Molly Goddard on clothing startups

Choosing a manufacturing supplier is a critical decision for a clothing startup. Molly Goddard started with a UK manufacturer but then switched to an overseas partner. Here, she outlines her experience.

This story was first published in issue 8 of our print edition.

When I started Desmond and Dempsey with Joel Jeffery 18 months ago, we began by manufacturing our pyjamas in London. There was the coveted ‘Made in Britain’ tag and the chance to oversee and manage production closely.

After producing two collections in London, however, we finally had to face up to the painful truth that manufacturing here isn’t viable for us.

We tried every possible contortion of our business model but every outcome of us continuing to base ourselves in the UK pointed to putting our prices up in order to maintain a sustainable margin, which was something we didn’t want to do. Our model is based on offering high quality at a price point of under £100.

It’s frustrating because being able to physically see your product being made and come through factory lines is such an exciting and rewarding experience.

By initially manufacturing in the UK, we were also able to learn the necessary skills to navigate and negotiate our new supply chains; it’s a process you can only learn by seeing. It’s why I would still recommend that any fashion brand starts with manufacturing in the UK if they can.

But in the end, as we grow, Europe promises to be faster, cheaper and often with superior tailoring. It became a no-brainer. We’re currently switching production of our third collection to Portugal, which will also mean lower shipping costs of our Spanish fabric. (There are very few cotton
mills left in the UK).

I believe that there are two challenges the UK manufacturing industry are facing. Firstly, the lack of skilled workers and the cost of space in London leaves little room for manoeuvre for factories trying to stay competitive, relevant and profitable in a global manufacturing market.

The second, is the generation gap of the factory owners and the startup wave. Initially we really struggled to even find a UK manufacturer. We eventually found a great agent who managed our production, but finding him was like infiltrating the mafia.

There were numerous meetings in car parks in hard to find places before being led through unmarked doors or industrial estates. It certainly didn’t feel like we were potential clients.

I think UK factories could do some simple things to save them from completely fading. They could make themselves easier to find (a website would be a good start, perhaps). From there, articulately and loudly amplifying their value would be no bad thing.

Taking a more pro-active and welcoming stance with the huge wave of startup clothing brands would be a valuable shift in approach. I say all this with a heavy heart as we sincerely set out believing UK production would be a key pillar in our business. Sadly, the brutal realities of business made this impossible for us.

Molly Goddard is the co-founder of pyjama brand Desmond and Dempsey