Luis McDonald Limited: Luis McDonald

Startup profile: How Luis McDonald started his own fashion label

Luis McDonald is the latest of our Startup profiles, where we go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up.

We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Luis McDonald Age: 37 Business: Luis McDonald Limited Type of business: Womenswear Design Studio Start date: July 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?

I have been business minded for as I can remember. For example, at the age of 10 I used buy cigarette packets, bubblegum, mints etc and resell them to crowds in small local baseball stadiums opposite to where I used to live. My mother used to fund the initial capital for this mini venture and also take me to get the stock. So I have used the skills that I had at a young age as a natural progression to my chosen career.

Tell us about Luis McDonald Limited

We are a womenswear fashion design studio based in West Hampstead, London, designing casual, cocktail, evening and bridal dresses.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?

Yes, fashion design was my first idea of business for which I went to schools in U.S.A, Latin America and Europe. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) in New York; FORMAMOD in Paris; International Fine Art College in Miami and Mercy Jacquez Technical Institute in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The idea came when I was 21 after I ran into a live street fashion show and really loved it. This prompted me to enter a competition on national television, which I won, and was awarded a scholarship for two years to study fashion.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? If so, who?

Yes, the designer Oscar de La Renta as he was also born in the Dominican Republic and has been running a multi million pound fashion empire

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?

The clothing industry in general remains one of the UK’s most important industries. Last year it produced almost £7 billion worth of goods and employed 177,000 people. If the textile industry is added, the combined sectors produce £14 billion worth of goods at manufacturing prices and employs over 300,000 people.

This sector of the market is expected to grow by 47% globally in the next five years. We expect to attract buyers from department stores, boutiques and independent buyers.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?

I designed the whole collection, then we took the portfolio to several boutiques that were interested and they wrote letters supporting the collection and future intent to buy. We then went to our bank and received a small loan to buy machinery and office equipment, fabric, trimmings, labels, and a mannequin.

What research did you do?

We used trend information from the Drapers Record, the Internet and other various sources.

What advice did you seek?

We originally approached Local Enterprise Agencies and also Business Link for financial assistance, particularly grant advice, but were told we waere not living in a regeneration area so would not be eligible. However, we were advised on how to put together a business plan, cash flow forecast and also advised where to search for other financial help like loans, which was very valuable.

What other help did you get?

We are currently gaining assistance from the Business Technology Support Centre which operates in connection with the London Institute of Fashion and the London College of Fashion for which we are obtaining marketing and research advise.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?

Yes, at the moment there is rudimentary information about business but not enough especially in the fashion industry. There needs to be clear coherent government assistance within different industry sectors and in different areas e.g. financial, marketing and business planning.

For example, the Princes Trust gives help to young people who want to start a business, providing grants, low interest loans and training in every aspect of your business. But this is just for a certain age group. There should be a governmental ‘one-stop shop’ for every age group who have a good business idea. There is general help available if you search, but it is not clear and there’s nothing tailor made for the fashion industry.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.

I started my business plan in 1995 after finishing my studies in Miami, but I changed it when coming to London as it was a totally different market. I got help from different sources, including my partner who has a Law degree and is used to researching information. We also used some business plan templates from various banks to guide us.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

As a fashion designer, my role is to create and follow new trends every season and as fashion is highly expensive, unpredictable and turbulent, it is difficult to stick to one plan. I find business planning improves from one collection to the next. As you gain a reputable base more valid assistance is available for the next stage of business planning.

How much did it cost to start the business? £15,000

How did you fund this?

Savings and personal loans

How many hours are you working at the moment?

Fashion is not a nine-to-five job. Lots of times you have to work around the clock, especially when you are putting a collection together.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done?

By multi-tasking, but despite this there is no way you can get out of working around the clock.

What about staff, is it just you?

Our Staff are mainly freelancers who help when needed, sewing and doing administration work. However, we already two manufacturing plants: one in India that does embroidery work and one in the Dominican Republic that specialises in sampling.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?

Yes.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

We started off by presenting our first fashion show, “LA VIE EN ROSE”, for our Spring/Summer 2003 collection just outside London Fashion Week. Press release and images of our collection where sent out to the mainstream media and buyers by fax, post and e-mail, and we then made many follow-up calls.

Since the collection we’ve sold stock to several London Boutiques – “Nara Boutique” in Knightsbridge, “Rolanda Boutique” in Battersea Square and “Britism” in Notting Hill Gate. “Nara Boutique” has advertised our dresses in Good life Magazine which bought publicity for us. In addition, Drapers Record featured us in there Fashion News section as a niche British label to watch.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?

Showing on schedule during London Fashion Week.

What are the main obstacles to growth?

Money to move to the next level

How do you plan to overcome these?

By making high street designs and trying to sell in other cities around Europe and U.S.A

Tell us about your website.

Our website is currently being compiled and it is very important avenue to sell and market our collection worldwide. We have employed a company called Sage Software Ltd, which was recommended by our Bank. It is important that it looks professional and portrays the right image. We have found this a very interesting experience.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

To be profitable and run a successful long term business

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?

I have found the lack of response from British buyers, who unfortunately prefer to buy elsewhere rather than supporting new British fashion designers, difficult. I also wish that once I received my start-up money that I had obtained marketing and research from people with knowledge specifically in the fashion industry, and not just general business advise. We have now found some better sources, for example the Business Technology Support Centre

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

Stamina, determination, strength and, very importantly, proper technical expertise in your area. You also need to be willing to listen to advice.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

You have to be a self-starter who is willing to sacrifice many aspects of your life and take the good as well as the bad. Do your homework really well, take business advice from different experts who have knowledge of your specific business area.

In addition, I have found it easier to obtain a personal loan as opposed to a business loan. And last but not least, get expert financial advice before spending a penny.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time?

Yes, definitely.

To find out more about Luis McDonald Limited, visit www.luismcdonald.com

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