On the up · 22 September 2017

Students of Design founders urge startups to get as much exposure as possible

Co-founders Lindy Staadecker, Anoesjcka Gianotti and Michelle Parekh

With a staff of ten and a healthy annual turnover for their first full year of trading, Students of Design Ltd (SODS) is an innovative new online shopping platform championing emerging fashion and independent lifestyle designers.

Launched in Spring 2016, the startup is the brainchild of young mumpreneurs Lindy Staadecker, Anoesjcka Gianotti and Michelle Parekh, who used their combined experience and skills in fashion, design and business to develop SODS in support of young talented British designers.

They wanted to offer consumers the opportunity to have instant online access to designers making one-off items and garments that are unique and individual. Business Advice spoke to the co-founders to discover more.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

We are three best friends who are making it more affordable for independent designers to bring their goods to market. Through Students of Design, we are focused on giving designers the independence to choose their own business strategy and the power to compete with top brands without industry constraints.

We want them to focus on making and developing their vision while we take care of everything else, such as marketing and sales. Our mission with Students of Design is for all talented designers to remain independent and profitable without their margins being chewed up by retailers.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We launched the Students of Design platform in early 2016.

(3) Where did the idea for the business come from?

It was a combination of the frustration that all three of us experienced in our various trades at the time. Anoesjcka was an independent designer, balancing creating with the huge over heads associated with selling to retailers.

Lindy was at university seeing all her talented fellow design students leaving the creative arts due to a lack of opportunity, and Michelle was a business consultant and retailer who saw that more could be done.

From our first initial conversations we knew there was a huge opportunity to find one solution and bridge many gaps in the creative market.

(4) How do you make money?

It is very important to us to be transparent in the way Students of Design makes money. We charge a competitive percentage commission on final sales and a quarterly renewable £1 upload/listing fee per item. Our designers know this is a partnership and if they don’t make money, we don’t either.

The platform gives independent designers the power to compete with top brands

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

Putting our network of contacts together and seeing if we knew someone who could develop the site, who could do the marketing, if we knew many designers who we could start with and so on.

It just so happened that we had the best contacts and basically ticked every box of the skillsets that we needed to make the project work. We had no reason not do to it. When we proposed the idea to the team we put together, they were all on board in a heartbeat which made the wheel turn faster than we expected.

Today, everyone involved in the business is people we know personally. Never underestimate the contacts you make along the way!

(6) How do you make social media work for your business? Which platforms do you use?

We use Instagram and Twitter mainly. We talked to a lot of people and the advice in the art, fashion and design sector was, without fail, to use Instagram.

Instagram is very useful for our designer acquisition, as we can instantly get a feel for a designers brand identity. Checking out the brand’s Instagram account is definitely one of the first steps we do. It is without geographical limits and allows us to put collections together based on the vision and quality the artist offers, rather than how much money the artist has behind them.

From a consumer perspective, Instagram allows them to purchase an item from an established Australian designer with an item from a Japanese designer who just started trading in a single transaction. No other platform can provide such diversity, and Instagram plays a big role in us finding designers.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Several. When Students of Design went live we weren’t prepared for the volume of emails. We lost control of our inbox and we couldn’t follow up on all the inquiries. We had a number of talented designers fall through the net, but you have to take the leap. You can never be 100 per cent ready.

(8) What one tip would you give to young designers starting out?

The opposite of what others might say – create a market for your product. Wear it, display it and style it. Have beautiful professional images and create content around your work. Get as much exposure as you can.

Don’t be afraid to change things that aren’t working and only send something out if it is absolutely perfect in your eyes. Repeat business is the cornerstone of retail, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

(9) In five years’ time, we will be…

The only place to buy cutting edge fashion design and art.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

We were just discussing how much we love Vivienne Westwood. She’s partnered with a business mind, Carlo, who compliments her creativity. From all the large fashion houses she is still the only independent brand who didn’t sell out to a larger firm. She is a pioneer, a rebel and that’s so exciting.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.