In the past year I have worked on a Journalism Special Exercise for my dissertation, consisting of a series of feature articles and a mini analysis. Naturally I chose Fashion Journalism as my topic, and I investigated how the fashion industry was affected by the recession (you may have seen my interviews posted onto the main blog page over the last few months), while my analysis looked into the globalisation of fashion writing.
What follows are my four finished articles (however please note that these were written a few months ago so some information may now be out of date)…
1. The Birth of Aurora Fashions – How did Oasis survive administration?
*Image taken from the Oasis Fashion Journal – Christmas 2010 press day (please see link on the left).
Oasis has been a favourite on the high street for providing long-lasting fashion pieces with a fashionable edge. However considering its popularity, their mother company Mosaic fell into administration in 2009, following a £450 million (m) debt. But how did Oasis survive this administration, at a time of cut backs and budgeting? And ensure the running success of its brand image.
According to Sarah Harner the Oasis concession manager for Portsmouth Debenhams, the Icelandic bank, who owned Mosaic, went bankrupt during the recession after accumulating a huge debt. Mike Shearwood the Chief Executive of Aurora Fashions (Oasis’ new mother company) says: “Despite trading well up to this point, Mosaic was now seriously suffering from lack of finances.” In order to save its successful brands the company had to be brought out and entered the process of administration to rescue Oasis and its sisters.
In March 2009, Mosaic became Aurora Fashions through a ‘pre-pack administration’, allowing its popular brands to keep their doors open on the high street. The ‘pre-pack administration’ involved Kaupthing, the bank owed the most money by Mosaic, to buy out the successful brands and form a new company called Aurora Fashions. It then appointed the management team in charge of Mosaic Fashions to run the new company, boasting a new and exciting future for the brands, but also with a manageable debt. This was the starting point for Oasis on its road to recessionary recovery.
In 2009 the FT.com reported that since the administration Aurora had brought their huge debt down to £110m.
Derek Lovelock, the Executive Chairman, also told FT.com in the same report: “There was never any problem with the strength of the brand, only the financing. Now that we have £110m in net debt rather than £450m, we are in very good shape.”
Things were looking positive, but for the new company to trade well after the administration a strong network of businesses had to remain firmly in place. Landlords and suppliers were naturally worried about the money Mosaic owed to them, so extra care and attention was put into negotiations to avoid anymore loss in finance. “Testament to the success of the process is that the vast majority of suppliers that worked with Mosaic were not left out-of-pocket and continue to work with Aurora. It has a sustainable financial structure (less debt), which alongside strong brands with a global presence, a proven management team and a compelling growth plan, builds on Mosaic’s foundations,” Mike adds.
The buyout had given Oasis the first step on the ladder to surviving the recession; however they still needed to maintain sales to reduce the risk of building up any new debt.
Mike says: “Throughout the banking crisis our brands have continued to trade reasonably well. While Aurora has not done anything fundamentally different, it has undergone a change of mindset to combat the financial crisis and is completely focused on delivering what our customers want.”
According to their brand statement – Oasis collections are fashionable, wearable, and colourful – synonymous with quality, value and unique design. Their clothes vary from casual and work to occasion wear, promising original pieces with a high quality and consistent fit. This brand statement has not changed during the recession or since administration, and Sarah agrees, adding: “Oasis has always been known for its great quality of clothing and this has not faltered in the recession at all.”
It seems that despite the initial administration panic, in the long run nothing has changed within the running of the business or the quality of the clothes. However they have become more brand-aware and sales conscious, striving for those ever important sales in a time where customers may want to reduce spending, as well as aiding the left-over debt.
Sarah adds: “This year they are really investing on how Oasis looks as a brand visually for the customer.” The buyout saved Oasis, but they still needed to bring in enough sales to survive.
In order to maintain these sales throughout and after administration Oasis ran customer surveys and promotions. They needed to remind loyal customers about the importance of adding some ‘Oasis-ness’ to their wardrobes, as well as seducing new customers in a highly competitive market. Some customers may have also been living on a budget and on the lookout for high-quality bargains. Louise Phelps the South West’s Area Manager for Oasis says: “We have run quite a lot of promotions recently, we have also introduced some new buyers, and we have done some customer surveys, we have got a lot closer to what it is our customer is looking for.”
These included the ‘Jeanius’ denim jeans, occasion dress and knitwear promotions running throughout the year, especially at peak times like Christmas, New Year and now with the new summer collections entering the shops. Ongoing discounts and special offers for VIP card holders and students also proved beneficial. Sarah says: “Oasis and Debenhams were always doing 20% off which encouraged the customer to buy. With continuous promotions the customer looked at it and thought, ‘I will get that because that’s a bargain’, the promotions helped people to buy.” Oasis offered a balance between full price items and sale items to accommodate a range in customer spending, providing fresh up to date collections as well as bargains, subsidising sales to stay afloat.
Technology and online sales also proved a major help for Oasis during the uneasy environment with e-commerce partnerships, mobile gift vouchers and new i-store software shopping initiatives, allowing loyal customers to interact with their favourite store anywhere anytime.
“E-commerce is one area that has proved very successful despite the tough economic conditions. Aurora brands now deliver to 27 international markets through e-commerce,” Mike says.
The Aurora Fashions October 2009 press release highlighted how Aurora’s performance was significantly ahead of its bank plan, with annual global retail sales at £720m, claiming the group was well positioned for future growth. It also explained how the four brands, including Warehouse, Coast and Karen Millen as well as Oasis have merged into a single IT platform, rationalising its infrastructure and consolidating its operations distribution into one. A 20% increase in online sales was also reported for 2009.
Louise explains that in general the peaks and troughs of sales generally turned out to be the same as every year, even though it is admitted that some weeks did prove tougher. She says: “I don’t think we have lost any customers, we have had some tough weeks but we are not averse to the rest of the high street where we are feeling any worse than anybody else.”
So how does this measure up against Aurora’s biggest competition Arcadia? The chain which includes the other popular high street shops Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss. Selfridge. Arcadia’s financial results recorded a 2.7% increase at £1,897.7m for its total sales in 2009, but as a leader in high street statement fashion it is no question they experienced this increase.
However despite Arcadia’s popularity, Sarah says: “Oasis is more of a higher brand than Topshop or Dorothy Perkins, obviously Topshop and Dorothy Perkins are always going to be popular but if you have to compare the two, Oasis is doing really well for a higher brand shop.”
Unfortunately Aurora hasn’t released any yearly sales results as of yet, but their overall global and online sales are indicative that their positioning as a higher end brand has not fluctuated since administration, or during the recession. “Warehouse and Oasis do compete with mainstream fashion brands but are slightly higher end of the high street to Topshop brands. There has been no change to this positioning, either during or after the financial crisis,” Mike adds.
The future also looks bright for the new company, with the Aurora brands; Karen Millen, Warehouse, Coast and Oasis continuing to grow in strength. 150 stores were opened in 2009, and by the end of 2010 it is expected that Aurora will trade from around 1,640 stores in 45 different markets. Sarah adds: “Sales are on the up rise and I know things are looking quite positive for the next year. I know the company itself is investing in a lot of refurbishments.”
These refurbishments include stand-alone stores and concessions. Changes include a shift from the iconic blue to fuchsia pink lettering, a boutique-esque backdrop with vintage inspired wallpaper and furniture, providing a traditional, yet modern, stylish shopping experience – again creating a visual interest for the customer.
Louise also believes things will get stronger for Oasis in the coming year, with new collections designed and produced based on their customer’s specific needs: “Some of the product hitting down in the next few weeks is very feminine and girly, we have lots of dresses and occasion wear which is what our customer is looking for and what we have traditionally always been about, some really exciting times ahead.”
The pre-pack administration instantly helped Oasis in managing its debt, bringing the immediate prospect of stability for the duration of the recession. However its flourishing brand image, promotions and online presence maintained the sales of their high quality lines – these are both at the root of the Oasis survival.
2. Why are we still shopping, and where did we shop in the recession?
As soon as the recession hit the news a dark shadow was cast over our shopping bags. No question girls love to shop, anytime, anywhere, anything. Finding the perfect pair of heels or wearing a new dress not only makes you feel amazing, but also seems to make everything else that bit better. But with the talk of recession and budgeting on everybody’s lips, how many of us actually put down our credit cards, headed to our nearest charity shop and took out our sewing kits?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) a positive growth of retail sales was recorded in the fashion industry, despite recent weaknesses with the economy. Economic analysts Mavis Anagboso and Craig McLaren reported that non-food stores performed reasonably well in their ONS August 2009 report: ‘The impact of the recession on retail sales volumes.’ The textiles, clothing and footwear sector highlighted a 49.8% Retail Sales Index (RSI), a measurement of consumer spending, in contrast to 44.9% from food stores and just 5% in non-store retailing and repair. In 2005 the total household final consumption expenditure was £784 billion (bn), but had increased to £823bn in 2008. This meant that the total turnover for retailing alone was over £280bn in 2008.
The report also suggests that the spending in these non-food stores has been relatively stronger in comparison to the last recession of the 1990’s. Between 1989 and 1998 non-food stores recorded a negative growth, a reversal of today’s figures.
Could it simply be that even the tiniest pleasure of buying a new outfit acts as a reward for the rest of our hard work, or perhaps a form of escapism from the economic climate itself? But more to the point what has changed in society over the last ten years to make us keep spending, even though we were told to cut back.
The 1990s recession accompanied a sharp rise in inflation and record breaking numbers of unemployment, but today’s’ falling retail prices and the changing structure of UK shop types are a good start in understanding why the average consumer has continued to shop, the 2009 ONS report claims. There has also been a significant growth and awareness within the fashion industry itself, changing consumer shopping patterns. Dr Laurel Forster, senior lecturer in Media Studies at the University Of Portsmouth who lectures in consumerist behaviour says: “Shopping has become such a habit, such a leisure past time that people can’t stop themselves.”
The production capabilities of the high street have considerably improved over the last few years, offering more choice at affordable prices. Consumers can take part in virtual fashion communities through fashion blogs, and online shopping, bringing up market trends and designer status into their wardrobes. Fashion has moved from a chore into a leisurely pursuit, we no longer just dress to cover up, we dress to impress.
Karl Kanoosing a lecturer in Psychology adds: “We dress for different occasions, different moments in different ways, but we do it because we can, because we have large wardrobes. Most of us buy fairly sensibly, but we also buy things that probably our parents never brought. It is available and we have the money, and even in a recession there are still lots of people with money.”
So what shops did well out of the recession to subsidise these ONS figures? It is no question that some shoppers shifted from higher priced popular brands and turned too cheap as chips fast fashion, but surprisingly others still visited their favourite stores.
Giles Quick explored the consumption in a recession in November 2008 for the TNS Worldpanel, the world’s largest global market research specialists, explaining that consumers were likely to trade down and increase their uptake of promotions during the recession. This would explain why Primark experienced a 7% increase in like-for-like sales, its owner AB Foods said in a trading update in 2009, clearly benefiting from the affordability of its cheaper clothes in the recession.
However slow fashion investments also proved popular, with shoppers investing in expensive items of better quality and long-lasting durability. Jatin Patel designer for Kalikas Armour, who launched at OnOff in London Fashion Week 2008, says: “The clients who shop in your higher end are not going to go into Primark. The big brands and established fashion houses did really well there because they still had their loyal following.” He also agrees with Karl, believing that there was still a group in society who spent and invested, albeit a little more carefully, making it a real thing about quality over quantity.
Another example sees statement pieces from Topshop, one part of the Arcadia chain consistently snapped up by fashion hungry shoppers. Owner Sir Phillip Green told FT.com in October 2009 that Arcadia saw sales and profits rise in its financial year, increasing pre-tax profit by 13%, from £188.9 million (m) to £213.6m. Jatin adds: “Topshop just excels, whether you like it or you don’t, with their marketing, accessibility and production capabilities it is very hard to walk into Topshop and come out without anything. There is something for everyone in there. I think everyone there is a genius.” The shop prides itself on providing fashion-forward clothes and has become a leader on the high street for teenagers without mortgages and all round fashion enthusiasts, and this obviously didn’t change in the recession.
Russ Mould the editor of Shares Magazine backs this up by quoting: “The strong have emerged all the stronger. Arcadia group’s published numbers suggested Topshop and Topman continued to trade well.”
It seems that shopping patterns often depended on the type of consumer and their individual income and varied in how much they were willing to spend. However their desire to over fill their wardrobes with the latest trends was at the forefront of their purchases whether they came from fast, slow or high end fashion, no one was prepared to hit the charity shops and dust off their needles anytime soon.
In the September 2009 edition of ELLE Linda Grant, an award-winning author and blogger for ‘The Thoughtful Dresser’ explored the role of women in society during the war in relevance to their shopping patterns today. The Second World War was a time of great austerity, everything from food to fabric was rationed and women had to make do and mend their clothes as waste was considered a gift to the enemy. The government also invested in numerous campaigns to persuade the people to be economical. Laurel says: “Women were encouraged to use their existing clothes and refashion and reshape them to create perhaps a skirt out of a dress or a new blouse out of an old skirt. The idea of reusing things was quite important during the war; you had to use every last scrap.”
People couldn’t make frivolous purchases, because they lacked the disposable income, and while we were advised to cut back in the recession, it is not nearly as close to the austerity of the war.
Winifred Braine a telephone operator during the Second World War says: “If you had a hole in your husband’s shirt you could cut the tail off and repair it by patching. We wore comfortable clothes, we had to make do, I wore a lot of navy felt trousers, they were given to us for air raid watching, to keep us warm at night, and they were comfortable, not very elegant, but comfortable.”
A lot has changed since then and women’s standing in society has improved as well as the production and awareness of the fashion industry. The 20th century woman was expected to stay in the domestic sphere, cooking, cleaning and reproducing and learning the skills of stitching was a part of their duty at home. But we now live in a post Sex and the City and Madonna environment where thrifting has been replaced with power dressing.
Women also proved themselves in the workplace during the war, taking on men’s jobs while they were away fighting on the frontline, changing society’s understanding of what women could do. “Both the first and the Second World War changed women’s perceptions of themselves and their own capabilities,” says Laurel. We now have working independent single women, who seek shopping as an enjoyable past time and as a form of empowerment.
The rise in availability of clothes and fast fashion adds to this because it places a higher value on appearance. “Appearance has become much more important towards the end of the twentieth and now twenty-first century, it seems crucial to increasingly younger aged groups that they are fashionable rather than just being adequately clothed,” Laurel adds.
The contrast between the war and today may seem extreme, almost beyond comparison but it definitely helps us in understanding why we continued to shop in the recession, reflected in the evolution of the 20th-21stcentury woman. Winifred adds: “There is too much choice of everything these days.” A make do and mend mentality is unlikely to work today because of this endless choice, in the shops and online.
Linda quoted in the same copy of ELLE: “Fashion is part of what defines us – and that’s too important to relinquish, even in tough economic times.”
3. Counterfeiting in the recession…
Steadily growing in strength, counterfeit trade has been eating away at our favourite designer labels over the last few years. Cue the recession, the perfect opportunity for counterfeit sleuths to take advantage of consumers living on a budget, and on the look-out for bargains. But how many of us really substituted our designer wishes for the next best thing?
Intellectual property firm Marks & Clerk surveyed 222 businesses for their 2009 brands report, ranging from fashion, retail and other consumer goods to sports, property and healthcare. 97% of respondents predicted an increase in counterfeit activity during the recession, while 95% also believed consumer appetite for counterfeit goods would rise in turn.
Handley Brustad, the principle trading standards officer for Cardiff County Council says: “Counterfeiting in the UK is big business and has been linked to organised crime. Before and since the recession counterfeiting has moved with the times to maximise profits.”
The European Commission also recorded an increase in the number of counterfeit items seized at European customs services, claiming that 2008 numbers were almost double the previous year’s haul. 178 million (m) goods were uncovered compared to 79m in 2007, with clothing coming in second place to disks and DVDs. This clearly highlights an increase in the production of counterfeit items during the early days of the recession.
It is now possible to pick up anything, and everything on the counterfeit market, including GHD hair straighteners, spin-off Viagra and Tamiflu pills, as well as the popular designer products from fashion houses like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton.
However while fashion items may not put your life or health at risk, like potentially lethal electrical appliances and fake medicines, they still seriously damage the image of the brand – financially as well as affecting the brand’s reputation. This understandably makes the problem of counterfeiting evermore acute in a recession, with consumers trying to find a balance between tightening their pockets and looking their best.
Ruth Orchard, Director General of lobbyists The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (A-CG), adds: “The consumer always wants more bargains, with more profit for the criminal; yes, being interested in brands is the mark of a consumerist society.”
According to the article ‘Knock-offs catch on’, printed in The Economist in March 2010, the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC), who works to protect intellectual property and defer counterfeiting, estimated that counterfeit goods make up to 7% of world trade. They also said that the international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is now worth $600 billion (bn), which is around £394bn.
In comparison Marc-Antoine Jamet, secretary general of LVMHs (the luxury goods firm which owns Louis Vuitton, Hennessey and Givenchy, amongst others) perfume division, and head of the anti-fakes pressure group, the Manufacturer’s Union told the BBC in 2005 that counterfeiting represented around 5% of world trade. This information is an indicator of the counterfeit industries growth, albeit just 2%, during the recession. With consumers on cut backs and budgets early predictions seem to be supported with designer hungry shoppers trading down.
In the same article by The Economist, complaints from the label Louis Vuitton led to 9,500 seizures of fake items in 2009, 31% more than in 2008.
Kirsten Gilbert a partner at Marks & Clerk backs this up in stating that lawsuits brought by companies against manufacturers and distributors of counterfeits are at an all time high. The ACG also reported in their monthly press cuttings for June 2010, that new blockbuster romps such as Sex and the City 2 have put pressure on consumers on cut backs, and suffering from the post emergency budget blues. The film which is loaded with all the designer trimmings has left consumers shaking in their high street heels, with a thirst to look like Carrie and her high society friends.
This surge in designer awareness runs alongside the rise of the internet and online shopping – another key player in the growth of counterfeit trade.
Consumers can now sit in the comfort of their own home, tea in hand and browse through even more shops than their local high street can offer. And with a variety of delivery options and real life models wearing the clothes on runways, it appeals to the tight for time business woman, to everyday fashionista.
Both Handley and Ruth claim the internet has been the main problem area for counterfeit growth within the present recession. This is obviously a bigger problem now as numerous fake sites are set up every day, while more households own computers, or are in direct access to the online world at work, and on the move with mobile phone WI-FI and applications. In a sense we have lived through the first ‘digital recession’, which has seriously widened the gap for counterfeit trade – a stark contrast to previous recessions when the internet was still in its infancy.
Again in the Marks & Clerk 2009 brands report, 80% of respondents believed that brand owners would find themselves at a much greater risk from counterfeiters than in previous recessions due to the rise of the internet.
Handley says: “The internet is proving to be a way that makes enforcement ever more difficult, due to finding the offenders and then tracing the supply lines to outside the UK.”
These fake sites use the logos from secure payment services such as PayPal to appear safe. They also create similar web addresses that look realistic, by simply moving around one or two words in the title; new consumers would not know the difference.
“Crime on the internet will continue to be the main growth area, and people can only protect themselves by not buying fakes at all,” Ruth says. Many customers fail to receive their items and in the worst case scenario have their credit or debit card details stolen and consequently their bank accounts emptied.
Popular auction sites like eBay have also made it easier to sell and distribute counterfeit items over the world. One case study saw eBay pay LVMH $80.000 (around £52.500) in damages after allowing the sale of counterfeits on its site in 2009.
However Handley adds: “Growth of crime is difficult to decide upon as no-one would be able to estimate with any accuracy how much trade on the internet is counterfeit. Statistics are vague.”
We are currently awaiting the facts to assess the damage of our designer wishes, but early evidence suggests that the recession has proved a ripe environment for the growth of counterfeit trade. As of yet no figures have been analysed for 2009/ 2010, and while the problem of counterfeiting seems to be on the increase, Ruth and Handley say we cannot measure the direct impact of the recession as such.
Handley believes: “We must endeavour to educate the youngsters of today who will be the consumers of tomorrow to understand the rights and wrongs of buying counterfeit goods. More resources should be spent on a dedicated education programme.”
Perhaps instead of searching for the next bargain, even during a recession, we should make a conscious effort to protect ourselves and our favourite labels before the poison of counterfeiting seeps into the heart of these brands.
For more information on protecting yourself online, and how to spot a fake please visit – www.getsafeonline.org which provides free expert advice on how to safeguard yourself from counterfeiting when shopping online.
4. Starting up a label in the recession – the Charlotte Taylor story…
*For full interview with Charlotte Taylor and fashion photographer Claire Pepper please see my previous blog post “Grannies, Penguins and Dick Van Dyke”.
Panels of coral, navy, cocoa and cream effortlessly twist and turn through pleats and drapes. Dresses, coats and capes swim through a sea of wool, tweed and cotton with a hint of silk, a harsh but delicate contrast. A vintage edge is noticeable but not out of date; the wearer could be out of Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but with a modern-day twist, traditional but sexy. This eccentric and sophisticated glamour are at the core of the Charlotte Taylor Autumn/ Winter (A/W) 10 collection.
Amid the fears and darkness of the recession 26 year old Charlotte Taylor left her job at the label Luella and immediately set up the line. Working within the marketing department since college she took the leap last summer to break out of the 9-5 cycle, dug out her creative needle and finally launched her first collection. Charlotte says: “I am not the sort to sit still. I need entertaining and I was bored with my life. It was a bit too easy. 9-5 job, nice flat, friends and family all living really close, I needed a challenge. I actually made the decision within a week. It just felt so right and the months notice I had to work felt like hell as I was so desperate to crack on with everything. I like to push and challenge myself.” The collection was showcased at London Fashion Week February 2010 and included a selection of dresses, trousers, blouses and jackets inspired by grannies, penguins and Dick Van Dyke among other childhood heroes.
The main hurdle for designers during a recession is finance, collections often need to be adapted for potential buyers; they not only have to stand out but also need to be wearable. Charlotte says: “Major obstacles are of course funding. People are less willing to risk investing in a risky project and the fashion industry doesn’t have a great history in new designers making a ton of money.” However she claims that setting a realistic budget for the collection, and keeping to it helped the label to get up off its feet, and stay afloat.
Nonetheless starting a label in an economic downturn has proved tough, Charlotte adds: “I’m on a tiny budget at the moment so can’t afford much. Everything goes on the business.” Her blog www.charlotte-taylor.blogspot.com also documents the progress of the label from the early stages to the present, and highlights forward-thinking plans to make it profitable. With every profit at present going straight back onto PR, manufacturing and look book costs, “The bottomless pit that is my fashion business is draining my hard earned pennies,” she said in a recent post.
So despite the fore-warnings to what extent did the recession actually impact on the Charlotte Taylor label?
“To be honest at the moment I haven’t noticed a huge effect, but mainly because I don’t know any different. Obviously retailers have a smaller budget so they are buying less stock and from fewer designers so it is hard to sell. Because I don’t have a shop I have no overheads and because I live with my family I have little costs there as well. I think I will notice more of an effect in the future though,” she adds.
The Charlotte Taylor journey began back in July 2009 with a chilled and relaxing summer of researching and brainstorming. The end of the year saw a major turning point with pattern cutting in October, London Fashion Week applications in November, sample production in December and the look book shoot in January. By taking her time with designing and researching, Charlotte could create clothes that would make buyers and manufacturers take note; a few blog posts in March/ April 2010 saw her talking to potential stockists and factories. The collection stands out, but is also realistically wearable, which seems to be at the foundation of survival for a new label, especially in a recession.
As Claire Pepper, freelance fashion and beauty photographer, who shot the look book says: “Buyers can’t afford to stock things that aren’t going to sell. The collections have to be wearable and sellable more so than in the past. However I think Charlotte will fare well in this as her designs are wearable and are also very classic – they are investment pieces that will be worn season after season.” However you also need to be ready to take some risks. In the same posts Charlotte and her financial advisor announced that they would be going ahead with sales despite potential failure. This has paid off because the clothes will be stocked through fashion websites www.coggles.com, www.youngbritishdesigners.com and Charlotte’s own website www.charlottetaylorltd.com, which is set to launch in the next few months, over the course of the year.
The top three influences for the collection include grannies, penguins and Charlotte’s love for old movies and TV programmes like Mary Poppins and Last of the Summer Wine. “My obsession with the elderly stems from my childhood. My grandmother’s face, which in later years I studied, sketched and painted. It then developed into penguins because they walk a little bit like the elderly. The way they move, huddle, fall over and their colours, contours and shapes. I love it all. Dick Van Dyke was also a childhood hero. I love the eccentricity of the characters in those films. I’m pretty light-hearted and I want this to reflect in my clothes,” Charlotte adds.
Another vision for the collection and look book was a vintage, old-fashioned Polaroid feel. Both Charlotte and Claire explain how they added tints and affects in post production to bring the outfits to life and tell a story, which also emphasised the folds and drapes of the garments to show them at their best.
With a vibrant palette of inspiration and a variety of tastes infiltrating into the clothes it is no wonder the collection steals the crown for originality.
This also makes it timeless, the key to making any collection work in a recession. “It is a very elegant and wearable collection without being predictable and I love the range of influences that is subtly coming through. My favourite piece is the high waisted trousers, especially the ones with the crossed-over waistline that we paired with the penguin print top for the look book,” Claire says.
The online world has also been going crazy ever since the launch with famous fashion bloggers like Style Bubble and Inside-Out, the official Topshop blog placing her on their Up and Coming lists. This positive online coverage spreads the Charlotte Taylor name, potentially leading to future success, and with fashion enthusiasts now turning to fashion blogs for fashion advice, it is no question they will take note of a new listed designer.
Cocosteaparty whose blog has more than a million hits is also a big fan of the collection. Praising the youthful wear ability and character of the clothes, she said: “I loved the penguin prints in the collection, the bright blues and yellows immediately catch the eye and I am sure they will be popular pieces. However I thought the dresses and beautifully tailored trousers were the highlight of the collection. Normally when I write about the unknown or new designers the response isn’t that great, but when I wrote about the A/W collection there was a strong response from readers so I am sure she will be a success.”
Fashion and creativity has always played a huge role in Charlotte’s life, even at a young age she enjoyed experimenting with designs and clothes, clashing and mixing up her wardrobe with quirky pieces from charity shops or eBay – her weakness is Kurt Keiger shoes, steering clear of looking like a Topshop clone. Charlotte says: “I’m not far out wacky and I’m definitely not a high street clone. I wear what I want and always have. I make a lot of fancy dress costumes and I alter all my clothes. I highly recommend investing in a sewing machine and learning how to sew.”
With creativity and a passion for designing running through her veins it seemed only natural that she would create a fun but also classic and wearable collection which would work in a recession. “I have always been artistic. I spent my weekends painting the Lake District in Watercolour. I am definitely a designer as opposed to a ‘fashionista’. I love being creative and experimenting,” she adds.
Again in another recent blog post Charlotte said that she was happy spending no money, eating fruit and vegetables from her garden, fishing for mackerel on her Dad’s boat Pugwash and making her own clothes. “Being a creative arty farty type I have never been a materialistic one and seem to become less so as I age,” she says. So while every profit does seem to be going back onto the label Charlotte is making enough to live on, and is not suffering from any huge losses. Despite the recession the label is stable and she is happy and enjoying every step of the process.
To take time out from her busy schedule Charlotte takes a keen interest in sports, but with the new business she does not always have time to keep up with all her hobbies. Sunday lunch, tea and cake or a glass of wine with the girls are also top of her list. In fact her love for tea and cake even stretched to London Fashion Week with penguin cupcakes and tea in teacups offered as part of the Charlotte Taylor experience – her favourite is green tea with pear or a standard builder’s tea. “I knew no-one else would bring them and people remember quirky bits like that, plus I also love cake and tea so it kept me going,” she adds. Tea and cake parties will be held in London leading up to the collection’s official launch in September 2010, which is likely to raise even more coverage for the label.
There are also a number of future plans for the label, with hopes of selling worldwide and opening at least one stand-alone store as well as some designer collaborations hopefully in the pipeline.
“Fred Perry or a similar sports brand would be great as well as potentially children’s wear and leather goods, although I hope to develop these within my label,” she says.
And for all those aspiring designers out there Charlotte gives this advice: “Plan, be organised, don’t be scared, research, think about the business side just as much as the design side, eat well, sleep, prioritise, and take time out when you need it. Clarity is the key.”
A reasonable budget and a range of unique designs, mixed with some creativity are likely to be the best recipe for any new label during a recession. Charlotte says: “A lot of people say that the best creatives come out of a recession, turning negatives into positives and finding inspiration in the bleakest of environments. In that sense it is a great time to be launching. A lot of people thought I was mad but I’m doing ok so far.”