One of the advantages of our digital age is that in a vast industry like fashion, every day appears to be getting smaller. Smart businesses are emerging as a sort of “bridge” that facilitate relationships between creatives and the supply chain.
One such facilitator is Farrar Studio – a UK based design, development and manufacturing studio that offers small and larger fashion brands a helping hand.
The 360-degree holistic service offered by Holly Farrar, the ambitious and charming founder of the studio, is what the industry needs more of. The ability to take away the heavy burden of procuring a steady supply chain and thus allowing brands to focus on whatever their “genius zone” is.
Tell us about yourself?
I graduated from Northumbria University with first class honours in Fashion Design and went on to work as a designer for a number of high street retailers and small premium brands in womenswear and menswear.
I then joined a creative consultancy company where I worked with product strategy, brand strategy and trend. Working closely with buying teams in an international market, we would plan and deliver seasonal trend and brand/marketing strategies. Utilising the supply chain was a key factor whereby we would work on strategies to deliver quick response using offshore production.
Why did you choose to go into fashion and what is your route to becoming a designer?
I was 12 when I decided I wanted to be a designer.
Whilst on a family ski trip, I felt silly wearing a matching ski suit to my brother. My dad ran a clothing business supplying sportswear at the time and so I designed a new ski suit which he had made for me. I worked towards going to fashion college throughout my school years, working in my Dad’s office with the designers and product developers every summer from the age of 16. My degree was over 4 years with a year in industry which I spent with the design team at Topshop.
Internships and work experience were so important in landing my first job at Karen Millen out of university. Employers really like to see graduates who have had some experience in the industry.
When did you launch Farrar Studio and what made you launch your consultancy and not remain just focused on design?
I launched Farrar Studio at the end of 2017.
Although “design” was my first passion and always will be, I quickly realised there were so many other aspects to the industry that really excited me.
I love brand and product strategy and also noticed a lack of understanding of the supply chain. So when I left the full-time design to become a consultant, it was with the intent of becoming more strategic in my approach to business and brands. I felt like I had more to offer than just being a designer from my experience working at small start-up brands as well as consulting for large international retail companies. I think it’s important to be multi-skilled in today’s industry.
Why did you choose to focus specifically on sportswear and work with China exclusively?
Sportswear is actually only a part of what Farrar Studio can offer, but as this sector of the market is experiencing such huge growth at the moment, it’s a great selling point.
I’m partnered with a supply base in China who are experts in sportswear but have also been working with knit product and outerwear for over 15 years.
With the athleisure movement showing no signs of slowing down, we are equipped to fulfil all product categories from tracksuits, T-shirts, yoga wear to activewear, and even technical outerwear.
China has the skill set and workforce to produce this type of product to outstanding quality.
It can be sourced closer to the UK, however, personally, I feel the quality you can get out of China is great.
Related reading: How to Plan Your Fashion Buying & Production During Chinese New Year
Is working with factories based in different geo locations very different and how so?
My experience as a designer has always been working with China, with the exception of a couple of UK based clients. So for me, it’s where I feel most comfortable.
Finding a trustworthy supply base is possibly the biggest challenge brands face.
One of the reasons that I am now partnered with a Chinese supply base, is because I’ve known and worked with these factories for nearly 10 years.
Communication is key and can be difficult, which is why having someone like Farrar Studio can really help bridge the gap and reduce errors made through language or cultural barriers.
Of course, China comes with its challenges, such as higher MOQs, lead times and not having the luxury of your supply base being on your doorstep, but it just means you need to factor this into your critical path and development process.
How is manufacturing with Chinese factories different from manufacturing in Europe? What can we learn from the Chinese with regards to manufacturing, if anything?
Chinese factories are generally set up to produce high quantities, and the bigger the order, the more efficient the production line becomes.
They also have a highly skilled workforce and I have rarely experienced quality issues. I’ve heard horror stories of brands receiving a bulk production in completely the wrong fabrics from factories in Europe!
We operate a sign off process so all bulk fabrics and trims are signed off before production goes ahead.
How easy or difficult was it to start your business?
I don’t think starting any business is easy, and I started from absolute scratch.
I left my full-time job without a client base or even knowing what my business would be called!
So it’s been a challenge, but in under a year, I now have a small portfolio of clients, which is growing and I’m building strong relationships with so I’m really proud of how far I have come with Farrar Studio so far.
What were your biggest challenges at the beginning and now?
My biggest challenge at the beginning was finding my first client.
I was limited in existing contacts I could utilise due to contractual obligations.
But there’s no better feeling than landing your first project through your own sheer perseverance and hard work. I know my client base will grow, and it’s something I want to do organically.
I am lucky to work with clients I trust and whose projects I fully believe in.
Being a designer and running a manufacturing business requires two very different skill sets – how are you managing to juggle both?
It’s funny, I actually see them as integral to one another.
As a designer, I always worked directly with my factories so the concept of managing the supply chain came naturally to me.
I always design with the production process in mind, and for clients who only require manufacturing services and not design, I have an understanding from both sides so can approach a project with that in mind.
I feel very lucky that my career has given me such a holistic skill set.
What’s the craziest product you have ever had a request for?
I have been asked to manufacture a product with super modern inbuilt technology. It was like something from a James Bond movie!
What’s the biggest mistake you have made to date and how did you fix it?
*Touch wood* – with regard to design and manufacture, I am yet to make a significant mistake!
I am very thorough in checking tech packs and comments sent to the factory and my team in China are also on the ball in terms of double and triple checking anything they are unsure about.
I’ve made a couple of mistakes when presenting to clients in the past where a slip of the tongue has caused me to say “breast” instead of “best”!!! Luckily I was able to laugh it off and get back on track!
Do you have a nightmare customer story?
Again, I have been very fortunate and I have a really great customers base.
But, I am always getting queries from potential customers demanding lower prices, lower MOQs and shorter lead times.
I think it boils down to the inexperience of the supply chain and what goes into making a product.
I think many people forget there is a huge human impact in garment manufacture.
Related reading: What Clothing Manufacturers Want Fashion Startups to Know
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when working with factories
A lack of understanding of the supply chain and demanding unrealistic expectations.
For example, when making lab dips, the turnaround time is usually 10-14 days, but I have experienced a customer request over 50 lab dips and still expect the same lead time.
It’s just unrealistic.
What are the current challenges you think the industry faces?
From a retail perspective there is a huge demand for transparency and to become more sustainable, but there’s still consumer demand for constant newness and affordable prices – we are treading a fine line with the tension between the two.
I strongly believe designers and buyers should receive more training in understanding the manufacturing process.
If you can change one thing about the industry – what would that be?
The closed-door nature of it.
I think there needs to be a move towards sharing of information and supply bases.
Who is your typical customer?
It’s extremely varied, but at the moment I’m working with brands who are experiencing a growth curve. For my freelance design services, I can work with brands of any size including start-ups, however, to offer my manufacturing services, because of the higher MOQs, I’m working with more established brands, all of which are mostly in the athleisure/casual lifestyle sector.
How do you find your customers or how do they find you?
When I first started the business, it involved some cold calling, which is something I really dislike as it feels forced. However, when starting from scratch it’s necessary.
I get engagement from my Instagram @farrarstudio and website and also word of mouth.
I recently exhibited at London’s Pure Origin tradeshow which was really good to network and meet new clients.
What have you found to work well for you in terms of marketing your business?
As a small start-up business, I don’t have a budget to market, so Instagram is a good tool for me. I’m looking at starting a blog to drive more traffic to the website and I’m interested to know if this is something my followers would like to see.
Also showing the business at Pure Origin was great for exposure. As a small business in its first year, I felt showing at a trade fair was an essential step to use as a platform get exposure. I would recommend it as a springboard to gain exposure but I would always ensure that the show and the other exhibiting brands are in line with your aesthetic, market and customer profile.
What makes a great designer?
A balance of commerciality vs innovation.
Understanding the supply chain, and most importantly an understanding of your customer.
Also, especially when working freelance, the ability to take on board feedback from your clients and not take things personally.
What do you wish fashion designers and entrepreneurs knew before they contact you?
Being open-minded and having the flexibility to listen to your customer. Sometimes your vision isn’t necessarily what your customer really wants or needs, so you need to able to adapt to what will make the business successful.
How do you see the future of fashion manufacturing – are there any technologies or changes that are making an impact and long-lasting changes that you’re excited about?
I see it moving towards a more transparent and closed loop system. There are lots of brands making steps towards this and I hope it continues.
There is a big focus on “Made in Britain” – what do you think about it?
Even though my supply base is in China, I still think it’s great that there is a movement of production back to the UK. One of my clients is manufacturing in the UK and it’s a nice change to have them on our doorstep and go through the product development process together.
Naturally, the prices are much higher and so the product moves into the luxury sector but it’s a nice change.
What does success mean for you?
I’m not trying to build an empire, but if I can help brands realise their creative potential through freelance design or help brands grow through a partnership with a great supply base, then I’m happy.
If you can give one piece of advice to fashion entrepreneurs recently started or thinking of entering the industry– what would that be?
It’s not all just about the product.
Great design and product is essential but isn’t the only thing that will make you successful. You need to build a brand and an authentic story around it, something that customers can relate to and want to be part of.