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Iveson & Sage's Beth Chilton on Dragons' Den and start-up success

Hope and ivy 2[1]

Success came quickly for the fledgling womenswear company Iveson & Sage, thanks to a combination of drive, dedication and an fortuitous appearance on BBC 2’s Dragons’ Den.

Alter London

Alter London

Alter London

Facing down four of the country’s best-known entrepreneurs in a bid to secure investment may not be the typical route to business success – but for nascent womenswear design company Iveson & Sage, it became the reality as they pitched their business on BBC2’s entrepreneurial investment show, Dragons’ Den last Sunday (August 7).

Co-founders Beth Chilton and Sarah Sleightholm founded Iveson & Sage in 2015 with the occasionwear brand Hope & Ivy, and soon expanded to a second line, Alter, which focuses on relaxed workwear. Just one year in and the two brands combined have turnover of £1m, and are stocked by of Asos, Lipsy and its parent company, Next.

The pair eventually walked away from Dragons’ Den with an investment of £78,000 from Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden, in return for a 25% stake in the business.

In the wake of the broadcast, Drapers spoke to co-founder Beth Chilton about being grilled by the dragons and the practicalities of setting up a fashion business from scratch.

How and why did you start up the brand?

My own background is in fashion business. I did a fashion management degree at university so had a background in the management, buying side of things. I worked as a garment technologist after university at Topshop and kind of realised that it wasn’t for me. I then moved to the brand Oh My Love, where I worked with the owner from the beginning, growing the team and the sales and client base. This time last year, I decided I wanted to start my own business. My business partner, Sarah, has a background in design. She had previously worked for Asos, but moved to Oh My Love, where we became friends and after a while we left to set up on our own.

Iveson & Sage on Dragon's Den

Iveson & Sage on Dragon’s Den

Iveson & Sage on Dragon’s Den

How would you describe the brands?

Hope & Ivy is our occasionwear brand. All the embroidery design is hand-drawn and hand-painted by Sarah. She’s very artisanal in her trade and it gives a really personal touch. I really wanted it to stand out from the crowd, and it’s quite an eclectic look. We wanted to capture contemporary British fashion in the designs.

Starting Alter was a last-minute idea for both of us. Occasionwear is very seasonal and we thought it would be good to have something else in our repertoire. There was no one really concentrating on a soft tailoring aesthetic. A girl dresses for 9am and then goes out for drinks after work – it’s revamping the workday suit. That was bought by Asos pretty quickly, which was brilliant.

Beth Chilton

Beth Chilton

Beth Chilton

You’ve grown quite a lot in the space of a very short time. Why do you think that is?

Dedication and drive. No one can push you unless you push yourself. Both Sarah and I have sacrificed a lot, in terms of the personal. We’ve just put our heads down and worked really hard to achieve what we want to achieve and it’s really paid off.  

Why did you decide to go on Dragons’ Den?

We applied to the show this time last year, when we were just starting out. I had good contacts in manufacturing and the supply chain and I knew I needed a lot of funding behind me. I applied for it and didn’t hear back until January this year, by which time the business was trading well. I thought it would be great exposure to go on there and coming out with a dragon’s backing would just be the cherry on top!

What results have you seen so far thanks to the investment?

We filmed the show back in April, and in terms of the money we’re still going through due diligence, there are a lot of legal T&Cs but we’re just about to sign. We want to introduce the brands to new retailers – places such as Very and Topshop. And I think the embroidery pieces would work well at Net-A-Porter or Liberty. We sit at the right kind of price point.

Alter London

Alter London

Alter London

Are you more of a business person or a design person?

I have a good commercial eye for fashion. I know what works well and what sells well, but I can’t draw for toffee. Sarah does beautiful hand drawings and we’re kind of the yin and yang for each other. Her best elements are not my best elements and my best elements are not hers.

Hope and Ivy

Hope & Ivy

Hope & Ivy

What advice would you offer to those starting their own fashion business?

Always try to keep your overheads as low as possible. It’s really important that all the profit you make helps you to fund bigger orders. Cashflow is so important to any small business, so the more pennies you have in the bank, the quicker you can grow.

What’s next for the brands?

We’re hoping to go transactional by the end of the year and we’re also launching our own ecommerce site. Hopefully that will be live at the end of October. Then we can really focus on putting out our brand identity and giving the customer an experience of our world. As well as that, we’re hoping to expand our wholesale market, both in the UK and internationally. 

Wholesale prices for Hope & Ivy range from £30 for a top to £45 for a dress. Wholesale prices for Alter range from £8 for a top to £16 for a jumpsuit.

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