As a young person in fashion, launching a label always sounds scary. Often, you’re taught not to walk that path, play it safe, don’t just jump in at the deep end. And sometimes that’s the case – for some people, it’s better to work for other companies before launching your own.

With the rise of Instagram, has come a new generation of companies, run by young designers, who have shown that it’s possible to go independent from a young age. GFW contributor Amy Reast spoke to Emily Houghton of Em’s The Label, Joel Pereira of Focus Sports Apparel, and Ramona Gohil of Rani & Co., who did just that. They talk about their experiences, and offer their advice to young people considering taking the same approach.

Emsthelabel

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Emsthelabel, a Bristol-based online company selling festival clothing, was founded by Emily Houghton, in 2014, when she was only 15. Emily has now been fully self-employed for two years since completing her A-Levels. Having always been passionate about designing and producing clothes, the brand began with Emily selling one-off handmade items on Depop.

“I began making scrunchies from some spare cotton fabric my mum had, and from there, I began making some cotton halter tops. With the money made from this, I took a trip to the fabric shop and discovered holographic foiled lycra for the first time.” Holographic materials have gone on to become one of Emsthelabel’s signature fabrics.

As an independent designer in a highly saturated industry, Emily notes, “making yourself known is hard, so try and do something different to find your gap in the market, because if you bring something new you’re far more likely to catch eyes.”

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Emily found that comparison is the thief of joy when it comes to building your business in a competitive market. “It’s hard when you compare yourself and your progress to other brands and think they’re better, but you have to remember you are completely different and have had completely different experiences.”

She encourages anyone considering setting up a company to realise it’s not always a smooth path to success. “You can’t expect success to happen overnight. I’ve had so many setbacks and ups and downs to reach this point, and I still feel like there’s a long way to go before I’ll be happy with the scale of the business. Put in the hours and don’t let setbacks stop you from trying new things and pushing harder.” 

Focus Sports Apparel

Focus Sports Apparel is a sport and fitness clothing brand based in Manchester, founded by Emily-Jo Sutcliffe and Joel Pereira around a year ago. Having both come from different working backgrounds, Emily-Jo, 29, is qualified as a graphic designer and Joel, 28, runs his own freelance business installing blinds. So what lead this unlikely duo to set up a clothing company? “We wanted to create a brand which we felt perfectly fit our active lifestyle. We didn’t find many brands out there that did what we wanted.”

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Between the two of them, creating the designs is a collaborative process. “I will usually draw out my ideas on a piece of paper and then Emily-Jo will take them digitally,” says Joel. “At the moment we buy in the clothing and design and print the vinyl which we press ourselves.”

Instagram has played a major role in communicating the brand messaging. “Choosing Instagram for our main platform made sense as using a photo-based platform meant that we could get our products shown across the world for free.” Social media is a no-brainer for Joel, who encourages designers to spend time to understand Instagram and use it to its potential. “Using social platforms in this day and age is a must, it is free advertisement for your business to get yourself out there and seen to the whole world.”

He tells anyone who is considering launching a company: “Take the time to plan everything down to every little detail before jumping straight in — when first setting up, it’s all about tiny steps. We would tell young people to ask themselves this one simple question: ‘what if?’ Simple but very effective. What if one day we get a major deal? Who knows what’s in store. So, don’t give up. You started for a reason, remember?”

Rani and Co

Rani & Co. is an online feminist fashion brand run by Ramona Gohil. Based in London, Ramona, 26, launched the company in August 2017, running Rani & Co. alongside working full-time. “The idea came into my head one day when I was feeling fed up of my day job,” she says. “I had a light bulb moment.” Currently, the company, which sells clothing and jewellery promoting the empowerment of women, is run by Ramona alone. She notes, “I manage everything from designing, supplier management, customer service, social media… literally everything!”

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Her reason for launching the brand was finding a niche for herself, which, she says, is key to standing out in a saturated market. “I feel like my brand offers something a little different,” she says. “Lots of big fashion brands jumped on the feminist slogan apparel bandwagon after Dior’s feminist t-shirts, but I found their designs loud & quite aggressive, with the typical ‘girl gang’ or ‘girl power’ slogans.” Instead, Ramona wanted to create a more subtle and elegant way to represent feminism in the fashion industry; “each one of our tees is based on a feminist or empowering woman who has used their voice to make a change.” 

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Ramona has learnt from her journey that to be successful in this industry, your motive can’t just be monetary. “You’ll get bored of it, or you’ll get impatient,” she says. She argues that actually, the key to creating a successful brand is your passion; “create something you believe in.” She adds, “if you really want it, you’ll work for it and you’ll let the feeling of wanting to give up to motivate you instead.” 

While it’s important to set targets, Ramona says that shouldn’t be a sign that the brand will never be successful. “As long as your business is growing, then you know it has potential.” And even if the business isn’t doing well, that doesn’t mean you should give up; “if it’s stagnant or sales are decreasing every month,” she says, “then you might just have to rethink your strategy.”

Words by Amy Reast