Fashion Insiders met with the Creative Director of Hawthorn International, one of the UK’s leading clothing manufacturers.
Tell us about Hawthorn. Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Tom Lovelace and I’m Creative Director of Hawthorn. We work with a mixture of start-up and established brands, helping those who are new to the industry understand how best to progress on their journey, whilst helping bigger and more established brands bring out their new collections. We manufacture items ranging from simple t-shirts to high end tailoring and everything in between. We also produce accessories, something a lot of clothing brands add on to their existing ranges.
Did you have a fashion background prior to starting the business?
We had a slight fashion background, in that we started our own brand before Hawthorn. However, it naturally led into Hawthorn, something that we actually enjoy more so the brand took more of a backseat.
What made you start a factory?
We started Hawthorn because when we were making our own brand we realised how hard it was to actually find a manufacturer who could produce items at low enough quantities for start-ups, whilst maintaining a reasonable price point. Either minimum order quantities were sky high or the prices were. After trying to work with some manufacturers we decided to do it ourselves, which then developed into a full-time business for us.
It’s unusual to combine clothing and accessories. How did that happen?
In the beginning of Hawthorn, our idea was to create the “all-encompassing brand solution,” a company which would provide everything a fashion brand could possibly want. We originally started off with our own factory and some partner factories, and we offered clothing, tailoring, leather goods, shoes, sunglasses, jewellery and watches. However, it quickly became clear that this wasn’t the route for us. We decided to stick to just the most popular items: clothing and leather goods. Leather goods are great because they add an element of prestige to a brand, and they’re inexpensive. A lot of brands choose them to try and stand out from the crowd and they compliment our clothing manufacture well.
Where are your factories located?
We have factories in Sialkot, a workshop in Istanbul and a partner factory in China. This gives us a great spread of skills and a fantastic availability of materials and fabrics. It means we can create fully custom items and the brands we work with don’t have to make do with stock items that have been customised.
Is working with factories based in different locations very different, and how so?
At first things like language barriers were a concern; however, in the locations we have chosen to work, English is used daily and we have great managers in the factories who run the day-to-day manufacturing. Our team here in the UK focuses on new business and is the interface for the customer, but we deal with the factory and handle the technical specs, etc.
How easy or hard was it to start your business?
It was very challenging, and still is to an extent, although as the business has matured, things have become a lot more process-driven which does make things easier. For us, Hawthorn consumes a lot of our lives, and I would certainly say we made some mistakes along the way, but you learn from your mistakes and it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
What were your biggest challenges at the beginning?
Maintaining the will to carry on. It can be a very challenging time starting a business, which means you spend a lot of time away from your family and friends, and sometimes you’ll find yourself at home working on a Friday night when your friends are out enjoying themselves, but in the long run, it is worth it. You have to really believe in yourself.
What’s the craziest product you have ever had a request for?
Without a doubt, the strangest enquiry we have ever had was for fetish wear. We don’t advertise that we make things like that and the customer was very serious about what they wanted. We were unable to technically produce the things that we were asked for on that occasion and you can use your imagination to work out the kinds of items they were!
What’s the biggest mistake you have made to date and how did you fix it?
In the earlier days of the business, we definitely took too much on ourselves. We have since realised that you can outsource most things to professionals who are helpful and really take the weight off. For example, we tried to make our own website at the beginning, which was a really bad idea. It was all-consuming and we were never happy with it. After we outsourced it we were so much happier with the end product.
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when working with factories?
Definitely not understanding that factories have to have minimum order quantities. We are inundated with enquiries for single units of brand new designs, but the costs for a manufacturer are so high at just one unit that even to pass them on to a customer would be uneconomical. We do have the lowest minimum orders in the industry but even some customers think they are too high.
What are the current challenges you think the industry faces?
At the moment the fall in the value of the Pound following Brexit is terrible for all businesses who deal internationally since most costs are dealt in US Dollars. Profits are squeezed and it can make it difficult to operate within the industry. We know of at least one manufacturer which has actually closed its doors since Brexit.
Who is your typical customer?
I wouldn’t say we have a typical customer, because everyone has different designs. We definitely manufacture more casual wear like hoodies, tracksuits, and t-shirts, than we do other items and there is a big streetwear trend at the moment. Smaller streetwear brands are what make up a lot of our business, but we also deal with solely leather goods brands.
What makes a great customer?
For us, a great customer is someone who is smooth to deal with. We have dealt with customers who constantly change their mind for example, but after a certain point in the process, it is impossible to change things like fabric, prints etc. A customer who comes to us with a full technical specification and an understanding of the requirement for minimum order quantities is ideal for us.
There is a big push for Made in Britain. What do you think about it?
For us, we come across a lot of people who want items which are Made in Britain, to the extent that it is the be all and end all of their brands. Usually, these people go away and find out that to produce things in the UK is a very expensive process, which isn’t generally viable for a start-up especially. You can have a brand which is inspired by British themes, but actually manufacturing in the UK doesn’t necessarily offer any quality or cost advantages.
What does success mean for you?
Success for us is progression. Progression in our business, and working with more and more brands. Thinking about it, there isn’t a number of brands which I think we will get to and be happy with, but as long as we are always working with new people and helping our customers build their businesses, reinvesting into the world economy, we will consider ourselves to be a success.
If you can give one lesson to fashion entrepreneurs, what would that be?
Definitely, one which we see time and time again is brands using budget photography methods. We have seen brands purchase items from us and put no effort at all into the photography, some even using their phone to take pictures of items hung up in their bedroom. Look at your idols, and think “what would they do?” You can near guarantee it wouldn’t be taking a dimly lit photo of a creased t-shirt in their bedroom. Instead, find yourself a great photographer and pay for professional images that really show your brand in the best light. Images are the main part of your brand and the first impression, so don’t scrimp on photography. The same goes for models. Just because you have a pretty good looking friend, they’ll be no match for a good model who knows how to work the camera and makes the task of conveying your brand so much easier. The costs of these don’t have to break the bank if you shop around either.