Niki McMorrough, Founder and Director of multi-award winning high end lingerie business Made by Niki which has had approval from the likes of Victoria Beckham, is an ambassador for the Business is GREAT Britain campaign, www.greatbusiness.gov.uk a government initiative to give support, advice, and inspiration to growing businesses.
Talking to Kettlemag, she discusses the fashion industry and the challenges faced exporting as a small business.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for SME’s when looking to export for the first time?
For Made by Niki, reaching the clients initially was easy, via the internet, word of mouth and trade shows which UKTI (UK Trade and Investment, the government department working with UK business helping them get into export markets) helped us with. Delivering to them is becoming increasingly trickier, as everything changes so quickly these days. For example, in these unstable economic times, the price you sell goods at can become drastically different by the time you deliver a few months later. When you are ready to deliver, your client may not be in a position to receive the order anymore if, for example, they have ceased trading or have cash-flow issues. Whole countries, such as Greece & Italy, have declared themselves bankrupt causing issues to both our imports and exports. While others, such as Russia, may announce suddenly and out of the blue your products (e.g. Lingerie) are a restricted item, making it very difficult and expensive to get them into their country. There are agents and methods such as credit checks who can make the process smoother, but these are only worthwhile when you are penetrating a market deeply and sending a lot of packages their way. UKTI have supported my business with advice and help with e-exporting through my website and social media channels.
Lord Livingston said “the number of women setting up businesses has doubled compared to a few years ago, but at the moment companies set up by women are consistently less likely to export.” Why do you think women generally are less likely to export?
I can’t speak for the stats, but I don’t feel in my heart that women are less likely to export, per se, I think it depends on what’s right for the business. Some might argue that women are more pre-disposed to setting up local businesses (whereas ours is international), which often, do not lead to ambitions to export. What all small businesses need to realise however, is that your business can access new markets, and that UKTI can help you to do this.
Fashion is a diverse and competitive market, how do you make your product and business stand out on the global platform?
The dichotomy is that fashion, especially lingerie, takes ages to develop yet becomes out of fashion very quickly once launched. It’s important to have a signature style, not based on trends, which you can be recognised for and to constantly present the products in a new and different light to extend their life-cycle and visibility.
What advice would you give to students wanting to get into the fashion industry?
Do work experience first. I think the ‘lost generation’ have been setting up start-ups without experience, due to the lack of jobs out there. While some will succeed, many won’t, and that could cost more than a few month’s unpaid work experience. Also, try to keep your expectations in check. Real working life is not like ‘The Apprentice’ or the ‘X-Factor’, you don’t win opportunities, you earn them and you are not born brilliant, you get there through practice. Fashion is an expensive industry, it is hard to make money and keep to the pace. It is harder work than most industries.
What has been your biggest regret or missed opportunity with the business?
I’ve made loads of mistakes but they all add up to the experience which I now have to move forward, and if I’d done it differently this would still be the case. They say you only regret what you don’t do, but this is not true. I regret moving too quickly, and moving too slowly. I regret saying ‘yes’, as well as ‘no’ when I shouldn’t have. I regret trusting some people, and not trusting others.
What hopes and concerns do you have for the future of the business?
I hope to be able to make it profitable and efficient, a fun and exciting place to work for me and my employees. We are a small team of just three people, we are good at our jobs and get satisfaction from it. I hope that in time, when we need to employ more people, to choose the right ones who will support our growth and export ambitions and work hard to earn their place in our team as well.
The support we received from UKTI’s e-Exporting programme helped us to kick start our global growth, tapping into the importance of our social channels. We did this by booking an appointment with a UKTI International Trade Advisor which was really useful. Now, our website is inviting and functional, both helping to maintain and, crucially, boost our sales.
Excluding yours, what company do you most admire and why?
I admire online successes such as Black Milk, Nasty Gal and American Apparel for their honesty and integrity. They create what their customers really want and deliver it in a way that their customers understand. While Made by Niki is a higher-end, more luxury product than that, I think we can learn from those companies and have an inclusive, rather than exclusive ethos that is fun to be a part of.