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My fashion life - Katie Lightfoot

The agent and owner of the Mercy Delta brand reaveals how she balances designing.

Katie Lightfoot

Katie Lightfoot

How did your experience as an agent aid or influence you when it came to setting up your own luxury scarves and blouses label, Mercy Delta?
The two are completely linked; a buyer at a big store told me she was looking for a collection of luxury cashmere scarves at an attractive price point and with strong colours and prints. That’s how Mercy Delta was born; we were in production six months later.

Tell us about Mercy Delta - who is the customer?
Its customer appreciates quality but is also laoking for an investment buy she can wear in a variety of ways. So it’s smart in the office but chic in the evening - our blouses take you from day to night so fit every occasion and lifestyle. Our stockists include Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Fenwick Bond Street. [Wholesale prices range from £14 for cosmetic bags to £80 for silk shirts.]

Did you always want to set up your own label?
No. I hadn’t thought about it until I was encouraged to take the plunge.

Is it hard to be the agent for your own business?
Yes, it really is hard. Talking up your own brand is a bit un-English and awkward. My days as my own agent are numbered.If you could be the agent for any brand, which would you choose? Isabel Marant. I love everything she has ever made. So I could sell everything she will ever make.

How do you choose new brands to take on?
We look for labels that are unique and luxurious, but also commercial. In other words we represent labels which want to grow and which have collections our stores can be confident will sell. For small brands, they really need quality and usually a unique selling point if they are going to compete with the big brands. Our current roster includes womenswear labels like Moka London and sunglasses line Sunday Somewhere.

How does your brand mix in the showroom work together?
We look to build a collection of collections that looks coherent. I guess we are known for representing British brands, such as jerseywear label Pull or sleepwear label Yolke, but not exclusively. Typically we do not take on labels that compete with one another.

How have the buyers you’ve seen so far this season been feeling?
The mood has definitely picked up, but buyers are still cautious. Stores will buy experimentally and will invest in smaller labels. Larger online retailers are able to drive volume and department stores are looking for exclusives.

What kinds of stores are you working with?
From online retailers such as Net-A-Porter and Asos, to the iconic department stores like Harvey Nichols, Liberty, Fenwick, Selfridges, Le Bon Marché in Paris, to ambitious smaller chains like Trilogy and Cruise, to some of the best regional boutiques around the country.

How were the trade shows you visited this season?
There is always a buzz around Paris, but most sales activity is happening in the showrooms. Scoop is growing in stature as a London trade show, but London shows still lag behind Paris. The fact that London Fashion Week crosses over with New York every season proves a logistical headache for lots of our buyers. It forces them to prioritise with international buys and attend showrooms outside fashion week here in London.

If you could sell another product other than fashion, what would it be?
Homeware or interiors. I’ve done limited runs of Mercy Delta printed wallpaper and napkins and I’d be happy making or selling in that direction.

What’s the best part of your job?
Definitely the long relationships I’ve built with buyers and brands. It’s a small industry, but a loyal and friendly one.

And the worst?
Well, it’s renowned for being one of the fastest-moving industries. With the introduction of pre-collections, it literally doesn’t stop, so it can be exhausting. As soon as you’ve launched and marketed one season you are on to the next. Due to the nature of fashion and trends, there’s very little down time. But that means there’s never a dull moment either.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned from both as an agent and brand?
For both, I’d say be flexible. Labels, mine or anybody’s, can get defensive of their look and their designs. But they should always be prepared to listen to buyers and to change collections to suit the customer.

If you could do another job for a day, what would you do?
I’d be an architect.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
It’s clichéd, but I wanted to be a vet.

Who has been the biggest influence on you?
My grandma, she made everything magical. She’s no longer around but I constantly try to see my world through her eyes. She had the best eye for the home and wardrobe. She loved fashion and appreciated good quality: “Spend a bit more, but on something you’ll love and treasure forever.”

What do you do outside of the office?
I love to catch up with friends from the industry in London. But I’ve recently moved out of town, and I find a deep happiness in the countryside - particularly in the rolling hills of Sussex. If I can borrow a dog or a horse, so much the better.

What was your first job?
Waitressing in a little restaurant with my pal Abi. We were rather relaxed in our approach to the craft. It was such a busy cafe and I learned the importance of a good sense of humour.

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