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How I Grew a Traditional Business in a Modern World: Ross Barr Speaks


Ross Barr-Hoyland speaks (pictured right): The British fashion industry finally saw growth of 0.2% in September after 14 months of declining sales. Expert analysis said the increase accounted for just £66m and was achieved by driving full-price sales as opposed to selling off stock at heavily discounted prices.

So, how does one successfully grow a fashion brand that sits in the textile industry, despite a 64.7% drop in output of British textiles between 1979 and 2013? Presumably by doing what I’ve done with my men’s knitwear label, Ross Barr.

After backing from the Prince’s Trust, the Ross Barr brand went on to feature in GQ, where David Gandy modelled our signature piece, The Spencer: a fashionable double-breasted cardigan made from 100% British wool. I was also fortunate enough to have my collection approved by Prince Charles and the Queen when I met them at the Prince’s Trust 40th anniversary celebrations.

The Spencer

So, you could say I know about growing and maintaining a business. Here are some of things I did.

Be authentic 

It’s tough for start-ups in the more traditional sectors today, because the lion’s share of all the funding available tends to go to the tech industry. But, success is possible if you have a good idea and you retain your authenticity and humility.

While studying Theology, Philosophy and Theology in Manchester, I worked part-time in Selfridges and really became interested in how clothes are made. I was surprised to learn just how many well-known brands were manufacturing their stock abroad in the Far East.

As someone who comes from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where the once thriving wool industry has all but disappeared, I felt inspired to create something that was of a better quality than the cheaply-produced fast fashion we see on the high street today. It was from here the idea for producing men’s knitwear using 100% British wool was born.

Persevere and sell your story 

You have to shout loud to get noticed, and of course you should expect a lot of knock backs. I contacted hundreds of potential manufacturers to find a willing collaborator, and about 90% of them simply weren’t interested, but it was worth it to speak to the ones who were.

A major turning point for me was being granted backing from the Prince’s Trust, who liked that I was trying to preserve British heritage and believed in what I am selling. While there will always be a market for cheap, mass-produced fashion, there’s also a lot of people willing to pay more for ethical brands that focus on quality. Consumers are often compelled by the stories behind their favourite brands, and I’d like to think that I’m creating that with Ross Barr.

Be adaptable 

Keeping up to date with technology and how you interact with consumers and business associates is important, as well as making sure you’re tapping into the appropriate social media channels such as Instagram and Twitter. But on top of that, you must look at the changes going on in the world and find ways to adapt.

Brexit may have made certain aspects of growing a business harder for entrepreneurs, especially since a lot of the grants are funded by the EU. However, the drop in the pound has meant that my products have suddenly become cheaper in places such as America, Japan and China which is something I have been able to take advantage of.

Give something back 

This might sound like a cliché, but I am a firm believer that you only get back what you give. I wouldn’t have had the journey I’ve had without the Prince’s Trust, and so cycling 90 miles to raise money for it was an absolute no-brainer, even though I’m pretty rubbish when it comes to cycling. It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do, but that didn’t stop me taking part in another cycling event at a gym a month later.

So many people have supported me, from Gandy to other amazing brands and designers. Most keenly, Emma Willis the shirtmaker, who started an amazing charity called Style for Soldiers. I am proud to say that since launching the Ross Barr brand, we have raised over £6,000 for charities, including The Prince’s Trust, Simon on the Streets, The RSPCA, Battersea Dog’s Home, Cancer Support, The Royal Manchester Hospital Children’s Burns Unit, Tribe of Lambs, R U Coming Out, and Children with Cancer UK.

Also, to highlight David again, he was so incredible to listen to me when no one else would. He is someone at the top of his game who helped someone just starting out. In that way, he will always serve as inspiration to me as he should for others. If you can help someone out who is genuinely needing it, always pick up the phone or respond to that email.

You never know what it might mean to help someone else when they are brave enough to ask, and you are never too big that you can’t give a helping hand to someone else. David, along with some amazing people in the industry like Tim Everest, Hugo Taylor, Ryan Palmer, Susannah Hall, John Walsh and everyone at The Prince’s Trust and so many others have got behind me and the brand and taught me what having faith means.

The world is nicer and better place when people help and support one another.

Article by Ross Barr-Hoyland in partnership with Watchhut Success Stories campaign

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