Over the coming weeks I am going to sniff out some exciting creative entrepreneurs who will hopefully give you a little hope and encouragement if you are in the process of setting up your own business. I used to go to University down in Brighton and did some part-time sewing for a label called Red Mutha, whilst I was there I met Emily Bosence, a humble sewer like me who has since gone on to establish her own fashion label Oops™ which has been featured in countless magazines and worn by celebrities and musicians alike. I decided to get her to spill a few pearls of her wisdom!
What is Oops?
Oops! is a small, independent fashion label I set up on Halloween in 2008. All the pieces are designed and handmade, by me, in the Oops! Studio which is in the North Laine in Brighton.
Whilst priding itself in offering comfortable, wearable and flattering garments, Oops! is also quirky, sexy, fierce and certainly not for the faint hearted!
Oops! combines traditional tweeds and jerseys with bright African prints and vintage fabrics. Each piece is designed to be multifunctional be it adjustable in length, a reversible cape, or a cowl neck that becomes a hood; you can guarantee there will be more to each garment than meets the eye!
Whilst stocking the UK's most interesting and unique boutiques, Oops! is constantly working on collaboration projects with like-minded talent, Oops has worked with photographers, designers, magazines, bands, illustrators, rappers and even choirs.
How did you get started?
It was the last week in October 2008 and I had no money or equipment. I went and stayed with my friend Natalie for a week. I worked in her vintage clothes shop on the Monday and Tuesday and on the Wednesday I went fabric shopping at a market with the money I had earned. I then sewed for about 12 hours solid on her machine on the Thursday and did a shoot with my friends on the Friday. I then used the images from the shoot to get my first orders and these were the orders that paid for my sewing machine, overlocker, labels and tags.
By February I had my own rail in the Laden Showrooms on Brick Lane and gradually stocked about four other shops in the UK. In March, I took part in a small exhibition in Vienna, then did a lot of online promotion and blogging and worked on few collaboration projects. My first big project was making outfits for Gaggle, an East London choir. They’ve been really successful and have had tons of press featuring images of them wearing my pieces, which has been brilliant.
I now have about 13 stockists spread across the UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Japan and Bahrain. I’ve worked on a few music videos and have also Fashion Editor of Spindle magazine.
I’ve made it sound really easy! It hasn’t been at all. All of my stockists are really small boutiques and so I need a lot of them to stock my lines to get by.
Did you always have a clear image about the company you wanted to create or did it evolve naturally?
I had pretty much no business experience so I definitely didn’t have a five-year plan! I suppose I set myself goals and don’t stop working until I’ve achieved them.
When I set up, all I knew was that I had to make clothes and I had to be my own boss. I had a list of contacts and possible stockists and designs that had been in my head for far too long and I just went for it. Up until now it has evolved naturally, working on collaborations leads to meeting more people that opens doors. I have now come to the point where I need to be more business-minded if the company is going to continue to grow.
I design, manufacture and do basically everything myself which is really hard, especially as I now also work for a magazine. I am a control freak and a very bad delegator, which is holding me back from taking the next step - employing people to manufacture.
Did you seek any grants or external funding when you first started out?
No, I didn’t - I really should’ve done. I haven’t taken any big risks, I’ve taken really small steps and Oops! has naturally grown.
Describe your typical day at work.
I don’t have a typical day at work! I could be writing an article, styling a shoot, in London having meetings or delivering my pieces to stockists, or I could be locked in my studio with 6Music and a pot of coffee for 12 hours sewing my socks off to meet a deadline!
Today I am doing this interview then making stock for a stall at alternative fashion week. Tonight my editor at Spindle magazine is coming to my house so we can finalise the flat plan while I type up an interview I did with Emma Bell.
Do you have any employees?
No, I don’t. All my pieces are made from limited edition fabrics and a lot of them are one offs so it’s really hard to get other people to manufacture them. I am currently designing a separate line, which will be suitable for mass production so that I can take on larger orders. It’s a really difficult step for me to take, but it’s a crucial one.
Did you find it challenging to be setting up a new business during the recession?
To be honest, I thought if I can set it up now, and it works, then it can only get bigger and better! It has been hard though, a lot of UK stockists are really struggling and I have seen lots shut down so I am really grateful that I am also able to sell overseas.
On the other hand it’s a really exciting time in the UK for pop up shops and exhibitions, a lot of creative people are struggling at the moment but are making the most of their spare time. If I have a quiet week I spend it contacting people I want to collaborate with, designing new pieces, writing articles, or organising shows.
What's the hardest thing about running your own business?
I find working alone can be quite hard when it comes to big decision making. I’m lucky to have very supportive friends, family and an amazing husband who are all happy to discuss my work with me.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own creative company?
Stay focused on your goals; be determined and, most importantly, confident! Oh, and you should probably write a five-year plan!
Interview by Jessica Hazel