StartUp of the Week: Always Wear Red
Sometimes simple ideas are the best ones. Always Wear Red is a clothing label born out of love for the colour red and the confidence it inspires in the wearer. In the words of founder Michael Owen, "Red is British, red affects how we actually see (as it's the colour with the longest wavelength), and red affects how we think thanks to its associations with attractiveness, performance, positivity, courage, and passion." The luxury silk, cashmere and leather products are all a distinctive red, in keeping with the brand's unique vision. We caught up with founder Michael over a cuppa.
Business name: Always Wear Red
Founder(s) name: Michael Owen
Loan funds received: £25,000
Based in: Newcastle upon Tyne
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil
Always Wear Red is the luxury fashion brand that believes the better you feel about what you wear, the more confident you become. And for the confident, anything is possible.
Our story started with one red umbrella. Today we have scarves, beanies, ties and hanks. Everything is red and everything is made in Britain from the most wonderful 100% cashmere, silk and leather. We weave Oscar Wilde’s actual signature into our silks, our strawberry silk steals its texture from nature, and all our Scottish-knitted cashmeres are double thick and unashamedly indulgent.
The brand is owned by Michael Owen, Zoe Rocha (successful TV Producer and eldest daughter of fashion designer John Rocha), and award-winning TV actor and writer Ralf Little.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
Our route to market is, and will remain for the rest of 2016, our online store at www.alwayswearred.com. Our HQ in Newcastle upon Tyne is sandwiched between our Scottish cashmere knitters and weavers, our Yorkshire-based packaging makers, and our silk weavers and tie makers that are based in the London area. A retail strategy will be explored in 2017.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
It is our genuine belief that believes the better you feel about what you wear, the more confident you become. And for the confident, anything is possible. There is a strange and interesting tension built into the issue of confidence. How can something so elusive be so powerful at the same time? We know when we have it, and we know when we don't have it. But where does it come from? Whilst we don't claim to have answered that question fully (yet), we do understand the clear connection between what we wear and how confident we feel. And so it is that with every fibre of our being (and with every fibre of our silk and cashmere accessories, too) we are focusing on our brand purpose - The Creation of Confidence.
But the exact moment that the Always Wear Red idea was born was one grey February day in 2015. The colour red broke our gloom. On that occasion, red was an umbrella. It bobbed above a crowd, caught our eye and made us smile. We felt uplifted. From that moment Always Wear Red was born and by our launch in February 2016, we had total confidence in a red-only luxury brand. The Always Wear Red red also salutes British cultural icons, specifically the Post Box (1897), the Telephone Box (1936) and the Routemaster Bus (1956).
4. What’s the business model?
We are a web-based store that designs, makes and carefully hand-finishes right here in the UK.
5. Who are your competitors?
The fashion sector is large and diverse, so our indirect competition is vast. And as our manufacturers also make for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Hermes, we are producing products that sit alongside these iconic players with ease. So we compete for attention with some of the most powerful fashion brands in the world.
6. What’s unique about your business?
From the perspective of our core offering (red-only accessories) and at a brand level (we stand for ‘confidence’), we are unique.
No other fashion brand owns the brand position of ‘confidence’, and we know the colour red better than any other apparel brand, because red is the only colour we work with. We know how to accessorise with red better than anyone else, and we understand how it affects perception in great depth. We believe that by wearing Always Wear Red you are ‘creating confidence' in yourself like no other brand can. Confidence in the collections results in confidence in the wearer
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
Prestart. The business launched on Valentines Day 2016, and the loan was approved a couple of months prior to that.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
The loan has been crucial. The investment has helped us to hold stock at appropriate levels, to cover our modest overheads for around three months, and also to innovate with follow-up ranges. It has helped provide employment too, as we now have an excellent apprentice on board.
9. Who is your regional delivery partner and how have they helped you?
TEDCO was our delivery partner, and our advisor was the excellent Bill Hartshorne. He helps me to be patient and (ironically perhaps) keep my own personal levels of confidence up. Self-doubt can be crippling.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
TEDCO helped me to fine-tune the business plan. They identified gaps and I filled them.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
A red camo tie was purchased for a customer’s wedding just one week after we had launched. For someone to buy and wear one of our 100% Pure Silk ties, and to take the time to write to thank us because of how perfect it is for their wedding was both flattering and humbling. This is testiment to our design, manufacture and brand messaging.
12. What’s next for your business?
Develop a more sophisticated and intense online messaging framework to bring the brand to life more compellingly around the world. All our collections really are made from best-in-category silks and cashmeres, and we have a great story. All we need to do now is to tell it.