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!