How to make your small brand stand out as a business ~ An interview with Lizzie Cawthray, founder of women's fashion label, Needle.
Posted on 17 April 2016
Hello and happy Sunday!
This week’s blog initiates the first in a series of interviews with brands and businesses whom we admire.
This week we’re talking all things knitwear with Lizzie Cawthray, founder of Needle.
Needle is a luxurious, high quality, designer knitwear label for women who want classic, stylish knitwear with a contemporary edge for everyday needs. Lizzie advocates that the team behind the brand ''want everyone to snuggle up and feel great in our jumpers everyday''.
Needle is one of the first brands Laura initiated contact with when she took the fledgling steps towards starting Hero and this relationship has blossomed season after season.
Lizzie and Emma (Needle's creative designer) challenge the traditional knitwear concept with their sophisticated, classic basics which present a distinct edge from the norm. Needle’s pieces have continuously attracted attention at Hero since the initial Autumn/Winter 2014 collection arrived in-store. Season after season it continues to be a best seller and you don’t need to question why when you see a piece up close and personal! Their individual style, tactile nature and beautifully curated colours are incredibly attractive.
As a business it’s pertinent to have solid, trust worthy relationships with your brands/agencies. If a relationship doesn't feel valued then this can completely adjust the way a collection is perceived by the buyer and subsequently trickle down the chain to potential customers.
Lizzie and her team are approachable, dynamic and extremely devoted to building a business to business relationship in which we recognise mutual value, meaning we sell each collection from our heart.
We recently spoke to Lizzie about her influences when creating Needle, future plans for the label and advice she’d give now, looking back at where Needle began…
How do you feel working in the fashion industry, influenced your decision when setting up a new label? Had this always been a dream of yours, or was there and 'aha' moment when you were working in your previous role?
My decision to start Needle was after having a short break from fashion and I knew I wanted to go back into it, but I also knew I would always set up my own business at some point so it seemed like the perfect time. I had the time and the energy to throw everything at the business, I was ready for the challenge and fortunately I have very supportive family and friends who gave me the boost to go on and do it.
When designing, how do you look to balance your own creative vision with the day to day needs of the Needle customer? Your 'basics' are far from 'basic' - you use colour details and interesting cuts, how do you find that 'sweet spot' between something that is covetable and something that will work in the customers' day to day wardrobe?
The design process is a real balancing act between Emma (the creative) & myself (with the business head). I give the brief at the beginning of each season, reviewing previous seasons, whilst Emma studies the latest trends. Often the needs of the customers are the same as we, ourselves want.
The ‘basics’ came from my own desire to have a more fitted piece that I could style with patterned trousers or tucked into a skirt, which was why we initially worked on the ‘basics’, but alongside that we have to consider what the high street is doing and make sure you can see the value in our product and not just something you could get in M&S or Zara.
Emma is incredibly talented at making something simple, much more interesting by the use of stitch and texture of jumper. Colour is something we deliberate for days over but we have to eventually make a decision and stick to it. Part of the joy of designing your own collection is that you allow styles to evolve to satisfy what you think the customer wants.
How do you take time to acknowledge your achievements as a business?
I think as a small business owner we rarely take time to look at what we have achieved, it is the small moments. Emma and I can often pull ourselves up after a meeting and go ‘WOW did that really just happen, cool, check us out’ then we move on, and onto the next project.
We have received some lovely emails, letters and phone calls from customer just to tell us how happy they are with their new jumper, which is overwhelmingly kind. The fact someone takes time out to put pen to paper or pick up the phone puts a smile on my face and reminds me why I love my job! The real acknowledgement is when I catch up with a friend or a family member and then you realise how far we have come.
Four years ago, almost to the day we had no name, it was a mere idea in my head and now we have our own website, 17 independent boutiques that we work with and an exclusive range with Anthropologie both in Europe and the USA, then you think OK we are doing something right, let’s keep building on that!
''My hopes and dreams are that Needle keeps growing at a manageable pace, part of the charm of the brand is its personality and if we grow too quickly we could lose that''
What advice would you give to yourself in the beginning, knowing what you know now?
Order less stock, keep the collection tight and only ever order the styles you 100% believe in. Everyone has initial overexcitement that you are going to sell everything and you want to offer lots of options, but the reality is quite different so I should have been more cautious to begin with.
At the start you have no history to base your decisions on, where as now I have our own sales history plus the reaction of the stockists to know how a product will sell, which helps us plan so much better.
In a previous interview with Aesthetica magazine you mentioned that you'd like to "create a Men's knitwear range" ~ this would be incredibly exciting for all men out there! Tell us more about future plans for Needle... can we expect an expansion of the womenswear?
One day I would hope so, both Emma and I would love to expand into menswear but we are still trying to perfect our womenswear collection and expand further before we build on the menswear collection.
My hopes and dreams are that Needle keeps growing at a manageable pace, part of the charm of the brand is its personality and if we grew too quickly we could lose that. The brand awareness is increasing as is our confidence in what we do, so it’s keeping the momentum going and hopefully we will be the go to knitwear brand in the UK.
Just for fun...
How do you take your coffee?...
I like a skinny mocha
Who is your style Hero?...
Hmm tough one, there are lots of stylish women I like, I’m just not sure I can pull their style off. I’m quite a classic dresser with a modern twist so I would say Alexa Chung as a British Style icon, she is probably more trendy than I am but wears classic timeless key base pieces which I love. Across the pond I follow Diane Kruger and Olivia Palermo both of whom have immaculate taste in clothes and have natural style.
Jojo Moyes but waiting for the new Karen Swan book coming out in July. I love her books. I like to have something fictional to lose myself in, in an evening.
What’s on your wardrobe wishlist right now…
I am currently debating a pair of dunagrees.. again a style I am not sure I can pull off but feel I need to give it a try!
Favourite Instagram account...
Obviously not including Needle’s & Hero’s accounts… Taylor Swift's. I know at nearly 30 I shouldn’t really admit that, but I love how much she mucks about and doesn’t seem to take herself that seriously.. It’s just a giggle and makes me laugh.
Most excited about…
The summer and wedding season two of my oldest and dearest friends get married this summer and I can’t wait to see them go down the aisle! Plus I like the clothes and hats side of it too!
What’s on your playlist…
Justin Beiber.. again I shouldn’t admit that but I am a cheesy pop music fan.. Long car journeys I just sing my heart out!
Two things you hate… Not much of a hater really but slow drivers and a dirty bathroom.
Best piece of advice you've been given...
If it was easy everyone would do it. Not advice so much but a good reason to know that there are good days and bad days but you have to take the rough with the smooth and get on with it!
Your goal for 2016…
2015 was a pretty amazing year both for the business and personally! The business went into Anthropologie and the number of stockists grew by nearly double so that was awesome, and on a personal level I got married so I guess pretty hard to beat that in 2016. However, this year has started very positively so it’s keeping it going and trying to better the business this year. I am very excited about the new AW16 collection, Winter is always a strong season for us but we are very pleased with the collection so hoping everyone else will love it too. On a personal level, to keep juggling working and life balance, I seem to manage to have lots of fun.
A big thank you to Lizzie for sharing her pearls of wisdom ~ we love what you're doing!
We don't know about you, but we are incredibly excited to receive the Autumn/Winter 16 collection in-store, as this season's has just flown out! Having seen what's on offer we know you're going to love it too! Let us know here if you'd like to be notified as soon as it lands in-store.
Have a fantastic Sunday ahead ~ we see sun!
Team Hero xxx
Images courtesy on Needle.