Why Did Fashion Enter Create Brand Belles?
As Fashion-Enter Ltd moves into year 14 JoJo Iles, editor of FashionCapital, asked Jenny Holloway, CEO, why has it taken so long for in-house brand ‘Belles of London’ to be established…
JoJo: You used to be a Senior Buyer Jenny overseeing mega budgets so why has it taken so long for Belles of London to really arrive?
Jenny: There are actually lots of answers to this very pertinent question Jo! We have actually had the brand name for over 12-years but we didn’t use it for years…we couldn’t afford a complete range. We have had a few successes with Belles such as being on Market Place with ASOS.com and then we had a stint on QVC but it was never really a “proper” brand.
What I struggled with personally was that I am not a designer and I have business integrity with our clients. To me if I break their trust then I should not be in business. I wanted to develop a collection that would never be like our clients or our competitors and I couldn’t seem to find a way.
The name started i.e. Belles because I never thought the range was about me personally – if anything it was about our talented Head of Creative – Beth who has been with us for seven years.
However, it’s a tough call to ask a busy designer to create a totally new brand across 9 different product ranges and literally keep pouring out the design content without a steer.
We tried at first to create a collection three years ago that the management team was involved in and we held meetings but the truth was we started falling out. When opinions are subjective it’s not fair to the designer…it clearly didn’t work so we abandoned the range. However, during that time Beth had created some amazing silk designs, which I thought were unique and inspirational. I kept them in a box in my office, as I knew we would come back to them one day!
Then last summer from August 2018 we had a down turn in orders and I was so so annoyed with myself. If we had started Belles properly three years go we would not have suffered such a large down turn that went on until March 2019. I was then a woman possessed.
I blamed myself for such a meagre Christmas for the workforce and I hated being in such a tight position with cash flow. The entire month of August I constantly kept thinking of new ways forward…I am a great walker with my collie – Charlie. I virtually walked his legs off!
Then I had it…the only way forward…We were called Belles for a reason. The range was not to be about the company Fashion Enter…it was to be about the staff. I wanted the staff fully integrated and fully creative so we decided to select Belles from the workforce and give them a chance to design six outfits that they would like. We are all different, we are all unique and this way Belles of London would have different identities.
JoJo: But isn’t that confusing to a new customer looking for that Belles signature style?
Jenny: Potentially yes, but consumers have to look past that. We don’t want to attract a stereotypical client we want to attract a wide cross section of women who appreciate beautifully made garments, ethically made and beautifully constructed. This is why we created a video too of the first three belles featured on the website.
JoJo: So the big question is…has it worked?
Jenny: It has to our expectations, definitely yes! When we first launched we pushed the team because there was a chance of seeing Belles on TV. Did that work – no – it didn’t make a jot of difference but it meant that we did launch on time in November 2018.
One of our best moves was to be requested by Silk Fred to be showcased. I have to say Silk Fred have been amazing and we receive sales every single day from this website. This then led on to Little Black Dress also asking us to be on their site and this is working well too.
We have launched swimwear and gym wear – a little late because we had difficulties with the fabric sourcing but that’s all in the past now. We are ready for a long hot Indian summer.
We will make this work too. I have to say Beth has been amazing in design but also Kelly on marketing with her amazing short videos. I am immensely proud of every single Belle and everyone involved so far.
JoJo: So who are the next three Belles then?
Jenny: Launching this week (22nd July 2019) we have:
Georgia Fletcher – swimwear. Georgia was late to the project but her input has been invaluable. Georgia is a newly completed apprentice in garment technology that has been with us for over two-years and she has such a unique sense of style. She is genuinely the kindest person I know too. She always has a smile on her face! I am so pleased we have managed to offer her a full time job now as a junior garment technologist. This range has stylish swimwear with mix and match tops and bottoms complete with an exclusive palm print wrap dress that looks great on the beach or at the bar.
Anca Balasica – occasion wear. Anca is one of our fastest overlockers on the production floor and she is another genuine soul that really works well within the team. She is from Romania and has been working with us for four years; she has made her own clothes for years too and often shows us photos of her amazing concepts. We put the machine floor to the vote on who they wanted as the next Belle of London and Anca won, but Vali our supervisor was a very close second. This range is all about occasion wear, dresses that are flattering and elegant with a touch of Jackie O’ inspiration.
Katie Farley – Gym wear. Katie has been working with us for five years as a fashion journalist. She has Cerebral Palsy and we all so admire how dedicated and professional Kate is. She is a true inspiration and a stunning woman with the most amazing hair! I met Katie with her mother as a chaperon in London about two years ago and she blew me away – she’s just got this amazing spark about her. Then I saw a short video of her boxing and I thought that’s it – she has to be a Belle! This collection is full of colour just like Kate. There are strong blocks of hot pink or ocean blue with classic black in body contouring leggings, bra tops and vests – working out has never looked so good!
JoJo: How does bespoke Belles work?
Jenny: We are quite fussy about our tailoring…well I am! I was a tailoring selector for M&S and there I learnt the importance of fit, fabrics, construction, design etc. So we will not create ready-to-wear tailoring, we only organise bespoke fit for tailoring. I wanted to work with some influential business women here so CEO June O’Sullivan from Leyf, Sarah Brett from MakeUK and Sam Hook legal partner from Druces have all been clients, and I have to say I am thrilled for them!
Claire our Head of Patterns has been an absolute master in fit and has made these women look amazing in the Belles suits. I love suiting myself but I hate shopping and I have zero patience with crowds. In the morning I am dashing between walking the dog, getting the family up, breakfast and going to work so I don’t have time to think about what to wear. I am a grab and go dresser! I just open the wardrobe and the style has to jump out at me. This is why my range has tweaks such as lined waistbands and vents in skirts that match the blouse. It has got to be simple for me but I also want to feel good.
JoJo: So what’s next for Belles?
Jenny: Well, we are planning a few exciting things such as each Belle is designing a Christmas number and we have asked a senior woman in the industry to be a honourable Belle too. At the moment we are enjoying receiving feedback from customers and seeing the range grow. We are also hoping for a retail outlet too in the not too distant future.