How we turned creative designs into retail success

 28 May 2014

How can creative ideas survive in the retail industry? Viviane Jaeger, co-founder of fashion brand SquidLondon spoke about how they got their products sold in over 100 museum, designer and art shops in 18 countries.

You do not need a huge budget to run a successful company, but you do need to be smart about it.
You do not need a huge budget to run a successful company, but you do need to be smart about it.

Emma-Jayne and I have 10 years' experience in retail and during this time things have changed a lot. This is good news for up-and-coming fresh brands wanting to launch into the retail market. You do not need a huge budget to run a successful company, but you do need to be smart about it.

We know many tricks of the trade but have also made many mistakes. Fortunately we are fast learners

Here are our top tips for surviving in the retail industry:

1. Be prepared to put in the hours

In the beginning we had to work part-time jobs, working weekends and evenings alongside running our company in order to support ourselves. 

We both studied a four-year Product Design and Development degree at the London College of Fashion, we produced endless ideas, concepts, sketchbooks and prototypes. During our placement year we were working up to 80 hours a week for busy and demanding directors in fashion houses such as Chloe and Selina Blow

We quickly realized this is a cut-throat industry. However this didn’t put us off but made us work even harder. Our industry is known for freelancers. As a creative you want to see your idea taken to market, adding some credibility and value. We are both quite hands-on personalities so self-employment was a logical choice.

In the beginning we had to work part-time jobs, working weekends and evenings alongside running our company in order to support ourselves. 

2. Think smart and innovative

Talent alone is not enough to get a slice of the very competitive fashion market. So what do you do as a young designer, do something different, totally innovative, something nobody has ever thought of before.

In London it rains one in every three days. We thought: ‘how cool would it be if you walk down the street and your clothes changes colour when it starts to rain?’  

Our product 'Squidarellas' are umbrellas that change colour as soon as the rain hits the panels, turning an ordinary umbrella into a walking piece of art. 

3. Remember there are other sales channels besides trade shows

We made many mistakes when we were starting off. One of which was that we blew a huge chunk of our start-up cash on a tradeshow. Having spent hours designing our amazing SquidStand and printing expensive marketing material, we quickly realized tradeshows were not the way forward for our market.

There are now many sales channels over which your customer can find you.

We were told to be successful in our industry you have to exhibit at trade shows in order to win the trust of buyers. We decided that there were other ways to break into the market.

Gone are the times you wait until one day this big department store discovers you. There are now many sales channels over which your customer can find you.

We send out online catalogues with a promotional video instead of printed lookbooks and also samples on request.

4. A good product does not need an expensive PR agency

We strongly believe a good product will create PR for itself. One of the biggest hurdles was getting press without a stockist and vice versa. We create all of our marketing content ourselves. It’s a fun job and not as hard work as the production and sales side.

We strongly believe a good product will create PR for itself.

We found our niche in the museums sector by sheer luck. We managed to get a meeting with Tate Museum who commissioned us to create a Squidarella collection for the ‘Colour Chart Exhibition’. This was our break. 

Winning awards has also been incredibly helpful for us as a small brand to gain credibility and press attention.

After winning the Deutsche bank award in our final year at University, we produced a trial collection of 100 Squidarellas. We launched at Spitalfields Market in January 2009, in the midst of the recession, and sold out in 11 days. 

5. Every day do something which challenges you 

One thing we never want to be is bored or to fall into a routine. Every day we want to learn something new. It’s important for us to keep innovating and adding to our range. In September 2014 we launched our new kidswear brand SquidKids in Hamleys.

In 2012 we won the most 'Innovating Business in London' ERDF Award, and we still get excited when we see a random Squidarella walking along the street, be it Oxford Street, Sloane Street or London Bridge.

6. Your team is your key to success

Emma-Jayne and I have built a great team around us. Our creative engine room is working around the clock and we strongly believe this is our secret to success.

We have a lot of responsibility, but despite all the hard work we know how to have fun and live in the here and now. Life is too short! Our philosophy is that nothing is impossible.

If you enjoyed our contribution on Creative Voices – follow us on Twitter @Squidpreneur @SquidLondon