very enjoyable, the range of garments and the designs made it challenging but rewarding.
Aside from trade work I have been lucky enough to work on many bespoke garments for some lovely customers. I have made some bridal items including wedding dresses, some day dresses and many other one off pieces, not forgetting the marching band I made uniform for in Scotland!
One of the most interesting and enjoyable projects of the past year has been working for the students at Rochester UCA and helping them to create their final collections.
Last year was a good year for Caroline Bruce Designer Dresses and I have many plans for the next year and following years! I will soon be revealing my logo which will be the new look of my business, which I am very excited about! I have also been working on a new collection of dresses that I hope to show soon. I am looking forward to growing my business in the year ahead and would like to thank all my family, friends and customers, and a variety of local organisations who have supported me and help me to get this far!
I really enjoy my job when I can share with everyone the creativity and inspiration that goes into creating unique and beautiful garments, and in the spring I had the pleasure of working for a few of the third year Textile Design students from Rochester University for the Creative Arts! I helped by making their garment designs into patterns and making up the patterns with some of the beautiful fabric they designed for their final collections, which they have recently showed at the UCA degree fashion show!
SOPHIE CHENEY~ FRAGMENTATION AND FRAGILITY
Sophie's textile designs were inspired by the combination of photographic architecture with the
delicate ghostly fragile detailing of nature. Contrasting themes have been pieced together to represent tough exterior juxtaposed with a delicate interior of emotions.
Below are Sophie's elegant silk culottes and silk blouse which I made up in this gorgeous silk fabric from her collection.
Sophie designed this sophisticated silk dress and used devoré to create texture on top of the silk print design. I then created the pattern to her design and
then made the two finished dresses
This striking printed velvet cape is another example from Sophie's collection that I made for her.
This is one of my favourite pieces from her collection! The colour, the fabric, texture and shape all go into making this a fabulous piece!
Below one last piece from Sophie, this is one of the silk blouses that I made for her collection.
If you are interested in seeing any more of Sophie Cheney's work her website is below
Ella is a textile print designer creating women's wear combining a love of exotic colour, hand painting and a passion for travel. Her prints are inspired by Bali and florals, with abstract drawing and hand painting.
Ella designed a collection of beach wear including these amazing kaftans which I created the patterns for and made for her using these delightful silk fabrics that she designed and printed.
Below my personal favourite print from Ella's collection with use of that stunning turquoise!
The picture below shows the fine detail of the work gone into finishing the kaftans
Below are more of Ella's print designs which I made into a scarf and sarong for her beach wear collection
This sarong is my final piece from Ella.
If you are interested in seeing any more of Ella Henry's work her website is below
EMILY RAMSELL~ SHROOMS
Shrooms is the name of Emily's collection and it is of mixed media textiles inspired by fungus and mushrooms. Her collection combines bright digital prints with screen printing in a range of fabrics.
Below is a transparent blouse I made for her collection which she designed and I created the pattern and made the finished garment.
Below is my favourite piece from Emily's collection and it is her pleated culottes! I made the pattern and finished garment that she designed and using this fabulous print that she designed!
This picture shows a close up of Emily's print design and the pleat detail on the culottes.
This last picture from Emily shows another of the blouses I made for her collection that she designed and printed herself.
The last image of Emily's work shows off the blouse I made for her If you are interested in seeing any more of Emily's work her website is below
I really enjoyed working with these three students on their collections and think you will agree they all have masses of talent!
Thank you for the use of these beautiful images and I wish good luck to all three of you and look forward to sharing this blog and all the lovely work we have created together with everyone!
For a few months now I have been working along side designer and stylist Jeff Mehmet on a new project with the Welsh fashion label Tempest. I have just received the images of the photo shoot, so hot off the press and am pleased to be able show you just a small glimpse of the Spring/ Summer 2015 collection!
All photographs are the work of Jay Mclaughlin
Hair and make up by Salt.Cake
Stylist Jeff Mehmet
Model below is Chloe Jasmine ( X Factor )
Looking forward to working on the next collection with Tempest Fashions!
Caroline Bruce Designer Dresses has now been trading since August 2014 and am pleased to say I have been busy with various projects since day one and already completed a celebrities bridesmaids dresses...details to follow!
Other than actual work and creative projects, I have spent quite a bit of my time promoting my business and was lucky enough to have been asked to talk about starting my business at a House of Commons reception in October, just one of several speaking events I have attended in the last few months! The event was for MPs and housing associations from around the country. Myself and two others were the special guests speaking to Esther McVey, Employment Minister on the motivation behind our entrepreneurship and the progress we had made since we attended a pop up business school through our landlords, mine being West Kent Housing.
We were also pleased to have the opportunity to talk with Stephen Timms MP about being self employed and how we see the future for our businesses.
In November I attended an event for Global Enterprise Week in Sevenoaks to promote my business, network with other local small businesses and get advise from business professionals in the local area. Below I am talking with Councillor Mrs. Jill Davison about my business and plans for the future.
Now we are at the beginning of December and rapidly heading towards Christmas... where has the time gone? I am looking forward to a very creative 2015!