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The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

London - The fashion industry may be one of the hardest sectors to break into. Although a handful of new and emerging designers are supported by the British Fashion Council and given an international fashion platform during London Fashion Week twice a year, it is not enough. The lack financial and business support, increasing costs, as well as the struggle to remain profitable while working with wholesale model are just a few of the things that bothered Rebecca Morter, co-founder women’s wear brand REIN London. Which how the London Designers Collective came to be - a group of small, emerging brands working together to host events, such as pop-up stores.

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

“We as a collective are trying to change the way young brands connect with their customers,” explained Morter to FashionUnited over the phone. “The London Designers Collective consists of small, emerging brands like us, coming together to harass our united voice.” Set to host its third pop-up store this London Fashion Week together with series of brand presentations the idea for the LDC first came about last year, said LCF graduate. Although Morter, together with her partner Gemma Vanson, previously experienced a successful debut with REIN London during London Fashion Week in February 2015 and their brand has been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Charlie XCX and Cheryl Cole, the duo was still had a hard time sailing down the traditional wholesale route.

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

The London Designers Collective to host London Fashion Week pop-up

Morter quickly noticed the widening gap within the industry for upcoming brands and all the hoops they had to jump through in order to get their brand stocked in store. “Back then we were going through the traditional wholesale route, building relationships with stores and meeting people, we started to notice the disparity within the industry and just how difficult it is for a new brand - especially a small one that is self funded just starting out - to really get out there and into these stores. Especially with all these rules concerning showing, for example, we’d have had to have shown our collections on schedules for at least 3 seasons to be considered, it made you question how you were ever going to survive.” The duo also had many friends who were also launching upcoming brands and struggling with similar situations, which made Morter and Vanson question the effectiveness of the wholesale model.

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

“It was early last year when we realised that it wasn’t just us who were faced with these issues - we have a number of friends who run brands and showed at London Fashion Week who were in a similar situation,” continued Morter. “We got talking to people and thought there has to be another way. Especially with online and the rise of digital, we asked why the wholesale model was also not moving on with the times and catching up. We are so behind, it's 3 months, 6 months before collections are even released - it’s crazy when the rest of the world is moving forward at such a fast rate. We thought there must be something we can do, so we got together with friends and that’s when the collective was born.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

The main idea behind LDC was founded on the fact is was so difficult for one small brand to get stocked in store, but in order for a new brand to survive and make sufficient income, they need to ensure they have enough retail stores stocking their collections. But by bringing in a number of small brands together, who share a similar aesthetic and price point, Morter believes brands and designers are able to harness and use each other's strengths while sharing the costs. “For example, one brand having an event means you have one chance, one social following, one collection and database. But when you have 10 brands coming together, which are aligned and on the same price point and similar aesthetics, with dedicated customers who will be interested in the other brands showing next to you, then you have ten times the reach with a shared event. Already that is ten times the amount of power versus hosting an event on your own.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

The LCD offers small brands an alternative model to the wholesale model

In addition LDC gives brands the freedom to share the costs of featuring their collections in a temporary store. As pop-up stores and locations in London have become more and more expensive over the years, by sharing the costs linked to hosting the event, small brands get the chance to see their products in store. “The LDC offers brands a way to share costs and maximise each opportunity in store.” Another thing the London Designers Collective also tries to push forward is the fact that they are small, independent brands who are more able to respond faster to any industry changes and able to experiment with retail formats more freely. “We are not limited to any corporate loops for approval. This works well for our pop-ups, as it lets us experiment more and pioneer new retail trends. We can do things that are a bit different or unusual that bigger companies may be afraid to do,” pointed out Morter.

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

For Morter, hosting regular pop-up events is a must for upcoming brands like REIN London. “We want brands like us to meet their customers face to face because you do not get that with wholesale retailers. And it is so important when you are a small emerging brand to know what your customer wants and learn and understand what they need and what they are willing to pay for it. A lot of times with wholesale it’s hard to understand why no one is buying it as there could just be one tiny little thing thats missing but without connecting with your customers, having them in front of you trying your garments on then you will never know. So for that reason the pop-ups have been hugely beneficial.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

Prior to each pop-up store launch, Morter always runs through their list of designers and brands to see who it free and able to participate in the event. “We have an emailing list which we send out to our brands with a list of fees for the venue, or other event requirements, so people can see if they want to participate.” The brands then decide if they are able to join in. “Everyone pools their customer databases, contacts and friends for the pop-ups to ensure they are successful.” Since the launch of their first pop-up store in Soho last year, the London Designers Collective group has grown to include over 50 brands. “The reception we have had from brands having a pop-up with the LDC has been astronomical, it’s been crazy.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

The London Designers Collective supports small brands in sharing the costs of a pop-up store

At the moment there is no real criteria a brand has to adhere to join LDC, but when hosting their pop-ups Morter alway make sure that the brands included mesh well together and adhere to certain aesthetic and price point. In addition, Morter also tries to ensure there is a unique blend of brand offerings to keep things fresh for the customer. “We want all the pop-ups to be concept store and experience led- more than just a sample sale. We want each of the brands featured to really show through. so people can experience and understand the brand while they are there. By having more of a lifestyle offering you are helping the brands and their customers paint that full picture.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

Friday, February 17th marks the opening of the London Designers Collective third pop-up store in the heart of London’s West End. 11 brands are set to offer their latest collections in store, including REIN London, Tramps in Disguise and Conflict of Ego, with a number of them showing their designs during a presentation. “At the moment there is so much talking going around how the fashion industry is influx with a number of brands becoming more customer focus, like Burberry and Tom Ford and others remaining traditional. For us its really important that the industry moves more customer focus, especially for the smaller brands that need to generating fresher business models to stay ahead as the wholesale traditional model is gone. So the question is how can we build our new model that fits in with this digital world and focuses more on customers.”

Which is why the LDC will be running their pop-up store at 44 Great Russell Street, alongside of their LFW presentations, so customers can shop the brands during LFW but are also able to access an event usually reserved for buyers or press. “We have had a wonderful response to the presentation as normally such events are so closed to the public and just for the industry.” By having presentations brands can still have access to buyers and press as well as selling their collections to consumers. “Being a small brand even, when we were showing during London Fashion Week, we would never turn anyone away from our presentation as you are presenting for 3 hours - you want people in there otherwise it looks empty. So it makes sense for us to keep it a bit more open.”

The London Designers Collective brings 'Guerilla' retail to LFW

The LDC to bring LFW presentations and a pop-up store together under one roof

In addition to the LFW pop-up store this season, Morter is also busy planning pop-up events for April, July and September as well. “We are hoping we can get a partner on board, someone who can support the collective monetary wise to keep the costs down and in turn help us find a venue that’s even bigger and better.” Ideally she is looking for a partner who believes in supporting small brands and helping them grow their businesses. “There is some fantastic help and support systems out there, the BFC, Fashion Scout, On|Off, but there is still quiet high costs involved with all of them. And in the grand scheme of things there are so many emerging brands out there and only a few organisations helping, so support is very limited. What we want to do is help brands get out there to the customers while keeping the costs low so their businesses can grow a bit more.”

Photos: Courtesy of the LDC