How I built my brand
I’m passionate about Tailoring, but also about business. I’m often asked why I set up a business in Men’s tailoring and what drives me, so I thought I’d write and tell you about it…
There’s so much to do to get a business off the ground. I understand that it’s difficult to know what to spend money on, especially when it’s all your own money and sadly there’s no road map that you can use to certify success. Sometimes it really is a case of living and learning and constantly keeping your eyes and ears open. (Gulp!)
What do you do and why does everyone else seems to be making it work, which by the way isn’t always the case! I’m sure most instagrammers are stepping on a private jet one second with champers in hand, only for the next minute be running in the opposite direction to catch their Ryan Air flight. So lets not to be too hard on ourselves for our 2am kebabs…
Back to the beginning
At school I was always messing about but showed ‘promise’. I loved Art and Drama particularly. I was very shy but when it came to Drama, I was a total show off, I could hide behind my ridiculous voices, which by the way I still do on cue when requested. I went to Sylvia young theatre school for a couple of years every Saturday morning, with classes in Dance, Drama and singing. All of which I still absolutely love. I was quiet in school but loud at home, singing and dancing. So my parents were always confused when the teachers used to say: ‘She’s so quiet!’ I think they spat their tea out on one occasion.
I would study everything. I even did circus training for Christ’s sake. The flying trapeze was what I decided to focus on, which by the way, is really very hard! I’ve always had a sense of intrigue and love to give most things a try, but I will never jump out of an aeroplane or do a bungee jump! I’m a definitely a land kind of girl.
I studied pattern cutting, textiles and fashion styling and photography but never stood out as the one to watch. Until the end of my course and my teacher said: ‘Wow, you’re really rather good!’ I went to college with lots of eccentric types who were keen to thrust their work under the teachers noses, but I have always been quite shy.
Inside, I was always thinking- I want my own business. I even said to my Dad at the age of 14 that I was going to run my own business and hire and fire people. To which he said ‘It doesn’t quite work like that’ He was right of course, but the excitement of creating something always excited me and I was intent that it was what I was going to do. I just didn’t know in what line of business….
I’ve worked in retail for years. I was always desperate to get out and work. My first ever job was at Fatty Arbuckles on Holloway Road at the age of 15. As unglamorous as that sounds, I loved it. I liked making people smile, and making sure they had a better day, because they had great interaction and great service. I really loved that. I think that’s where my love for making people feel good started. I worked at The Sweater shop, Racing Green, Harvey Nichols, Chloe, Harrods and Shanghai Tang, which I later came back to after a short stint working at a bar (and partying far too much!)
I loved every bit of it, mainly luxury. It was when I worked at Harvey Nichols that I really started to become obsessed with the luxury fashion world. The clothes, the people, the glamour, the smell. It’s all special. Expensive yes, but special also and for me, still worth it.
At 21, I was asked back to Shanghai Tang. I was asked if I’d like to start a job as an assistant tailor to the Manager. I couldn’t believe it! When I worked there previously, I was always wondering off downstairs (where the bespoke department was) marvelling at all of the exciting designs and fabrics.
Trouble was, the day I started, the manager of the department left (Nothing to do with me may I add) A little confused and a moment of oh, what now. I decided to ask if I could have his job. They thought I was nuts, but I said: If I’m terrible you can sack me, but you have no one else, so you may as well give me a go.’ After I said it I thought, what the hell are you doing, but I stood by it and they agreed.
I was completely in my element, I started by selling off the old designs, looking at profit margins and how we could make the department more desirable. At that point, the bespoke department was more of a small add on to the rest of the store, but I’ve always been quite competitive, so thought of ways to make it shine like it should.
I designed a new collection and David Tang and his girlfriend came and Hello magazine took photos and featured them in their magazine. I actually couldn’t believe it! I began my career in Womenswear, but then their husbands started to come in and ask if I could also make something for them. I found my love of Mens tailoring here. I found that I loved the simplicity of Mens clothing, its a whole different field and I found that I had a real, natural understanding of how to make them look good and it was very exciting.
This was the most gruelling job I’ve ever had, for many a reason, but it taught me so much and for that I’ll always be so grateful. I’m still friends with the main boss at the time and recently made him and his husbands wedding suits.
My first try!
I even forget this myself sometimes and now I do have to chuckle. After leaving Shanghai Tang, I set up on my own. It was called Alexandra Crawford Paterson (Alexandra Wood was actually created from my first marriage) Ive been questioned by lots of people on whether having a females name for a mens fashion business is off putting, but I’ve always stuck to my guns on this. It’s me, I create the clothes and I’m a woman and I love designing for Men and its really that simple.
With my first business, I literally had no clue. You quickly realise that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t understand marketing. Sadly, its not going to get you very far. I was 23 and really hadn’t learned enough just yet.
I went back to work, to learn and find out more about myself. Im a big believer, that when you give yourself time and space, the answers will come. I told a 21 year old boy this on my plane journey back from New York recently and he told me he was stressed because he didn’t know what to do with his life. I said: Just go away with your mates, have fun and you’ll work it out. Stressing when you’re off on a years travel really won’t help matters and he smiled and said: ‘You know what, you’re right. Thank you!’.
If at first you don’t succeed….
People move houses, get married and have babies consecutively.. We must be hard wired for madness surely! And I for one am that way too. I was pregnant with my first daughter, now 11. I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the Tailoring company I was working for and decided to start up my own business (again!)
It really was a case of back to the drawing board. To be honest, I still didn’t have a clue about marketing, but as websites were much more of a thing, I decided to start there. Its actually hilarious thinking back to my website (I really wish I had kept a log of all of my website styles to show you how its transformed). It looked like a Laura Ashley brochure (No offence to LA of course!) It was basic, but it got me my first client who has been my customer since. I’m glad to say that the business is far slicker now. As my Mum answered the phone for me and said I was on holiday in Spain and would book him in on my return. It is amazing how much can change… and no, she no longer answers my calls 😉
I really had no plan of what was going to happen to my business, it was more of a hobby and was a great way to see my daughter, and now daughters (I have two; 7 & 11 and also a step son, 14) grow up and not completely miss it. A really tough juggle may I add!
I would ask my parents to walk my daughter round in her buggy, then meet me when Id finished seeing my clients and take her home on the train. It was definitely chaotic in the beginning but I always remained professional and never let anyone down.
2.5 years ago, I took on my very first store in Bishops Stortford which is steeped in history. Its the oldest tailors in the UK and possibly the world, at 400 years old. I have learned more than I could have imagined in these few years from contracts, legalities, merchandising, promoting a local business to now progressing online, which is a whole different ball game.
Would I change anything? No, I go head first and even when it’s hard (very hard) I make a decision that I’ve committed to it and I’m not letting myself or anyone down and failure is not an option. As they say, where there’s a will there’s a way.
It’s an inexplainable thing wanting to be an entrepreneur and probably quite ironic too. I was too nervous to put my hand up in class for fear of getting anything wrong and cringed if anyone pulled me up on anything. I floated well under the radar from secondary school to college. I was definitely not the one to watch, but I was observing and taking note. You can call me The silent assassin ;-).
I’ve definitely had to push myself to tap into my talents and to not be afraid. When people ask me what I do they say oooh, fancy! But its relentless hard work, its not always pretty but when customers tell me how much they love my clothes and that their friends have all commented on how great they look (which is rare for Men) – It spurs me on. That’s when its really down to passion for what you do and nothing to do with money.
My obsession is making Men look better than they could have imagined and my mission is to transform as many Men as I can. So watch out 😉
If you’d like to work with me, I’d be delighted to discuss. Simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you soon,