Written by Tia Giles
Third year fashion student at the University of Winchester, chair of the Winchester Fashion Society and budding businesswoman, Izzy Fletcher, shares her opinion and experience of the fashion industry and her ambitions for developing her new business, DESK, that hopes to ‘revolutionise the workwear standards to help empower women through fashion’. Being a ‘big forward thinker’ herself, Izzy is a trailblazer to watch, as her USP of workwear fashion, plans to take the fashion industry by storm as DESK plans to inject life back into today’s ’post pencil skirt generation’.
To begin with, I asked Izzy if she could describe to me a bit about how she initially came to be interested in the fashion industry and why it has come to be something that she’s passionate about. ‘When I was younger, I was never good at just one thing at school,’ she told me, ‘I was just kind of OK at everything – I’ve always had a creative flare but not enough to be a designer’. Speaking of how she was taught a lot about business from an early age, inhabiting an interest in watching The Apprentice, a BBC show that gives candidates a chance to win a six-figure business investment with Lord Sugar, Izzy admitted that ‘despite being a straight A student [she] hated the subjects the curriculum offered.’ ‘I ignored everything I was being told and went to study Fashion Retail for two years at college,’ she tells me. ‘My earliest memory was being given a green notebook and I would spend hours every day sketching out fashion designs. I think it’s always been my purpose to do something in this industry’.
With such drive, the question arises whether Izzy had always wanted to be a fashion university student with the hope of someday starting up her own business or not. ‘I was supposed to go to Manchester Metropolitan to study Fashion Buying in 2018, however, life got really messy that year, so I decided to take a year off and work as an estate agent’ – an endeavour that she tells me didn’t last. Always ‘liking the idea’ of one day owning her own fashion business, Izzy tells me that she ‘didn’t just want to pump out another fashion start up for the sake of it’. ‘I knew I wouldn’t do it unless I believed in my USP and was filling a big gap in the market,’ she says. ‘Although I didn’t do anything crazy in my gap year, without the first-hand experience of trying to find office wear as an estate agent, I would have never had the idea for DESK’.
Aside from ‘fashion retail jobs and social media internships’, the springboard of a fashion degree and her newfound passion to ‘focus on [her] own business’, has given Izzy the aspiration to ‘lear[n] on the go’ and ‘navigate her way through’ the fashion industry and business sector to make DESK a success. I asked Izzy the question of whether she felt that society judged her for pursuing a career in fashion as opposed to a career in something else. ‘Absolutely,’ she says. ‘I have always worked as a waitress alongside studying fashion for the last five years. Every time a customer asked me what I study and I replied with fashion, I never got an incredibly positive response or, if I did, they would tell me how hard and competitive it is’. Despite society’s judgements on her career pursuit, Izzy tells me that ‘at the end of the day, [she] loves what [she] studies and the business [she’s] building’. ‘Someone who judges me for being happy was most likely pushed into a job they dread doing every day,’ she affirms.
The fashion industry has, at times, been interpreted to be a somewhat toxic industry to be a part of – thanks to the rise in unrealistic beauty and body standards. Films have also arguably been responsible for demonstrating the fashion industry and what it might be like to work as a fashion intern. For example, acclaimed films such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), sheds light on the fashion sector and we question whether films such as this correctly demonstrate what it is like to work in the industry. ‘I wouldn’t know too much,’ says Izzy, ‘but when I did internships for fashion focus brands, it was intense. The hours were long and unpaid. The competition is rife, but if you love what you do, it’ll feel much easier’.
Moving on to the inspiration/concept behind DESK fashion, Izzy recalls her experience as an estate agent and her struggle to find clothes that she ‘liked and knew how to style’. ‘I worked five to six days a week in an office, so it was essential to buy office wear,’ she tells me. ‘I’d spend my low-income salary on wasteful pieces I never truly liked and then would have nothing to wear at the weekend.’ This is where DESK comes in. ‘The goal with DESK is to bridge the gap between workwear and casual wear for young women, so that we can maximise our wardrobe and never feel like we are wasting money,’ she says.
With Izzy’s ambition to change ‘the corporate rules’ that are restricting fashion today with bland workwear that has no injection of colour in its fashion lines, I asked her what pushed her to alter the industry. ‘I think most girls feel intimidated by male dominated environments and feel the need to blend in and be taken seriously,’ she replies, ‘- fashion and seriousness don’t usually come hand in hand.’ This is where her slogan ‘shaking hands with fashion’ comes into play. ‘I think the current standards of workwear are boring and uninspiring; unless you can afford it, look hard enough or have a natural eye for fashion’. This struggle young women face to find workwear that goes beyond the classic pencil skirt and blouse relates to previous studies that have found that ‘when people are able to wear the clothes that they’re comfortable and confident in, morale is higher and people are more productive overall’. Izzy tells me that ‘for four years’, her Instagram bio was ‘I’m nicer when I like my outfit’, as she believes that she too ‘work[s] harder’ when she feels confident in what she’s wearing.
So, what’s on the market now in terms of workwear? With the UK’s fashion industry today is thought to be worth ‘£26 billion’, adding ‘800,000 jobs to the economy’, subsequently ‘making it the UK’s largest creative industry’ – understandably, there are brands at the moment that offer the option of workwear in some ranges. ‘I think my biggest competitor is Zara,’ Izzy says, ‘but they don’t shout about workwear or share my values’. ‘I spend a lot of time on Pinterest adding to my boards for social media content and outfit inspiration – I’d recommend this to start ups, as this helps me find new influencers to get inspired and to ultimately connect with my audience’.
Returning to the concern of the fashion industry becoming an over-crowded market, I posed Izzy the question of whether she agrees with the fashion sector being a somewhat wasteful market. ‘Starting a fashion business has always been a back burner idea for me,’ she admits, ‘I knew I’d never start something without finding a gap that I truly believed needed to be filled.’ In terms of wastefulness, Izzy continues to tell me that she believes the ‘t-shirt brands and fast fashion boutiques on Instagram are chasing their ego and the money’. ‘I never sat down and thought “how can I start a business?”, this will never be about the money for me,’ she says, ‘- my idea is necessary to help so many young women, and my mission is to help put an end to over consumption’.
Following on from Izzy’s ambitions, the question arose of what, if anything is lacking in the fashion industry and if there was anything that needs to be improved on. ‘The biggest thing that frustrates me in the industry is how brands bring out a load of collections a year and label one as one sustainable and think that this cancels it all out’. In Izzy’s opinion, brands are ‘fighting’ against each other ‘to be the most sustainable brand in the world’ – ‘it’s exhausting’, she tells me. When considering her own business, Izzy states that she will ‘always be transparent’ with consumers as she believes that this ‘is what the industry lacks’.
So, what’s the future for DESK? What are your ambitions for the business? ‘I have lots of big plans’, she tells me. ‘In five years, I’d love DESK to have around 20 products released every few months. The biggest priority is to generate revenue to have a better control over the supply chain.’ In addition to this, Izzy also says how she would ‘love to be able to offer a rental service, for job interviews or pinnacle points in a woman’s career where she wants to look her best without breaking the bank’. Aiming to ‘offer the community of [her] customers an experience,’ Izzy also hopes to open ‘a beautiful space where women can bring their laptop, connect with likeminded people, grab a coffee, come to events and shop a concession of products all in one place’… ‘I want to revolutionise the workwear standards.’
Finally, for anyone reading who is aspiring to be in your position now, are there any tips you would give them? ‘I think you just have to let what is meant for you come to you. I never tried really hard to come up with a business idea, it just came to me randomly’. In Izzy’s words, ‘if you find yourself with a business idea, take every opportunity and risk, it won’t always pay off but when it does it’s so worth it’. She adds, ‘do your research, spend time listening to podcasts and YouTube videos, and do something every day that sets you closer to your business goals, no matter how big or small’.
Even though this interview was conducted over email, I could tell that Izzy has an incredible passion for her business, and I personally cannot wait to see the future of DESK and Izzy’s fashion career, as I have no doubt that she will revolutionise the status quo surrounding workwear today.
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