Lara Cameron-Cole is a fashion entrepreneur with an interior design business and a greeting cards company. She is in talks with investors for the funding of an eco-apparel factory.
Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing before you came to LCF?
Before LCF, I ran an interior design business with a friend. We also turned our graphic design skills into a real business by starting a greeting cards company, which we operated alongside the interior design business.
Why did you choose this course at LCF?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be in the fashion business. At first I thought I would have my own label, but then mainly out of necessity in my home country, I decided to go into apparel manufacturing – my goal is to build an eco-apparel factory in Nigeria. Having no knowledge on how to run a fashion enterprise in that sense, I thought Fashion Entrepreneurship at LCF was a perfect place to start.
How was the course taught?
The course was taught very differently to what I was used to (I did my undergrad in the US). In the UK, the teachers expect you to be responsible for what you read and learn, whereas in the U.S. the professors almost hold your hands through everything. That was a very interesting discovery for me.
The course went through many different areas of the apparel industry: franchising, operations, value creation, risk management and so on. And entrepreneurs from the business were often invited to teach on different days. This allowed us to learn in a more practical way.
What projects did you get involved in and were you able to travel abroad?
Yes, I had the opportunity to travel to New Delhi, India with two other students to conduct research on the relationships between buyers (retailers) and suppliers (factories). We got the chance to visit several liaison agencies and factories, and ask questions at the source. The trip was sponsored by the British Council under the UKIERI project and our research findings got published as a handbook for retailers in the UK, which was fantastic!
My dissertation tutor, Dr. Lynne Hammond, also convinced me to go to Sri Lanka to participate in a reality TV show about design entrepreneurs because the trip there would give me more opportunities to visit eco-factories and gain more knowledge. So… yes, I was in a reality TV show and by stroke of luck, I made it to the end without getting booted off the show – I was runner-up in the finale. After the program was shot, I stayed a bit longer in the country and toured many factories and a LEEDS certified eco-factory.
What are you doing now?
My interior design business is still in operation. I’m currently designing two new fast food restaurants and my greeting cards are selling well in a number of stores. It’s been a very busy year since I left LCF. Alongside that, I’m in talks with investors for the funding of the apparel factory.
Why did you decide to start up your own factory and how did you go about it?
The primary reason for the factory is to reduce the amount of imported clothing (from the Far East) that we buy in Nigeria and in Africa. It is also an opportunity to create jobs, as the unemployment rate is very high. Building a factory also means clothing will be cheaper for us in Nigeria and will also give designers and retailers an easier way to mass-produce their garments. A lot of retailers here struggle to grow because China-made products compete with theirs and certain apparel made in China are banned from importation by the Nigerian government. Further, an eco-factory will help educate and be an example to other industrialists on sustainable living and hopefully, eventually, pollution and waste from factories and other businesses will reduce.
The first step I’ve taken towards building this factory is getting an education from LCF and visiting the many factories in India and Sri Lanka. I’ve also acquired 2 acres of land for the development and have done a lot of research on the subject. My thesis is also part of the research.
My major challenges are preparing all the groundwork and paperwork that is required to convince investors why they should part ways with their money. This part has taken much longer than I anticipated. I thought finding investors will be tough, but instead, its the paperwork, meetings, planning that is taking so much time and sweat. I've finally gotten a feasibility report done, which took 3 months and loads of money, but it's done and the results are very encouraging. I've gotten a financial advisory company on board and a design consultant to help round up the designers and garment makers to meetings and focus groups.
My ultimate goal is to bring change to my community and the apparel industry through this factory. At full capacity, the factory will employ 473 workers who will be trained and the hope is that as workers leave and new ones come in who will be trained as well. The community will eventually have many more skilled workers who will go on to start their own businesses and develop themselves and those around them, employing and empowering more people.
I plan to start building by mid-2015 or even earlier, all things working in my favour. Amen
What advice would you have for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
The best advice I can give anyone is: be patient but diligent. It’s not easy!