Supporting fashion start-ups

Is this a new era of small business support from multi-nationals?

It’s Monday and London Fashion Week is well and truly underway. This much anticipated event forms the backbone of the British fashion industry and whether or not you follow the latest trends, there is no denying the importance of this sector to the UK economy. The value of the fashion industry is estimated at £21.9bn, while London Fashion Week alone contributes over £20m to the capital’s economy.

For years London has been a fashion hub, where industry pundits gather to inspect the latest creations from veteran designers and newcomers alike. Many great designers have come from our shores, with brands like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood achieving global success. But with credit currently in short supply, it’s apparent that up-and-coming designers need a helping hand to reach such heights today. The sad truth is that young designers across the country face an uphill funding battle that threatens to devastate the next generation of British talent.

But before you hang up your Manolos in despair, we’ve got a spot of good news. Last Friday we attended the launch of young design duo Jena.Theo’s 2011 autumn/winter collection to mark the start of London Fashion Week, where we saw first-hand a new model of business partnerships that can provide that much needed support to aspiring fashionistas.

The acclaimed label Jena.Theo has formed a partnership with global delivery company UPS, whereby the designers, Jenny Holmes and Dimitris Theocharidis, have received financial support and guidance with everything from the delivery of fabrics sourced from around the world, to the transportation of production equipment to and from the catwalk venue. When you consider that the price of putting on a catwalk show is upwards of £25,000, this level of support is unparalleled in its benefits for young designers.

Speaking after the show, Jenny said: “We have the needs of a big business but we don’t have the funding and support we need. We can get the experience and knowledge from UPS, and they have let us be creative – it has been a fantastic partnership.”

So, what does UPS get out of all this, you might ask. According to Cindy Miller, managing director of UPS UK & Ireland, it’s a move to obtain exposure in different markets and to convey to small and medium businesses that UPS is not just a service for big organisations. She said: “The endeavour is that we want to stay local as well as being global – we want to be as accessible to small companies as we are to big ones. Jena.Theo has so many deadlines and concerns and our services can help them, as a small business, do what they do best.”

Research shows that the fashion industry is one of the biggest exporters in the UK, as people throughout the world strive to achieve the ‘London Look’. This is good news for the export industry, which ministers believe holds the key to economic recovery. The government has recently announced new measures to help small businesses export, including: a decision to refocus government bodies to provide better hands-on help to small and medium sized firms looking to trade internationally, and a pledge to create a guaranteed loan scheme for exporters, which will allow small companies to finance export orders. So what better time for larger firms to support smaller fashion labels that are struggling to get off the ground?  Let’s hope this is the start of a new era of small business support from global players.

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