Kirsty Hartley, founder of Wild Things Dresses, talks to us about making the switch from designing for big name brands to growing her own British childrenswear brand.
Kirsty has some great advice for other British-made brands. Top tips in this article include:
- Have a passion for what you do
- Source in help for areas that you don’t have experience in
- Events are a great way of creating brand awareness
- Work with influencers to endorse your products
- Offer a unique product
- Be realistic about pricing
- Keeping the business UK-made allows you to react quickly to bestsellers
- Have a clear understanding or product IP
- Don’t offer something without impeccable product and marketing
Wild Things is a home grown brand, proudly promoting British-made. The designs are made with a team of skilled UK makers, supporting a growing UK specialist industry, and everything is sourced using regional suppliers.
Designer Kirsty Hartley left her career designing childrenswear and textiles for major UK retailers to launch her own brand in 2011. The aim was to revive her passion for creating handmade pieces and design clothes with bold colours, strong prints and subtle retro influences.
Wild Things has continued to grow and has attracted a celebrity following including Lily Allen, Charlotte Church, and Frances Cobain. We find out how she made it happen.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background prior to launching Wild Things?
I’ve worked in the fashion industry for many years including designing for a major importer since the 90’s at the time of clothing manufacture decline in the UK. I worked with overseas offices in Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Turkey and Poland developing product ranges for high street retail groups such as the Arcadia group (Top Shop) and Mothercare.
I combined freelance design with Fashion lecturing and moved into working with Manchester School of Design for 10 years, facilitating fashion and textile student development in pattern cutting, design direction, drawing and marketing.
What gave you the inspiration to take the leap from working for large retailers to starting your own brand?
My reason for change was twofold. Firstly, with 3 children, I wanted to create a better work, life balance. I also longed to get back to my craft and to ‘make’ again.
Working with overseas product development through CAD meant little shape development and working with fabric. So I dusted down my old Brother Exedra and set to work creating ideas for my own children.
You have extensive design experience in the fashion industry as well as being a lecturer on Design at the Manchester School or Art. How necessary do you feel it is to have this wealth of experience prior to launching a brand and what advice would you offer to someone who has the passion and ideas but lacks the design experience?
Having a focussed experience whether it be in marketing, social media, sales etc is useful, however it’s the PASSION for what you do which will see your business succeed. You can source in the bits you don’t have strong experience in.
You started off with an Etsy shop, was that selling your own handmade pieces?
Etsy has been a perfect platform to begin, develop and scale my business.
With my business roots having an emphasis on creating handmade, heirloom playful pieces for children, I found a loyal niche global customer base. My clothes are simple, functional but with a playful twist, making them popular particularly with customers in Northern Europe, America and Taiwan. Offering an all season collection too, means I can offer products to the Australian market too.
Creating exciting imagery ,and working with social media were an important part in gaining exposure through Etsy.
Which marketing activities do you find the most effective for your brand?
I currently mostly use Instagram for daily updates which appeals to my market. Fairs such as Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade fair, which champions the best of handmade has also been an excellent platform to create brand awareness. Working with influencers (before the term ‘influencers’ was used!) from an early stage was important to endorse my products.
You joined us at our Make it British trade show last year in the brand hall, what was the greatest benefit of this for your business?
The show gave me a perfect space to showcase Wild Things and also to meet fellow brands, leading to an exciting collaboration with UK baby sling brand Sleepy Nico. We’ve taken some of our signature prints and created unique baby slings in their award winning designs.
What have been the biggest hurdles you have faced in running a British brand?
Working and sourcing close to home has made product development a joy, however positioning Wild Things in a competitive market which predominantly sources from overseas has been tricky. Offering a unique product and being realistic about pricing has been key, as has creating interest from global retailers looking for a unique product with an authentic story, such as Anthropoligie and retailers in Taiwan and the US.
Keeping Wild Things small and special, and UK made, however, has enabled us to offer a large product range (with smaller minimums) to react quickly to best sellers, as well as work with an exciting range of UK companies, to source and develop our fabrics. We all support each other.
Having a clear understanding of design and product IP (intellectual property)has also been important too, and working with ACID ( anti copying in design) has been crucial, as more and more mainstream labels continue to emulate our designs.
What would your best piece of advice be for someone starting out with a childrenswear brand?
Always research your market, and explore ways of scaling your manufacture as your business grows. Don’t offer something without impeccable product and marketing, especially in a market which offers the same product, made elsewhere, at a lower price.
You have developed a bit of a celebrity following with people like Lilly Allen and Charlotte Church choosing your brand. Was that a happy accident or do you send gifts to high profile people as a marketing exercise?
The celebrity following has been most definitely a happy accident, as I don’t work with an external PR.
I heard a rumour that you might be starting to make some adult dresses to compliment the children’s ones….is this true? And what else can we expect from Wild Things in the future?
I’m currently working on my second collection with leading Organic Baby and Kids brand Frugi.
Also expect to see some adult styles, styles for older girls, as well as some unique printed dresses and dungarees with a twist.
I am continuing also to develop stand alone patterns and work with leading craft lifestyle magazines Mollie Makes and Simply Sewing to sit with my two books: Wild Things Funky Little Clothes to Sew, and Wild Things to Make which has recently been published in Germany with Dorling Kindersley.
Find out more about Wild Things here.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming a member of Make it British and how we can help your business click here.