Rise Buyers Den 2016 - Tuesday 29th March

This year’s UKFT Rise Buyers’ Den at the John Lewis Partnership HQ was another sell-out. It was hosted by Rise Chairman Richard Hurtley, with an introduction from Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation.

The aim was to put 6 new UK fashion and footwear brands in front of a panel of buyers to pitch for a one season showcase at John Lewis. Rise intended this to give new brands their first exposure and feedback from major UK buyers and the chance for buyers to see new brands early on. In addition to the showcase, the winner would be featured in Drapers and take part in Enterprise Nation’s trade mission to Berlin. All attendees had the chance to meet the buyers.  

The buyers were: Beth Pettet (Menswear) and Victoria Davies (Womenswear) of John Lewis; Adam Jagger of Lambert’s Yard and Juls Dawson of leading brand agency [Just] Consultancies. 

Beth Pettet said the judges were “interested in new ideas and creative energy”, adding “We are an approachable bunch!”

Pitch 1: North South www.northsouthapparel.co.uk 

Determined to change fashion after the Rana Plaza disaster almost three years ago, North South is an ethical fashion start up in the mid or “mass” market, manufacturing with carbon neutral and wind powered factories. They had early successes with pop ups and own online. The buyers asked why North South was keen to enter John Lewis. North South needs a large UK retail partner and is confident that there is room in the market for an ethical menswear brand at the mass to mid-market level.  

Pitch 2: Air and Grace www.airandgracelondon.com

This was a confident and polished pitch for this collection of comfortable yet smart footwear. The company’s “Tender loving air” technology is now patented. The collection is manufactured in Portugal, with its new ‘Heels’ range to be manufactured in the UK. The company has an angel investor and substantial press and blogger support. Liberty London Girl was quoted as calling the brand the “holy grail” of London footwear. Recently,  Teatum Jones used them on the catwalk at London Fashion Week. The company is exporting with one store in Germany and two in Japan. 

Buyer Focus: Juls Dawson of Just Consultancies www.justconsultancies.co.uk Juls is a commission agent and consultant, working with the high street, online stores and 500 UK indies. He likes to promote emerging brands as long as they offer a good mark up and correspond to a gap and demand in market. He said companies must also be entrepreneurial, have a strong USP and really understand the costs and finances of their business. 

Pitch 3: Deborah Campbell Atelier www.deborahcampbellatelier.com 

Deborah is passionate about manufacturing designer women’s clothing in the UK. She uses vibrant print and fabrics from recycled plastic bottles. She has collaborated with artist Tabitha Wilson, has her own independent fashion design consultancy. The brand ethos is all about ethical and sustainable fashion. The brand is stocked in Anthropologie and Deborah feels John Lewis would benefit from an ethical/sustainable mid-priced womenswear offer.

Pitch 4: Gnostic Jungle www.gnosticjungle.com 

This is a new casual footwear collection using Ghanaian-inspired prints. In 2015 the company won the Drapers Footwear Designer of the Year award. The brand has great “kerb” appeal, mid to low prices and good sell through. The company believes there is a gap in coloured and more adventurous footwear, especially for men, although the buyers said that most of their sales tend to be in plain colours.

Buyer Focus:  Victoria Davies, Womenswear Buyer at John Lewis. 

When considering new brands, Victoria looks for gaps in the market where there is potential demand. Top tips: Research the store, get the buyer’s name right (!), identify your brand’s USP and how it would fit in. 

Pitch 5: Rakha www.rakha.co.uk 

Rakha is all about fashion and philanthropy and the company was given an award by the Unltd social enterprise organisation www.unltd.org.uk. The collection has been relaunched to be more ethical and sustainable is aboutunderstated womenswear.

Pitch 6: Kitty Ferreira www.kittyferreira.co.uk 

Kitty Ferreira designs elegant ethical garments which are then made in London. From organic “Peace Silks” to herbal dyes, this company challenges perceptions of ethical fashion. The company’s lux designs appeal also to the non-ethical market. The company believes there is not currently a truly ethical brand stocked in John Lewis and that this collection would be the perfect fit. 

Buyer Focus:  Adam Jagger of Lambert's Yard, Leeds. www.lambertsyard.com After an illustrious career at Topman,Topshop, Sarah Coggles and ASOS, where he worked with and streamed collections from London Fashion Week designers including JW Anderson and Christopher Raeburn, his passion for new brands continues at Lambert’s Yard store.  He stocks a broad selection of brands and is currently working with the Centre for Fashion Enterprise and others on its“Leeds Fashion Initiative”.

Some of the pitchers were new to this kind of business and struggled to really engage the buyers, even though their products may have been of interest. One or two pitchers had very slick presentations which showed they had done their research on the buyers and were selling their brand into them, anticipating their questions and reassuring them that their brands were the perfect fit for the John Lewis showcase. This guaranteed them the buyers’ undivided attention and enthusiasm – whether or not the products fitted the bill. The buyers recognised the new wave of ethical fashion and sustainability which ran through many of the pitches, reflecting that this market trend is rapidly evolving. 

The buyers chose Air and Grace as the winner of this year’s UKFT Rise Buyers’ Den.

UKFT Rise’s next event is on 25th May.

Author: Paul Alger - Director of International Affairs, UKFT