Amanda’s ‘mild angst about what she should have done’ post, got me thinking. Having been a designer for many years, I often have moments of regret at not having carried on – especially when I see really great new brands being launched. But design is a very small part of creating a new label – production, manufacturing, sales and all of the admin – mean its incredibly to make it a success of it, without a vast amount of hard work and knowledge.
Justine Tabak has all of the knowledge – she’s the ex creative director of Boden – and all of the commitment and has recently launched her own label. I spoke to her about why she’s done it now and what it takes to make it work……
Tell us a bit about your back ground?
I’ve always been interested in clothes and making things from an early age. I used to make simple tops for my friends out of Liberty prints in the Seventies and my Mum taught me how to sew and knit. I studied Fashion and Textiles at Leicester followed by an MA at the RCA. From there, I spent the first years of my career at Fendi in Rome before returning to London to work. In the Eighties the UK was dominated by High St brands and I went to work at M&S designing lingerie. Later I worked for Jigsaw, Laura Ashley and most notably Head of Design at LK Bennett and Creative Director at Boden.
Setting up a business is all consuming but when I do get a little time out, I enjoy exploring the streets of London, a lover of social history, scouring vintage, gardening and dancing with my friends!
You had an amazing job as the creative director at Boden – what made you want to go it alone?
Yes, it was an amazing position at Boden as I was their first fully employed designer when it was a small company that few recognised. It was great to be part of the creation and development of a brand. However, I’ve always liked working in smaller teams and close to the makers, impossible as a company gets bigger. I suppose once I hit my Fifties, it was also a case of now or never and my teenage children were becoming more independent so I made the mental leap to go it alone. I also had a yearning to start exploring what was left of British manufacturing and how I could rediscover my roots, it’s been amazing to find some fabulous dedicated manufacturers in this country wher I can put a face to a name.
What are the challenges you have faced when building your business?
Where do I start?! I used to look after large corporate teams but find it much more challenging to look after just myself! Suddenly you become designer, website designer, producer, accountant, buyer, salesman and postman! As a start up who is self financed it’s also a big shift to find yourself in a less secure situation. My plan was always to work more sustainably and ethically using local sources and it took me some time to find fabric and manufacturers who would work with small quantities. However, I’ve found that the smaller community of manufacturers in the UK are all too happy to recommend and help you find good suppliers. Sadly, many of our sewing skills have been lost over time and finding quality manufacturing has been a challenge.
Can you describe your target customer?
I don’t really design to an age group, it’s more about a look and feel. I’ve sold to 15 year old teenagers to women in their 70’s. I don’t think that women apply age constraints any more. My customers do have a tendency towards femininity as I love vintage prints and a touch of lace but I also make quite simple shapes so as not to make the look too girly. There is a lighthearted modesty to the clothes in natural fabrics and simple cuts that are uncomplicated and breezy. My customers tend towards a natural fresh approach, they’re not interested in following seasonal trends but want to look relevant and wear clothes that will last forever.
What is your personal favourite piece?
My favourite dress has to be the Petticoat Lane Dress. A simple, tiered dress that I’ve made in corduroy and now in Irish linen. It is effortless, slightly bohemian and looks equally great for gardening and a night out! It’s super comfortable with the added bonus of pockets. Even better, all washable and looks even nicer just hung out to dry with no ironing!
Where can we buy the range?
I just started trading in September 16 and have a website www.justinetabak.co.uk I don’t want to add on extra costs to the customer so have chosen not to do wholesale. I would rather collaborate and take part in Pop UP shops. I currently have a Pop Up shop in Islington, 99 Essex Road.
What are your long term plans for the brand and do you have plans to expand the range in the future?
I’m not looking to build an empire, rather build a good clothing brand that works on the basis of ’slow fashion’. I would love a shop one day that supports a strong website. I love meeting customers so can’t imagine just working with ecommerce. I’m keen to collaborate with other small British brands and build a range that showcases what this country has to offer in manufacturing and creativity.