…I’m like, “I can’t do it”. I need that angst; then I just get on with it’. After starting out with £3,000, women’s cashmere label Goat is now a thriving business with global ambitions – thanks to its fiercely independent founder.
When I ask Jane Lewis, founder of womenswear brand Goat, who her mentor is, she says her father. And the best piece of advice he ever gave her? “Don’t borrow money from the bank,” she replies in her somewhat direct but charming fashion, before adding: “He said if you believe in your own business, invest your own money into it, and don’t ask somebody else.”
This may not ring true for everybody, but it appears to have stood Lewis in good stead. Having started Goat from her kitchen in 2001 with an initial investment of £3,000, the business now pulls in a turnover of around £1.3m, and forecasts the same for 2012/13. It also counts the likes of premium etailer My-Wardrobe and designer indie Matches among its stockists. “We’ve grown organically and that’s something we’re quite proud of. We run a really tight, tidy ship. We pay our bills on time,” she says, widening her eyes and emphasising her words as she speaks. “And we’ve expanded when we’ve been able to, and we’ve never run away with ourselves.”
Lewis’s steady-steady approach is proving to be a winning formula. The brand, which became known for its chunky cashmere knits and its vibrant use of colour, has recently expanded its Baker Street offices, taking up more space in the townhouse where it is located. It has also recruited an agent in the US so it can start wholesaling there from spring 13, hired someone to deal with shipping and added a staff member to its production team, while preparing for the launch of its transactional website, which will allow consumers to buy direct from the brand for the first time.
“We are doing a massive overhaul on our website (www.goatfashion.com) and completely redesigning it, which is fun. We’re in the process of literally choosing every button,” she says. “We feel we have grown sufficiently to warrant an online store of our own, because at the moment we’re only represented – and brilliantly so – by other companies. This is our first opportunity to throw the doors open and do it the way we would do it,” enthuses Lewis.
“We think there is a market for it. We get a lot of stockist enquiries and we’d like to service overseas orders ourselves. I think it’s part of building the company and the brand. We’re at that stage now, so we’re investing quite a lot of money to do it.”
Transactional websites don’t come cheap and this represents a £30,000 to £50,000 investment from Goat. While that’s a fairly standard amount for a transactional website, it’s worth noting that the investment is again entirely self-funded. A slightly workload-weary Lewis reveals she hasn’t stopped yet. “We are about to hire seamstresses. We’re going to set up a sample room now, because our sampling and the collections now warrant an in-house sampling facility,” she says.
“We may even have to take on more space.
As we’ve expanded so has our business. Literally, within the same fortnight [as completing the Baker Street refurbishment]. Ridiculous,” says Lewis, throwing her hands up as she speaks. “So we may take more space in this building again, down the line. It’s not like we’ve expanded and we’ve put a lid on it. I think it’s a bit of an unknown entity at the moment.”
The brand has also proved a hit with retailers. My-Wardrobe started selling Goat six seasons ago, and sales for the autumn 12 collection are up almost 100% on the previous season. In fact, when Drapers calls the etailer’s buying and merchandising director Luisa De Paula, she confesses that she’s wearing a peppermint green dress from the brand, and was wearing a yellow one the day before. “It has moved on in the last two seasons with more dresses, which have been phenomenal. [It] started off with the Lola dress, which is just a perfect universal fit dress. Great fabrication, the crêpe fabric is amazing. It’s quality and it’s a brilliant colour vehicle,” she says.
My-Wardrobe works by doing exclusives, and De Paula also says Lewis and her team are great to work with. “It sells out so quickly, particularly when we have an exclusive.
Colour really works online [and] dresses really work online so it kind of has all the right ingredients. Online is visual and all about seduction,” she says.
Womenswear indie Iris, which has three stores in London, buys into the Library diffusion range, and owner Annie Pollet says it’s one of her strongest sellers. “The current collection is lovely, with lots of colour, and a pillarbox red jumper has sold really well. It’s just timeless and at a really good price point.”
However, she adds: “We wouldn’t buy into the mainline because it’s too classic, at just a slightly too high price point for our customer, who comes to us for fashion/directional lines.”
The fact that the brand has been such a hit is an impressive achievement, considering Lewis is herself not a classically trained designer. “I’m very slight, so ever since I was a child I’ve had everything altered and have always gone to a tailor on Savile Row, a really nice lady who I still see now. So I understand the make-up of clothes, the nuts and bolts as it were. And I can draw anyway, so I just trusted my own judgement,” she says.
She began her career as an art dealer, but later met fashion designer Elspeth Gibson through her sister and became her design assistant. Then, noticing a gap in the market for quality everyday clothes “that sometimes the high-end brands seem to miss”, she decided to strike out on her own.
Lewis admits that getting a foothold in fashion was difficult. However, with youth and persistence on her side, she made an eight-piece collection, which she initially sold to close friends, and then took it to boutiques herself to see if she could sell it. “It was very daunting,” she says of the experience. “If somebody says they don’t like it, you could take it personally. But I learnt early on not to. I just persevered.
“I would certainly say my schooling in this industry was a baptism of fire. I was thrown in at the deep end, but for my character that’s the best way to do things. I think you learn a lot through experience and no college course could have prepared me for the challenges I’ve faced.”
Goat also produced its first pre-collection for autumn 12, joining many other brands in moving away from the traditional two seasons. Lewis admits this creates added pressure. “Every collection I start, I feel like a child doing my homework. I’m like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t’. And everyone rolls their eyes collectively in the office, shuffles their papers and turns their chairs away.” However, she adds: “I need that window of angst, and then I just get on with it. I thrive on it.”
The brand appears to be going from strength to strength, a success she attributes to her whole team, describing it as a “collective effort”, and says the brand appears to “have struck a chord with consumers”. Speaking about her recipe for success, she says: “The trick is to be innovative. Stay true to your handwriting and style but challenge yourself in order to offer your customer something new.”