Lessons of running a sustainable fashion independent label

Bozena Jankowska Ltd HQ


It has been almost eight months since I first started sketching my first design ideas. Now, as I write this journal entry, my finished and sewn up debut collection is hanging up on a rail right next to me. I've reached the first major milestone of my journey as now, I have a tangible product - but this is just the beginning. It's been and will continue to be a steep learning curve. So what wisdom can I impart from my journey so far?

When setting up or running your own business you can never underestimate the importance of building the right team of people around you. These are the people who have the skills and the experience to guide you, help you stay on track and avoid you burning through money which can be easily done in the early stages of any business. Being new to the fashion industry, I am doing many things for the first time and I don't have the wealth of previous experience to draw on. Having the right team gives me flexibility to tap into the relevant expertise and advice as my business needs demand it. It's tempting to try and be the super hero and take on everything myself but its not necessarily economic and I have found can unnecessarily raise the stress levels. These are individuals who also act as my sounding board for that all important reality check and importantly, they bring fresh and exciting ideas to the table that I would not have thought of myself - they expand the range of possibilities open to me.

The trickiest aspect of starting a fashion business is finding the right team at the start that understands the vision for your designs. By this, I mean a skilled pattern cutter who can interpret the concept sketches and turn them into patterns that will be used to make up the garments. Consideration needs to be given to the fit of each piece and whether the clothes lie beautifully on the body. If the patterns are not right, the collection can be a non-starter as the perfect pattern sets the tone for everything that follows. Getting the pattern and fit right is a considered and involved process that requires a skilled eye where usually several reiterations of the same pattern are made up before you get the desired result.


Pattern blocks



The second key component is finding a machinist who has the skill and experience in constructing garments or 'samples' taking the pattern pieces and turning them into beautifully crafted pieces that show the collection at its best given they are going to be closely scrutinised by fashion editors, potential buyers and clients. They also set the benchmark for production and what will ultimately be seen and bought by clients - they have to be perfect.




I've found that gut instinct too has a role to play when starting and running a business. A lot of time I've followed my gut instinct and so far, it has served me well. I realise that its not a very scientific or business headed approach to making business decisions, but I know my business and my vision for it far better than anyone else and intuition always tells me whether something feels right or not. Looking back from this point, would I have done anything differently? The answer is no. I've viewed every step of the process as a lesson and each time I've been left with more experience and wisdom to drive me forward. It's pointless dwelling on things that did not work out exactly as you may have wanted - it's important to stay open minded and learn from the experience, move on and do better next time.

Recently, I was given some very wise advice at a time when I was going through a period of feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead of me. Much remains to be done before the launch of brand Bozena Jankowska later this year. Above and beyond designing, decisions and plans need to be put into place for manufacturing, logistics, promotion, imagery, branding, social media, secure e-commerce sites, packaging - but with the right team behind you, taking each challenge at a time and enjoying the journey, it soon slots into place. It's equally easy to get sucked into the frenzied calendar of the fashion world with its crazy schedule. Whereas many years ago there may have been two defined seasons- Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter - some designers decided to break away from this and began to produce pre-collections consisting of ready to wear collections before the launch of their more exclusive ones. Today, this has resulted in a fashion calendar consisting of a minimum of six collection in a single year including resort, cruise, first summer, high summer and pre-fall in addition to the defined season collections. For an industry newbie like myself, navigating your way through all the noise can be disconcerting and its easy to put pressure on yourself to try and 'fit in'. So what was the advice I was given? It goes like this - 'its your business, you set your own rules, do things your way, go at your own pace, you don't need to follow convention, tackle each challenge at a time and most of all, enjoy the journey' - mantra that any aspiring entrepreneur may want to heed.

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