Starting a Fashion Brand Without a Clue

This blog is dedicated to my friend Agustina. Inspiration comes from unexpected places.

Starting a fashion brand when I don’t follow fashion? What was I thinking!

It didn’t seem that difficult in the beginning. What I wanted for Finders and Makers, was to create the opportunity for Artisans to sell more of the beautiful things they created, which in turn would provide them with a steadier income. So, when I began to source my first collection, I simply selected items that I liked to wear, assuming that everyone else would like them too. I quickly discovered that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I learnt the hard way that my preferences in fashion accessories are not everyone’s. I had neglected to consider the fact that I am that person who loves the soon-to-be-discontinued items on retail shelves. I was way behind the trends, that I needed to be way in front of.

So, in the beginning, it was a little bit hit and miss. Mistakes happened, but our first collection included beautiful items that have now become customer favorites. Others - well, not so much, but that is where the questions, the learning and the growth began. I had a steep learning curve to deal with around what fashion actually is and who decides what makes something fashionable or on trend.

Feeling completely clueless, I surrounded myself with people who love and follow fashion, who live and breathe it every day. Their skills in identifying trends, defining a look, or an aesthetic to pursue and predicting what people would want to wear in summer, as we sat in the depths of winter were fascinating to me. I soaked in everything they had to say and recruited their instincts, where mine had previously failed.

For us, the mystery lay in how to bridge a gap between what the Artisans made in faraway lands, with what contemporary western consumers wanted; all the while respecting their traditional skills, techniques and culture that are one of the foundations of the Finders and Makers brand.

This created a massive challenge for us. Many lovingly made styles that have been handed down from one Maker to the next, had emerged because of the artisanal techniques themselves and may not have changed from one generation to the next! This means nothing when it comes to the trends of the modern fashion industry.

It hasn’t been an easy ride and we are still continuing to navigate how to incorporate our Maker’s skills and styles, with the demands of ever evolving seasonal trends. One way to deal with this is through collaboration. After studying the market and refining what we expected the next trends to be, we decided to put those thoughts to our Makers, a step that meant we would all have to evolve in some way.

We kept this first attempt at collaborating with them simple – we discussed colour. We had decided on a colour palette, which we introduced to several of our Makers for consideration. Several were up for the challenge, though we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Our Upcycle collection for example, includes jewellery handmade from little beads, covered in recycled saris. This would mean the Makers had to source saris in specific colours, to match our preferred palette. We had no idea if this was possible or if even asking would cause offence. They took to it like the professionals they are however and we are thrilled with the results! Every piece is unique and clearly follows the colour palette we asked for. This allows us to offer a product that is on trend, and appeals to our customer base, without compromising the skills and traditions of our Artisans. Those Makers have done a brilliant job and we look forward to introducing the new collection in the coming weeks.

Rewards in small business are often buried in small victories such as this. I have to pinch myself now at the thought that I am now running an actual fashion brand. Me - the reluctant fashionista. My biggest lesson so far, has been to surround myself with people who know better - experts that can guide and encourage. By working together, from different perspectives but with a shared intention, we can creatively develop ways in which to retain the authentic nature of fair trade, making it fashionable yet meaningful to the contemporary consumer at the same time.

Purpose doesn’t have to be cannibalized by fashion. Both sides can co-exist and in Finders and Maker’s case, the result is beautifully stylish accessories that transcend the retail discount bin and transform the lives of so many. Because how you look is only half the story.

Until next time,


All photos copyright of Finders and Makers

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