Women’s footwear designer Kat Maconie is proving that a head for business is just as important as creative talent.
At the 34th edition of Pure London last week, brands were quick to praise a steady few days of trading at the show, which reported higher than expected footfall.
Few were more enthusiastic than Kat Maconie, whose stand in the footwear gallery displayed her Designer of the Year trophy from this year’s Drapers Footwear & Accessories Awards. The win was just one of several highs for Maconie so far this year, which have included an entry in Drapers’ 30 Under 30 list of rising fashion stars and the announcement in July of investment in her brand by Pembroke Venture Capital Trust, which includes Next chief executive Lord Wolfson among its investors. It’s a good job Maconie talks faster than anyone I’ve ever met, because we’ve got a lot to discuss.
At present her brand has 20 UK stockists, of which 14 are indies, including Larizia and The Village Bicycle in west London, Bottega in Tarporley, Cheshire, and Style Clinic in Liverpool. While the wholesale price points for her collection are accessible at £50 for styles such as sandals to £92 for platforms, part of the new strategy post-investment will be to build in some pieces to target the casual side of the indie market, in pared-back colours
with less emphasis on glamour.
As part of that drive Maconie also plans to expand her sales team, taking on a wholesale manager with a UK indie focus as well as someone to grow the Brazilian market, where the collection is manufactured. This is one of three key aims now the investment is in place, along with overhauling the ecommerce strategy and expanding the brand’s presence in the US, where it has four stockists including Anthropologie.
After pitching to the Pembroke Venture Capital Trust in February, Maconie’s brand became its second-ever investment. “Time-wise I was looking for investment because my sales have been increasing by about 60% to 70% each year and so cash flow was becoming a nightmare, as I had to increase my orders so much with my manufacturers,” says Maconie, describing how she read about Pembroke looking to invest in small businesses in the Telegraph, although she won’t disclose how much the investment is worth. As part of the deal, Pembroke chief executive Andrew Wolfson [Lord Wolfson’s brother] is now a director at Kat Maconie.
Wolfson tells Drapers that Pembroke doesn’t have a set limit on its investment in Kat Maconie, but is looking to “see the same thing she has done over the last three years continue, which is cautious growth.”
“[Our investment] was more about Kat as a person than the brand,” Wolfson says. “She is entrepreneurial, hardworking and has built something up with very little resource, which was impressive. We showed her range to ladies in our office who liked the brand and it all went from there.”
He sees his role as “basically mentoring”, stating: “She’s proved that she’s very capable of getting to where she is and so it’s really a case of just helping her take it to the next level.”
So far the investment has been used to take on US sales agency Co Angelique. Also, the brand’s transactional website will relaunch in September, at www.katmaconie.com. Its current incarnation accounts for less than 10% of overall sales, and Maconie admits it has never taken off as she doesn’t hold enough stock. “I’m really naughty,” she laughs. “I always get buyers in-season who want product at short order, so I’ve been selling them the website stock.”
Maconie then plans to open a standalone store within the next three to four years, but for now says she’s focused on growing her wholesale business.
Also in the pipeline is a range of eight Kat Maconie handbags for autumn 14; the prototypes have just gone into production.
Maconie is working with a Chinese manufacturer for the first time, having previously worked exclusively out of Brazil.
It is only a trial run for now, but she says the decision was based on the fact the materials available for production in China are wider-ranging than in Brazil, where she is limited by import laws.
Turning her attention back to our surroundings on the second day at Pure, she says the show has “been really good”. Normally the brand opens five or six accounts at the show, and has picked up “quite a few” Middle Eastern customers in the past.
Maconie adds: “Occasionally you get one of those lucky big international orders that make it all worthwhile.”
Worthwhile indeed, given that overseas accounts make up 70% of Maconie’s total business; the brand launched in 2008 and is now stocked in 16 countries. While Maconie refuses to discuss financials, she does reveal that turnover for 2012 increased by 70% year on year, and is projected to grow again by 150% for 2013.
“I’m a big trade fair person,” Maconie says. “That’s really how I’ve built my business. This season we’re doing White in Milan, Première Classe in Paris, Micam Shanghai, London Fashion Week, Pure, and we did Who’s Next [in Paris] a few weeks ago.”
She advocates a strategy of taking smaller, “financially viable” stands at multiple trade shows, despite the exhausting travelling required. “I’ll do 10 shows with 10 times as many buyers and different markets, whereas some brands will spend so much on one show.” She says the important thing is getting her product in front of international buyers who appreciate its dramatic aesthetic. “My stuff is quite glam,” she acknowledges, adding: “So we find it easier to get into large stores in places like Dubai”.
Indeed, the shoes Maconie designs are often built around chunky heels, metalwork, velvets and bold pops of colour.
She is known for being particularly inspired by jewellery, so there’s a certain level of bling to the product. However, to some extent the brand has struggled in the UK indie market, where stores aren’t always looking for that level of glamour. “There are pockets of the UK that do,” she says, “but we’re coming up against the likes of Ash and Sam Edelman with the independents we are trying to get into, and they’re much more aimed at the indie market, as they can be more casual.”
However, Maconie’s UK high street stockists make impressive reading, including Poste Mistress at Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, and Anthropologie, while German etailer Zalando stocks the brand across its 14 international sites.
Debbie Buchanan, buyer at Poste Mistress, tells Drapers customers love Maconie’s “combination of hard aesthetic, through her use of jewellery and metalwork, with wearable shapes.” She also praises the brand’s distinctive look, which Maconie agrees is an essential element of her designs. “The likes of Topshop and Kurt Geiger on the high street are so good and well-made now,” she says. “If you’re more expensive than those brands you’ve got to
Right now it’s a peak time for the business, which Maconie started while working as a recruiter at fashion specialists Freedom Recruitment in Soho, London. “I was living a double life [then],” she laughs. “I’d be doing business meetings for Kat Maconie during my lunch hour.”
With little design or manufacturing experience, Maconie attended night classes in design at the London College of Fashion while working for Freedom and financed the fledgling label herself, with assistance from her parents and initial investment totalling £20,000. Three years ago, once the brand had amassed 25 wholesale accounts, she took the leap and began working on it full-time.
Maconie’s achievements are impressive to say the least, especially considering she is just 29.
“It’s been amazing but at times it’s been a nightmare,” she laughs. “Ultimately, I wouldn’t describe myself as a designer, I’m more of a business person. I want to make money - that’s what drives me.”