Emma-Jayne Parkes and Viviane Jaeger are co-founders of SquidLondon, an innovate fashion company that produces a range of colour-changing umbrellas, shower curtains and rainwear. Squidarellas are currently available in 12 major cities worldwide including London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, and the company works with significant art shops including the Tate Museums, MoMA New York, the British Museum and Conran Shop. We caught up with Viviane and Emma to ask what it’s like working at the forefront of the fashion industry.
Q: Did you both always want to be entrepreneurs?
A: We have always been very independent people. With being designers at the London College of Fashion, we both learnt that it was a crucial asset to have. You have to be independent, otherwise getting the work done is almost impossible. After having built a number of collections, and worked on numerous projects, you quickly realise that you need to be able to manage yourself in order to have a successful outcome. This meant that when we founded SquidLondon, we weren’t faced with the challenge of learning and adopting new managerial skills.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for SquidLondon and how did you know it was a viable business proposition?
A: We were both at university and started working on a joint project which involved a lot of research. From this research we found that we were receiving a lot of great responses and we realised that the ideal product for something that changed colour would be an umbrella. We then decided to give it a trial run by designing and creating 100 pieces. These sold within 11 days, everyone thought it was cool and it kicked off from there with networking opportunities
Q: Was there a “blueprint” or path of starting a business that you more or less followed? How did you know how to start?
A: We didn’t really have a set, strict path; we just knew that we wanted to bring the product onto the market. We got heavily involved with the Business & IP Centre and all of the events that they host. Overall, we just learnt by doing and giving everything a stab. As we developed so did our grasp of a path that our business would take.
Q: What tips would you give entrepreneurs looking to protect their intellectual property?
A: Head straight to the Business & IP Centre because there is so much you can do there; we had a meeting with an IP lawyer free at the Business & IP Centre. You then need to discuss with lawyers your ideas and don’t hold yourself back with them. It is important, but it shouldn’t hold you back. Speak to as many people at the Business & IP Centre as possible.
Q: How did you find the intellectual property protection process and what would you do differently next time?
A: It is what it is - it’s the law. You’re either interested in it or not but you need to know about it and research it. I don’t think we would do anything differently, we are happy with our IP process and what we have, but it’s very important to know as much about it as possible.
Q: What are the best and worst things about being entrepreneurs?
A: The best things is realising your idea is no longer a concept, it’s a business. When we have new ideas we are in a position to bring them out. We work for ourselves so if we want to meet our sisters for lunch then we can and if we need a weekend off then we can.
However, nothing ever stops which can be sometimes be difficult; even on Christmas day we were receiving emails!
Q: Do you find it hard to find an agreeable work/life balance?
A: In the beginning, we didn’t have a social life which wasn’t healthy. But now we are a bit more balanced and we make more of an effort to have a social life, but prior to this we were too work driven but that’s only because we wanted to succeed.
Q: Your company USP seems to be based around innovation – to what extent does this present challenges?
A: The only obvious challenge is that you are your own competition, but we also create competition and we need to be aware that other people can come in and do something similar. Copycats will always be a challenge but that’s the same for everyone.
Q: What challenges did you face when starting your business and how did you overcome
A: After the initial stage of sending out a few products to potential clients, the challenge is
to take the next step up the ladder and start securing business. We found that there aren’t
specific rules for growing and maintaining that growth after you’ve started – you just have to
make it work. It’s crucial to think about all aspects of the business rather than just focusing
on one area; that’s not easy by any stretch but is essential.
Q: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs currently starting a business?
A: It’s crucial to speak to people and to listen to their opinions. Don’t, however, let anyone hinder or cloud your judgement. No matter how daunting comments or advice might be, don’t let it scare you. Always stick to your gut feeling but never discard any advice given – you never know when it might come in handy!
Q: What things about the fashion industry do you think first-time fashion entrepreneurs need to know?
A: I think the fashion industry is like any other, there is an extent of “who you know, not what you know” you need to spend a lot of time building contacts and putting yourself out there. Go to the right networking events, make sure you are involved with everything you can make sure people know who you are and bump into you on a regular basis; make yourself a common face. All industries are the same when entering for a first time; you need a sturdy contact base to fall on.
Q: What skills do you think are most important for entrepreneurs to have?
A: Diplomacy; you need to be flexible because things aren’t always going to go the way you planned, you need to be realistic and do not get too lost in your dreams. Being open to other opinions and ideas is important as they can be very beneficial! Acknowledge that there are other opinions that may change your plans.
Q: To what extent is differentiation important in business generally, and in the fashion industry specifically?
To be a new business start-up you need a unique selling point, especially in the fashion industry, as it is so saturated. If you’re new you cannot do what the big players do; it’s totally important that you have a USP - whether the uniqueness is you, your product or brand, you need to be different.
Q: Is business success down to skill, luck, or both?
A: I think it’s down to determination. If you want to achieve something you need to be able get over the downfalls and things that may slow you