2022 Health Check
In 2019 I wrote a ‘Health Check’ for the site which kind of outlined where we were and how things might change/what we were thinking. At the time I intended to do one every year but between then and now it has been chaos and it never felt like the right time to take a snapshot. Subconsciously I think I might have been putting it to the back of my mind until I could lay out a clean-cut view of where we are and how we’ve got our shit together - but I think that might be a mirage of an oasis that doesn’t exist.
As a company, and personally, we have had huge ups and downs. I’m going to keep the personal ones out of this update because between 2019 and now the company has grown a lot and making this about just Katy and I feels less truthful. This is still our project, something we have breathed life into, sacrificed for and struggled with - but we aren’t the only ones clocking in on a Monday morning now.
I think the well of sympathy from consumers for companies talking about how hard COVID was has run dry. And that’s fair enough - we ALL had a hard time. COVID was horrible to navigate and has left deep scars for us as people and us as a company. There are things the pandemic changed for the worse that I don’t think we’ll ever recover from - but it also forced some changes that helped us grow (though sometimes unwillingly).
Before I go on, I don’t want the above or below to send the message that I/we feel like COVID is in the past. I have no idea what the future looks like, and the past has shown us that things can get scary fast.
Also - this ‘Health Check’ is much longer than last time. Even as long as it is I edited quite a bit out. That said this is kind of an odd thing to do for a company anyway so I guess there’s no rules?
I won’t do into design and creative direction changes and thoughts here - it’d turn into a book. I’m hoping to have time to write more on our philosophy and those kinds of bits in other essays.
Katy and I still own 100% of the business. No investment as of yet. Not that we have been approached, but I personally value knowing who is invested (financially and emotionally) in projects, so I want you all to know that too.
Last time we said we wanted to start selling on our own website but we couldn’t afford to do so. When news of COVID broke, a significant amount of stores who had orders with us immediately cancelled them, and some even went out of business. We were left holding stock we never ordered, so we quickly made a plan to shoot them and put them on our own site. We thought it might financially ruin us and even applied for help from the BFC (who have never been helpful to us in the past, and they kept up with tradition then too). Luckily, sales were much better than we thought, good enough to cover the loss of sales with a little bit on top to buy more stock the following season.
This feels like a separate bullet point, but since the above we have invested more into our own stock and site. Since 2019 we’ve actually had two big website rebuilds - the first looked great but after some analysis it seemed people were having trouble navigating it. The second (current) one is much more transactional and we’re constantly working on it. I think we made under £35k in the first year on our website, now we make that every couple of weeks. Having this is so wonderful because it feels like we have a direct line to customers and are in control of how our products are presented online, and how they arrive to you.
Having more stock meant needing somewhere to store it, so we started renting space in a local storage unit (we were doing it from home for a while - but a miserly neighbour complained to the building manager). We worked out of those storage units for about 2 years before finding a building in central Brighton to use as a warehouse. It’s expensive for us but we reasoned that we could use it as a shop, office, and warehouse. Unfortunately, the ‘office’ bit quickly went to pot as the team grew rapidly and we ran out of space. We now have a whole separate big studio about 45 mins walk away which houses our photo studio, design offices and extra storage.
We also started making our own photos, both for ecomm and editorial bits. This may seem small-potatoes but it’s a big milestone for us. For so long we were outsourcing photography for flat shots and editorials, and while it was lovely to end up with something that was collaborative, it wasn’t working for us not being able to own that work. A lot of brands in our space would be inspired by our shoots and ultimately it made ours feel less special but we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) ask creatives not to repeat similar work done with us for others. Now we can build our own style. We were also spending a fortune on flat shots of our stuff, now we do it ourselves, with models we like, on our own time.
The team has grown. Loads. Last update in 2019 we had just hired Emilie (she’s still with us!). There’s now 9 other full time members of staff and possibly double that in freelancers who work with us regularly. All these hires have been to keep up with growth, but also to fill in gaps left by Katy and I having less time. We used to work 7 days a week from the moment we woke up until exhaustion. We have a kid now and can only afford childcare a few days a week so we have to funnel everything needed from us into those few hours.
In 2019 I mentioned working with new partners - this is still going on. It’s been much more of a challenge than I guessed working with new places. Almost everyone at our company is learning as we go and some of the lessons we learned from working with really small scale partners don’t work at all with more industrial ones. It’s so, so, so challenging. Probably our biggest challenge now.
We still work with our agents Awakin, and now we also work with a Japanese agent called Elight. They have been wonderful and we expect turnover of the company to be at or over 2million a year in short order (we were talking about trying to get to 500k at last update). This isn’t all-rosy though - because of payment terms and production timelines we are constantly juggling with cash. Growing means paying out huge amounts out and not seeing the money until 9 months after its been promised - and if you grow again that barely covers what you need to move forward. Controlling that growth is a constant equation and luckily we have Billy (our GM) and our agents to help us work on that.
The collections have grown to match - I think they’re triple the size they were in 2019. We also have a sister brand called Gentle Fullness which you will have seen I hope. The original idea with that brand was to be creative in new ways and explore production methods we wouldn’t use for Story mfg. Again, its been quite a challenge but we’re up to some interesting stuff and already made some exciting breakthroughs.
Last update we spoke about how we were going to split our collections into ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’ and show them at 4 different times to fit in with the industry model. We aren’t comfortable with this because we have never seen the brand as being split like that (never on our own website have we even split things into mens and women - quite unusual if you look around) but sometimes we have to play the naming game to progress. We did it for a couple of seasons and frankly we hated it - we make clothing for everyone and we don’t love being told by womenswear stores to make more frilly dresses or have menswear stores get ‘turned off’ by having a skirt on the rail next to shirts. It didn’t work for us at all and we found womenswear stores didn’t buy things that we knew were great sellers because they were too boyish. We’ve returned to one mega-collection which shows once a season (twice a year).
Collabs are still very much a thing. Last update was pre-Reebok and I think its okay to say we are working on another with them. We had another with a different brand in the works but it wasn’t a nice experience and wasn’t doing anything for us except asking for a lot of our time, so we left it. We have more on the table and in the works.
We are still trying to grow our categories. It’s been a long time dream to have a nice offering for homeware and its taken years - not least because we just dont seem to be able to find the time to make it a priority when so many other plates are spinning. Duvet sets are currently in development, hopefully for a pre-Xmas launch. We also have incense (finally!) which is AMAZING and will be released very very soon, plus we had a really lovely discussion with a perfumer recently so hopefully by the time we have the next update in a year we’ll either have released or being releasing that too.
We want to open a physical store in the USA. A really significant amount of our sales go directly to the USA, and we think there could be an opportunity to grow a little bit there and also cut out a lot of shipping. That of course needs £££ which we are really low on right now.
I’d like for our direct team to be working a 4 day week. We did this for a while and it was really hard because we are so small with so much area to cover. It’s made doubly difficult because working weeks in other countries are different, so working Monday-Thursday meant missing 2 working days with suppliers not just 1. We tried rotating peoples days but it just got so complicated and Katy and I were filling in gaps so ended up making our workweek 6 days to cover. I’d love to go back to it.
I’m struggling to think of more to put here because there’s SO much on the table, but really all we want to do is keep plodding along.