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Emma-Jayne met Co-founder Vivanne Jaeger, and founded their business Squid London, whilst studying BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development in 2006. The business, that produces and sells colour-changing rainwear to global retailers, has gone onto win many awards including the ERDF ‘Most innovative business in London’ Award and the Lloyds Bank Creative Enterprise Winner.
With an innovative idea, specialising in smart materials, the pair have joined forces to create SquidLondon, partly funded with their winnings from the runners-up prize in the Deutsche Bank Pyramid award.
Since graduating from LCF, the duo have designed the Olympic Handover ceremony costumes for the dance team and have fused fashion and science, through a commission by the Tate to design and produce an umbrella called ‘The Paint Drip’.
Parkes and Jaeger are mentored by the global marketing director of Deutsche Bank and SquidLondon is now a limited company. Working with not only designers but scientists, manufacturers in China and investors in Europe, their business goal of bringing industries together is leading the way in future materials and technologies.
Can you tell us something about the course and why you chose it?
Fashion, being such a diverse and ever-changing industry requires a foundation of underlying knowledge and skills. This course has a more marketing and business approach to fashion, enabling us to learn and understand the needs of the industry. We undertook market research, collaborations on projects with companies and project management. The course offered a range of career opportunities. We learnt to work independently and have a goal in mind. The year in industry was also a huge positive, as it allowed us to see how the industry really works.
How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
There was a lot of learning by doing! We both had worked in fashion businesses during our degree, often doing admin jobs. However, this gave us a real insight into how business processes function from the core which has been beneficial for Squid. Our course covered important areas; design, supply chain, sourcing and materials. Intrinsically important knowledge in order to run a business like ours.
What prior experience did you have that helped you feel confident enough to set up your own business?
I don’t think confidence came into it, it was more ambition. We gained experience working for incredible brands like Chloe, Mulberry and Selina Blow. The only way we could get our colour changing umbrella onto the market was to do it ourselves. Our products are universal and we see them as walking pieces of art. For example selling in MoMA NYC and Kunst Basel were such obvious places for us to see our products. It is not hard to sell in different countries – it seems daunting but once you have the customs, barcodes and delivery logistics sorted it is quite straightforward.
Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?
We are 2 years into our 5-year growth plan and currently in 25 countries. We are focusing on a few key aspects; licensing and collection. We sold our first license to a company in South Korea for the SquidKids collection – super exciting! We plan to enter Asia this way. We see Squid as an international colour-changing rainwear brand. It is innovative, we understand our customer and our brand manages to speak all languages and people for all over the world resonate with it. On the collection front we are working on some new designs and products that we will insert into the range when the timing is right both for our customers and us.
What sort of support do you feel you could have used when you first set up?
We believe that if you want support you will find it, you may just have to dig a little deeper! Nowadays the support available is amazing. In 2008 the recession had hit and small businesses and entrepreneurs were a solution to get the economy back on track. The British Library IP and Business Centre were and still are incredible. The Small Business Centre in east London fantastic, SMARTA; awesome, we could go on. People we met at networking events were always more than happy to help, you just had to ask. Finding help once you are through the start-up phase and in the growth phase is not always as easy.
What practical business advice would you give someone who wants to set up their own business?
Always make sure you complete in-depth market research. Know your customer; know your competitors better than they know themselves! Know how and why your product or service will succeed and what your unique selling point is. Once you feel 100% satisfied that you’ve achieved the above the rest is down to you and self-belief – if you don’t believe in your idea and yourself no one else will.
What's the best thing about your work?
Well, that's hard to say... we like it all!
Getting up every morning and looking forward to continuing our project. Meeting interesting, like-minded people and getting acknowledgement and respect from professionals. The best feeling is to get a sample back, which is beyond our expectation.
The best thing is to think outside of the box and to be a creative think tank! We are working not with only designers, but scientists, manufacturers in China and Europe and inventors.
What advice would you give to any student who may want to follow in your footsteps?
If you want to start up a business, go for it. Make the decision and don't look back. Just don't expect an easy ride. You are working 24/7 whether you are emailing, making business contacts when out socially, writing up proposals, doing the accounting, filling invoices or just getting the creative juices flowing for new ideas.