Sustainability, community empowerment, sociopolitical issues and youth culture dominated the Student Enterprise Team (SET) Challenge 2019, the annual event that recognises the business ideas proposed by current LCF students.
The 5 finalists had the opportunity to discuss their proposals in front of 3 high-profile industry experts: Iain Ewing, Head of Design for Womenswear and Accessories for John Lewis Partners; Clea Sullivan, Head of Menswear and Childrenswear Design for JLP; and Harold Tillman CBE, LCF alumnus, fashion entrepreneur and former Chair of British Fashion Council. After hearing the students' pitches, the judging panel allocated the £8,000 in prize money to each business idea.
With this year's round of business ideas, mainly focused on liaising with sustainability issues and highlighting how fashion can positively impact local communities, the annual SET Challenge continues to show the innovation and creativity that predominates across LCF's student body. We interviewed the 3 finalists to hear more about their fashion game-changing projects.
JOA — Fashion made local
MA Fashion Futures graduates Olivia Weber, Anna Schuster and Julie Marie Chaussende won the 1st Prize and £4,000 for their business idea: JOA. Sourcing pre-loved garments from local charity shops, the brand has designed a collection of jackets with multiple uses through an innovative system of pattern-cutting and layering, making each JOA jacket unique.
The concept behind JOA is based on diverting discarded clothing, keeping it in a circular and local loop, with all the garments designed, sourced and sold in east London. JOA is also working with local community centres in Hackney, and helps them to raise funds contributing with a percentage of each jacket sold.
Anna Schuster, one of the co-founders of JOA, mentions that it was precisely her drive towards sustainability that led her to purse postgraduate studies at LCF: “I wanted to focus on sustainable fashion and LCF was the perfect place to do this, especially thanks to the interdisciplinary collaborations and the presence of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion,” she says. Anna also mentions that the MA Fashion Futures helped her to discover a complete new design process, which she has put into practice to develop the collections for JOA:
For me, fashion is about culture, craftmanship and passion. I decided to start my own business beacause I want to share my vision and values with the people around me, instead of working for a company that is just focussed on a high margin.
Anna also recognises that the Student Enterprise Team at LCF has been a key asset in the development of JOA as a business: “The SET supported us with a lot of amazing workshops about how to build up a brand, providing us with all the information about the legal aspects, finances, etc. This helped us to get an overview of what needs to be researched and achieved before starting with the creative part of being self-employed.”
For those thinking of starting their own business, Anna sends a very encouraging and empowering message to all the young entrepreneurs: “If we want to challenge the industry to be more sustainable, we need more people that think outside the box. We need smaller brands that work against the mass production and support customised products with a strong sense of individuality.” She also adds that today, more than ever, the industry is in need of brands which, like JOA, have a strong sense of community:
People want to support smaller brands and organisations because they worship their communities and local companies, especially in fashion. We need to go back to our roots and bring the craftmanship back in the industry.
Ajobi — Creating conversations
Student Abigail Ajobi, from BA (Hons) Fashion Design Technology: Menswear, was awarded 2nd prize worth £2,000 for her brand Ajobi. Abigail has developed a luxury streetwear brand for men which aims to create conversations around institutional issues of race, politics, community, youth culture and family wellbeing. As part of its community-based ethos, Ajobi will donate 5% of the proceeds from each garment sold to Black People Giving, a charity based in Tottenham that focuses on running workshops around health, wealth, employment and education for young men.
After studying the foundation year at CSM, Abigail continued her studies at LCF to further her skills as a menswear designer. Despite her young age, she mentions that becoming self-employed under the belt of her very own brand has always been her main goal: “I feel like in a job you can only go so far when working for someone else but when you are your own boss not even the sky is the limit... it’s your starting point.”
Abigail maintains that the support from the Student Enterprise Team has been crucial to expand her vision for her business:
The SET really helped me to understand all the nuts and bolts of what is required to start a business. They supported me through my early stages of business development so far and have really helped to fill in essential gaps of knowledge that were missing.
When asked for advice to current and future LCF students who would also like to launch their own brand, Abigail says: “Go for it! But be prepared for the ups and downs. Also, remember to stay motivated in whatever way you can to progress.”
FabShare — The power of sharing
LCF MBA students Maria Teresa Flores Parra and Tobias Ebel came 3rd and collected £1,000 with their common project FabShare, a platform where small designers, students and dressmakers can share deadstock fabrics. FabShare aims to connect people who could use these leftovers to create something new and extend the life of the material. It will also facilitate a way of achieving minimum quantities through combining orders from different fabric suppliers.
Both Maria Teresa and Tobias moved from abroad to London to study at LCF and decided to enrol on the MBA for similar reasons: “Because I felt this course offers all the things I want to learn in fashion for my future career. I like the curriculum, the Fashion Business School and all the extra-curricular activities and opportunities LCF offers,” says Maria Teresa. “I wanted to develop my leadership qualities and learn more about business strategies in fashion,” adds Tobias.
Studying the MBA was a starting point for these two students, who decide to join forces and create their business idea “after seeing a gap in the market,” as Tobias mentions. Whilst Maria Teresa states she has always had an “entrepreneurial spirit”, she recognises that she was lacking a structured business idea, until she started attending the workshops organised by the SET: “All these talks and lectures, connecting with other students and people from the industry, helped to open my mind to create my own ideas.”
Similarly, Tobias agrees that being involved with the SET was very encouraging for him:
They offered us great support. For me, the most important thing is that the SET team challenges you to think and see your business from different angles, which helps you to identify the essence of your idea.
Thanks to their positive experience with the SET team, the creators of FabShare encourage future students to get involved with them if they want to launch their own business project. Maria Teresa’s advice is to “dream big and always work hard. Utilise all the tools LCF and UAL offer. Meet people and learn from them as much as you can.” For Tobi, the answer for those who are hesitating whether or not to join this journey is “go for it! It’s a very valuable experience.”
Sofia Barroso, from PGCert: Buying and Merchandising, and BA (Hons) Fashion Design Technology: Womenswear student Suweyda Abdi were highly commended by the judges and were awarded £500 each. Sofia's business idea, Custom, offers consumers the opportunity of customising fashionable clothes at affordable prices through a process of co-creation; Vigilante, the brand created by Suweyda, produces garments which are multipurpose, multifunctional and customisable.