2019 Health Check
by Saeed Al-Rubeyi·
I wanted to write a little look-back at five years of Story mfg. but our birthday blew past us faster than I could get my brain in gear. The idea was to create a timeline of everything that’s happened up until now because it’s been a pretty twisty journey. It’s been a really wonderful five years, too wonderful and full to really do any justice to in a few words. What I quickly realised was that we should be checking our progress every year, a kind of health check or transparency report so we can share some of the more business-y bits. With that in mind, we’re going to look back at the last year, and take a little peek at where we’re going in the next 12 months.
So much has changed since we started, but these things remain the same:
- Story mfg. is still 100% ours. We have taken no investment, sold no shares and aside from a very small loan from the bank, we have no great financial axes over our heads. This is really important to us. I’ve seen companies I admired take on investors with the best of intentions and end up losing control very quickly and betraying their values. This won’t happen to us at any cost.
- We are still committed to craft, working with mother earth and sticking to our manifesto.
- We still work with the very same craftspeople we did at the start, and we continue to grow with them. We are committed to making sure they are happy and have our support as long as they choose to have it.
- We started a handful of new relationships with makers - including new weavers (we can now weave patterns), block printers and jersey manufacturers. Making our own jersey (sweatshirts and tees) was an unexpectedly enormous task but the results I think are worth it.
- From SS19 womenswear (around last September/October) we took on a sales agent (Awaykin) to manage our wholesale business. Apart from a very brief season at the start of Story we had previously managed this all ourselves. It took up roughly 130% of our time.
- From SS19 we started splitting our usual 2 seasons a year into 4 to be able to show during both the ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’ markets. This was a huge move for us, both in terms of work and risk, but the response was superb right from the outset, and we secured an amazing stockist list with our first womenswear season.
- Our stockist list has grown significantly - for AW19 we’re in over 35 great stores, and we estimate it’ll be around 50 for SS20 (at the time of writing we have closed menswear orders, but not womenswear).
- We made our first direct hire, a studio assistant. I know a lot of people assume STORY mfg. has an office full of staff (I regularly get emails asking to be put through to the ‘PR’ department and I once read a very bitter message on a chat about “Story mfg.’s massive marketing team”) but up until last month, it was all just me and Katy.
- We’re well on track to turn over half a million pounds this year. 4 years ago I would think that was a totally insane number, but the truth is that kind of growth involves huge amounts of money (if you are being a nice, fair company) so that number allows us to carry on, grow and pay salaries...
- …Katy and I began taking a salary! This is huge news. It’s a very small amount (just over £1000 a month) but it’s really meaningful and the day we got our first payslips was really emotional.
- Something really wonderful to come out of this year was the film Mr Porter made about the atelier in India where about 95% of our production is created. A little bird told me recently it’s been shortlisted for an award, but best not to jinx it now — if you haven’t seen it already you can see it below here:
- We’ve been getting quite a lot of requests from companies to collaborate, and up until now, we have been saying no because we don’t know how we feel about having our name on something without having entire control over it. After thinking deeply on it and speaking to others we have come to the realisation that we can’t be so insular if we want to help move the needle towards our own vision, so we have begun working on a couple of partnerships. The result may not be a totally 100% Story mfg. product, but our input will be, and we think these things can be really special. My personal feeling is that consumerism can be a powerful form of social change.
- This may take some time but we are looking to grow our ‘categories’. In plain English this means we are hoping to start making things that aren’t just clothes. At the moment we are working on footwear (extremely challenging) and thinking about homeware.
- We are starting to look at how we can work with man-made materials, in a way that makes sense for us to help bring new solutions to the industry through craft. We have a clear vision of how we would like to work with innovative recycled materials in a very Story mfg. way, but this takes a lot of time. This arm of Story has always been planned to be under the name “SLOW-TEK” (we began this in 2015) to separate it from the 100% natural-ness of our main collections. There will be an essay on this up online shortly.
- Up until now we’ve relied heavily on wholesale and preorders to grow, but from AW19 we’re planning to hold more of our own stock on www.storymfg.com. It’s hard, to be frank, because it’s an enormous cost, but it's certainly a necessary step and we’ve come to realise how important it is for some customers to have a direct relationship with us.
- We want to grow our team in India. For the last 12 months, we have been trying to legally (and without paying bribes) set up a studio in India but it's incredibly challenging and outside of our expertise. We feel its an important step and continue to try.
That's all for now - although if anything else comes to mind I'll return and add it. Thank you all for your continued support - I hope that this information is useful and potentially even helps you feel more involved and invited in our journey.