A series of setbacks, including a fire at its Basildon warehousing facility, could have spelled the end for streetwear-inspired young fashion brand 304 Clothing
One year on from the blaze, co-founders David Powell and Sean Cotter reflect on why they refused to give up and how other growing brands can learn to take challenges in their stride.
“We started the brand in 2012 – we were three friends [fellow co-founder Joe Lucas has since left the business] who moved in together after graduating from the University of Liverpool and weren’t quite ready to face the real world after the high of student life.
Inspired by the clothing we saw people wearing to [Manchester music festival] Parklife and looking for something extra to do alongside our nine-to-five jobs, we started hand-making our own slogan vests. The brand was named after the apartment where we all lived together – number 304.
It slowly dawned on us that everything – all our stock – was gone
None of us had any previous experience in fashion or in running our own businesses. Looking back, our first vests were pretty awful, but friends started asking if we could make more for them and we started selling via Facebook.
This was right at the start of the bedroom brand revolution and the first four years of the business were like an apprenticeship – we really learnt the trade and ensured we had the right building blocks in place.
Along the way, we have encountered almost every problem you could as a small fashion business – cancelled orders from retailers, our offices being broken into, fraudulent payments and hacked social media accounts.
We have encountered almost every problem you could as a small fashion business
But by far and away the biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome was a fire last August at our warehousing facility in Basildon, Essex.
At first, we weren’t sure how much had been damaged, but then we saw the fire being reported on BBC News, and saw that it was just ash. It slowly dawned on us that everything – all our stock – was gone.
The first few months following the fire were the hardest in the whole six years we’ve been running 304. Everyone still wants to be paid, regardless of whether you’ve had a fire or not. Although we had insurance, we knew making a claim wasn’t going to be a short process. We were a clothing company – without any clothing.
When something like this first happens, you think “why us?” But after speaking to other companies, we realised all businesses have their own challenges to overcome. Your ability to deal with those challenges is what separates successful brands from failing ones.
The fire really showed us who was willing to support the business. Some suppliers stopped working with the brand, but others stepped forward and said that they believed in us.
It also highlighted the importance of long-term relationships between retailers and suppliers. Often, relationships in this industry can be quite short term because they are commercial, but we have built lasting partnerships with the suppliers who helped us through.
Our advice to other young businesses would be to always think ahead and make sure you’ve considered a situation from every possible angle
Communicating face-to-face and being as open as possible with our partners was key. We flew out to Turkey to meet with our main supplier following the fire and that ability to look us in the eyes helped convince them that we were worth the risk.
The relationship we had built with our customers, suppliers and, most importantly, with each other meant we were able to relaunch the website within three weeks of the fire.
We are also now careful to think about the worst thing that could happen in any given situation, to make sure we have a contingency plan in place if it does.
Our advice to other young businesses would be to always think ahead and make sure you’ve considered a situation from every possible angle. You have to take the time to sit back and reflect on what you can learn from any challenging situation and how you can come back stronger.
Over the past 12 months since the fire, we’ve been able to grow our team and expand into new markets, including the US. From summer 19, we are now stocked by Nordstrom and Saks. We celebrated our sixth anniversary last month and 304 is back on the ascent.”