Kimberley and Lydia are very cool. Not cool in a "we just opened a modelling agency in the heart of East London" kind of way but cool as in "a cucumber". They may have started Named Models just eight months ago but with a combined experience of over 10 years in the industry, they know exactly what they’re doing.
They first worked together more than five years ago. When Lydia left to join another modelling agency, Kimberly came with her to start up a men’s division there. But when they moved, some photographers they worked with were surprised. "You’re crazy to have moved and not set up your own thing," they told them. Given they were both slightly "disillusioned" with their current agency, they left within a year. The transition to setting up their own venture was quite seamless.
The two women make starting a business seem undaunting and logical. "We sat down and ran through some figures and what we’d need and what we had to do to see if it was feasible," Lydia explains.
"We went through all our start-up costs from computers to office space to portfolios for models, to printers and website design, subscriptions to online fashion portals."
They funded Named Models partly with a loan and partly with personal finance. In spite of approaches, they didn’t go for an investor as it would mean giving away a higher percentage in the business than they were willing, preferring to take on the risk themselves. Now, they still don’t need an investor but they’re "open to any opportunities to expand".
They’ve been in E1 Studios since October. An office was necessary because they needed a space for models to come and meet them. The partners initially looked at Southbank House, which was nearer to the area where they worked previously. But it wasn’t quite what they wanted. Emeca, the Workspace centre manager who showed them around, convinced them of the advantages of being based in a business centre rather than in a small office. She also explained that Workspace's approach is to nurture New and Growing Companies.
They eventually chose E1 Studios in Whitechapel, partly as that’s where many of the models and clients are based, rather than in Central or West London like their previous agencies. Being based in East London also allows them to stay true to the ethos of the brand: edgy, diverse and in-touch. They both enjoy the sense of community as they are opposite accountants and next to one of their clients, Fashion Scout. "It’s nice if we forget our key in the morning or need some accounts advice!" they add.
Set up was easy, Kimberley says. "We prepped the office for two weeks." They started with 60 models; some of these had moved with them but they also scouted extensively before starting. They go for more of an "edgy London look", "a bit more street" Kimberley adds. "We like to appeal to the diversity of the London market."
It's the freedom to do what they want creatively which seems to be the big boon in setting up their own business. "It’s nice to have complete creative control," says Kimberley. The brand was developed with freelance consultant, Sarah at Collis Creative.
"We wanted something that looked classic but contemporary," they said.
"She developed a huge portfolio for us with logo options and website layouts. So we went through that and picked out certain elements that we liked."
Creating the brand and logo, says Lydia, is what makes them most proud.
Named Models has regularly had models featured on models.com. They are recognised for being the go-to for up-and-coming talent. Clients include ASOS, Kenzo, Burberry, Vivienne Westwood, Tony & Guy, New Look, River Island. The online clients add the regular income while catwalk clients add the prestige. It seems their business ethos of "a more personal approach with the models and the clients" is working.
It also helps that they work seamlessly together. They split men and women between themselves. Lydia says "Kim is good at technical stuff: computing, social media etc. while I look after PR and negotiations." Kim adds that having a business partner with "the opposite skill set makes you feel a bit more secure." "And it’s nice doing business with your best friend," Lydia chips in.
They both seem to take everything in their stride. "We haven’t had that many issues," they explain. "We ordered our model walls from IKEA at the beginning but when we needed more they didn’t have any in stock." And they both, as Lydia puts it, "thrive off the excitement" of running their own business. "Obviously, you have nervous days when you lose a model to another agency. But that just spurs you on to work harder and look for new talent."
So what have they learnt since becoming entrepreneurs? "I suppose we’ve learnt it’s not such a big deal or as terrifying as you might think it is. If you have enough business experience, it’s less daunting, scary and problematic than we originally anticipated. When looking at figures we always anticipated the worst case scenario to make sure we didn’t have any shocks but now we're more confident."
So what’s the plan for the next couple of years? They're typically understated. "Hopefully to continue to grow."
Find out more about Named Models, East London's newest modelling agency representing some of London's up-and-coming talent.
E1 Studios benefits from a unique blend of urban and off-beat charm within walking distance of Whitechapel Gallery, Petticoat Lane, The Truman Brewery, Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields Market. If your business would benefit from being based in a melting pot of cultural diversity, just 100 metres from Aldgate East tube station, take a look at our available spaces here.