A decade of enterprising design

Marrying creativity with commerce, London’s  Centre for Fashion Enterprise is celebrating its 10th birthday. Stephanie Hirschmiller looks back on a run of success stories

London has long been a breeding ground for some of the most creative and exciting voices in fashion, but those skills don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with commercial nous. Thanks to an ever-growing support network, however, the capital’s young designers are able to get a foot firmly on the fashion ladder. The Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) is one such initiative, which is celebrating a decade of success.

Mary Katrantzou, JW Anderson, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Simone Rocha, Sibling… these are just a handful of the 245 emerging designers with which the enterprise centre has worked since its geneses. The not-for-profit initiative originally took funding from  the Mayor’s Office and opened in a space donated by the London College of Fashion (LCF), with the aim of assisting a generation of talented designers who were perplexed by running a business.

Now with Wendy Malem, an expert in the field, as director, served by an advisory board – including Sarah Mower, Jane Shepherdson and Frances Corner – the Centre boasts an accumulative sales turnover of £20m and generates its own income from international consultancy projects. The well-rounded blend of industry insiders goes some way to explaining its success rate – 85 per cent of its alumni are still in business, a statistic more than double the national average for start-ups.

There are three levels of participation – “market entry”, “pioneer” and “venture” – which range from an induction to advanced development.  “When you first start you don’t really think like a business,” concedes Sam Cotton, one half of Agi & Sam, who have graduated from “pioneer” to “venture” and are recipients of funding from Topshop’s NewGen initiative too.

Malem describes “venture” as “a growth development programme,” explaining that the board selects designers to which they feel they can add value, looking for those that fill three criteria: “Design leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and the right personality.” In addition to the continued support from the team, the two-year programme offers studio space at its Hackney headquarters with access to  LCF’s facilities, such as screen printing and laser cutting machines, legal support from the law firm Olswang – £250,000 yearly investment – and PR fees paid as well.

Peter Pilotto’s Christopher de Vos cites the “amazing machinery” they were able to access during their tenure before they could afford their own, while menswear designer, James Long, confided that the CFE’s lawyers dealt with a serious copyright issue and set up his VAT and international trademark. He also received the coveted “fashion forward” award for menswear after working closely with Malem on his business plan.

In addition to the undeniable tangible benefits, it’s also the networking with others that designers find invaluable. According to Holly Fulton: “It’s nice to have people in the same position to bounce off each other and ask things like ‘this store hasn’t paid me, have you dealt with them?’.” She admits that “creative people are not that well versed in the business side of things”. So should fashion colleges offer a business grounding to aspiring designers? It’s a matter of some debate in the industry, but the general consensus among the CFE’s alumni is “no”.

Long is adamant that college should be a time “to completely indulge yourself creatively” while de Vos advocates learning on the job: “That’s what’s so exciting about fashion – you learn so much the first day you enter the industry and you never actually stop learning.”

However, although Mary Katrantzou admits “when it’s  your own business, you learn really fast”, she would have preferred prior knowledge and Thomas Tait would certainly have welcomed some degree of preparation: “I think it’s very important for colleges to communicate with students exactly how competitive the industry is – it’s so cut throat!”

Malem agrees that UK colleges could do more; an ideal “bare minimum” would see graduates knowing how to cost their garments. “Commerce still doesn’t drive business in the UK,” she says. “You go to America and they have commercial ideas for breakfast.”

As the industry changes, so too do the demands on designers, and Malem is happy to launch a new programme of investment readiness. “This has been our dream for a long time,” she says – and isn’t it fair that the woman who makes fashion dreams a reality gets to live her own?

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk