StartUp of the Week: Plum of London
For the last few weeks on the blog we've been shining a spotlight on brilliant British brands - and our StartUp of the Week, Plum of London, is another new and exciting startup committed to highlighting British manufacturing and quality. Plum of London are the first UK business since the 1830s(!) to focus on products created from high-quality alpaca yarns, and with products already featuring in Tatler and Vogue, it's proving a popular choice. We caught up with founder Hugo over a cuppa.
Business name: Plum of London
Founder's name: Hugo Douglass
Loan funds received: £7450
Based in: London
Facebook: Plum of London
1. Explain your business in the time it would take the kettle to boil
We’re revolutionising knitwear! We create sustainable and luxury alpaca knitwear and accessories in contemporary designs and colourful hues. Specialising in the world’s finest yarn, Royal Alpaca, each piece is softer, warmer and stronger than cashmere whilst possessing numerous other benefits and qualities. We support British designers and the British knitwear industry, and wherever possible make our range within these shores.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
Currently we’re based in London, although in the early days I spent some time in Northumberland. London is the perfect location thanks to its seemingly limitless resources, contacts and opportunities. It may always seem to take an hour to get anywhere, but at least it’s all within easy reach!
3. How did you come up with the idea?
A few years ago, owing to a number of sudden events in both a personal and professional capacity, I realised I had the opportunity to do what I’d always dreamed of doing and start up a clothing brand. There were some other options that I could have looked into, but this excited me more than any of them and still does - I really believe this will revolutionise knitwear and ultimately clothing, both in performance and fashion.
4. What’s the business model?
We sell our ethical, sustainable and luxury alpaca products to consumers online, through various ecommerce platforms and at exhibitions. We also sell wholesale to a number retailers.
5. Who are your competitors?
Our business is actually very niche - experts have claimed that not since the 1830s has anyone Britain worked with alpaca in this way and on this scale. Our main competitors do however appear in the context of cashmere brands and other luxury knitwear brands: Brora, John Smedley and Brunello Cucinelli spring to mind.
6. What’s unique about your business?
As mentioned above, industry stakeholders (both in the knitwear industry and press) have stated that no one in Britain has done what we’re doing for nearly 200 years. I’ve approached mills who have been established for centuries - yet have never handled, let alone experienced, alpaca yarn and products. So we really are doing something totally unique. The quality, handle and performance of our products have wowed and amazed everyone who experiences them. A lot of people have their preconceptions surrounding alpaca knitwear, most of which are negative, but once they touch and wear our products, they’re totally converted.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
Being based in London, we were about to enter our first full A/W season. I’d carried out a huge amount of research, product sampling, networking (sourcing suppliers and manufacturers) and generally refining the business model before we brought our first products to market.
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
It’s been incredibly helpful– I’ve been able to invest in more stock, pursue more marketing avenues, commit to some exhibitions and just assist with the daily commitments involved you when growing a brand.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
I'm in touch with Dessy Tslova of Utelier, who already has been a great encouragement and offered some useful insights. She’s previously worked with Burberry, Smythson and more recently has set up her own venture. In such a short time she’s already proved a fountain of knowledge and great inspiration.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
Virgin StartUp delivered my loan directly, and Ben Keene was the business advisor I was appointed to at Virgin. Coincidentally, I’d already met Ben a few times previously through mutual friends and had always been inspired and impressed after learning of his ventures, so it was serendipitous that he was helping me with mine. His assistance was invaluable - he advised me on the business plan and assisted in the next stages.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
I’m pleased to say there have been quite a few, but I’d say being awarded the Butterfly Mark by Positive Luxury is the pinnacle. If you haven’t yet heard of Positive Luxury, you will very soon - they’re an incredibly worthwhile organization and have gained notable traction recently. The Positive Luxury accolade just about pips the award we received recently for Best Eco Fashion Brand by Junior Magazine Design Awards
12. What’s next for your business?
We’ve got a huge amount going on and a great deal of exciting prospects lined up. Imminently, we’re working on this season and refining our next product offering but we’re also in talks with some larger stores both here and overseas which will coincide with some exciting marketing campaigns. I’m very much looking forward to the journey!