What do Westfield shopping centre, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and the Four Seasons Resort, Dubai have in common? Their staff all wear uniforms supplied by Chiswick Studios' Fashionizer. We asked Debbie Leon, the company's founder, to tell us more about her business.
Tell us a bit about yourself...
My background is in costume design for film and television companies. I have always had a passion for design and fabrics and this, combined with an interest in logistics and planning, led me to set up my own uniform design company.
I am also passionate about my family; my husband Charlie and I have two grown-up children, both of whom have chosen creative professions. It must be in the genes…
Tell us about Fashionizer and how you got started.
I set up Fashionizer more than 20 years ago. I was looking to combine a career with being a young mother, and setting up my own business enabled me to have the necessary lifestyle flexibility.
I identified a gap in the market for uniform design; nobody seemed to be recognising that five-star hotels needed staff in five-star clothing – uniforms that were both stylish and fashionable, but also comfortable and practical, and, above all, reflected the hotel’s brand identity.
Over the years we have built the business in a number of ways:
First, we now provide a full, 360-degree service, which means that we not only design the uniforms but also manufacture them, manage staff fittings, provide warehousing and organise delivery. Our experience means that we are expert in providing high-end uniforms to a specific budget.
Second, we launched a spa uniform division with a unique offering. Spas have specific challenges from a uniform perspective: garments need to be flexible to allow therapists to move easily; the fabric needs to be able to cope with oils and warmer temperatures, but at the same time they need to look clean, sharp and stylish. We have developed our own fabrics specifically for the spa environment and now sell to 50 countries across the world.
Third, we have moved from being a UK- and Europe-based company to one that is a global business with a truly international client base.
Fashionizer is now a market leader in the supply of high-quality, bespoke uniforms for luxury brands.
How long have you been at Workspace?
We have been in our current offices in Chiswick Studios for about a year now. Previously we were in a smaller unit in the same building for four years. We had to move out because we needed more space, but have been delighted to return to the buildings when the right space became available.
Business-wise, what are you most proud of?
I think I can sum that up with one word: quality.
Our aim was always to produce garments that were of exceptional quality. We have achieved that. But the pursuit of high standards has permeated all areas of our business, from the way that we manage each account to delivery of the uniforms. It’s about maintaining an excellent customer focus with attention to detail. Luxury clients expect a high level of service as well as high-quality products and that’s what we deliver. The important thing is that we do this while making our business profitable.
How are you funded? Did you seek any outside help?
Over the past three years we have changed our attitude to how we manage our finances. We are now combining conventional banking with a more creative approach to borrowing and FOREX.
Two years ago we became aware of the concept of crowdfunding and of the government-supported Funding Circle in particular, which was set up in 2010 to facilitate lending to small and medium-sized businesses. Our application to the Funding Circle was a swift process: within two weeks of applying we had secured funding, becoming one of the first companies to benefit from the government investment scheme. We were able to continue our campaign to grow Fashionizer into a worldwide brand.
Where do you see Fashionizer in a year’s time? In three years' time?
Our strategy over the past three years has been to build the business to such a point that we could secure contracts internationally. We achieved this in 2014, clinching our first global contract.
The next phase of this strategy is to use our first global deal to build our international clientele. As a uniform business we always have to look to the long term: hotels and spas don’t renew their uniforms on an annual basis, so we have to establish a relationship over a period of time.
Could you tell us how you have marketed your business, and if that’s changed?
Marketing has changed dramatically since the business started. That’s mainly down to the growth of the web and the rise of social media. There are so many places where you can communicate your business message now, but the key thing is to target the areas of maximum impact. We now use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and also communicate through blogs and e-newsletters through our websites. We still use printed brochures for our spa division because it is a stock product and people want to be able to discuss the products away from the computer.
The significant thing for us is that we have to market to a very specific group of people. It doesn't make business sense for us to implement a mass-market campaign. Instead our efforts are best spent seeking and building personal relationships – by attending industry conferences, for example. For us, marketing is about quality, not quantity.
What are the most important things for you in an office space? What’s your office luxury?
Light, space and flexibility. The demands of our business mean that our office space needs to be a blank canvas, which we can tailor according to our workflow.
Our luxury is actually having a good-sized space that works for all aspects of our business. And we also have a great coffee machine – a proper barista-style one.
Find out more at the Fashionizer website
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