Founder of Ally Bee Knitwear, Alison Baker, talks to Mysource about her vision for the future of the fashion industry and why she decided to invest.
Mysource (M): Tell us a bit about Ally Bee Knitwear
Alison Baker (AB): Ally Bee produces collections for men and women, and a small homewares line using only high quality, natural fibre yarns which are grown, spun, and knitted in Great Britain. Ally Bee launched in October 2014 - this was the culmination of nearly two years of researching and testing British alpaca and wool yarns and making connections with suppliers who helped turn the concept into a reality.
M: What challenges, if any, do you face as a business trying to succeed - both commercially and sustainably - in the fashion industry?
AB: Environmental sustainability is not such a challenge because this was built into the ethos of the business at the beginning. I was adamant Ally Bee would produce high end, UK-manufactured knitwear from the natural resources derived from the British smallholdings and farms because it avoided the problems associated with imported fibres such as sheep mulesing, over-grazing and desertification, polluting dyeing practices, and massive air miles in transportation. But it was hard to find the right suppliers at the beginning - a lot of trial and error was involved. It also demands a level of risk and time that conventional knitwear labels do not have to shoulder because they can rely on a stock service made from imported fibres.
Commercially, making it in fashion is a big challenge. Finding retailers willing to take a chance on a new - and unconventional - fashion label is no small feat. Retailers are risk averse when it comes to taking on new labels, and that is understandable, and they base their buying decisions on commercial considerations, rather than the emotion and sentiment of the end customers who buy because they fall in love with a product. The traditional trade show route is high risk and can be financially crippling, so as a designer you must not build your model on the assumption you will be winning business accounts from the get-go. I've let go of any notion of selling to retailers for the near future, and will focus on direct sales and other online avenues.
M: How do you believe Mysource could help you?
AB: I believe Mysource - once launched and snowballing in growth - will become an essential, trusted resource for retailers wishing to identify and compare brands to fulfil their buying requirements. Sustainability credentials will increasingly nudge retailers towards one brand over another. Materials, provenance and social impact matter more and more to consumers and soon more buyers will factor this into their buying. Mysource will help a small label like Ally Bee enormously, to have the sustainability credentials listed and compared side by side against other labels.
Mysource will also help promote those manufacturers who are reliable, and weed out those who are not! Ally Bee has reliable suppliers - thank goodness - but this is only after several errors that may have been avoided if there had been a reliable and thorough sourcing resource from the outset.
And, as soon as my suppliers get listed on Mysource I will endorse their reliability to help boost their business - if they survive and thrive this in turn helps guarantee the ongoing production of Ally Bee collections within the UK.
M: Why did you decide to become a shareholder?
AB: I want this platform to succeed and I believe it can. I'm a big advocate of sustainable fashion and Mysource presents a robust digital platform to make an impact on tidying up the act of the fashion industry. It will give sustainable, reliable suppliers - and brands - a better chance of being seen and heard above the noise of the conventional fashion machine.
I believe it can work because it is starting from an established, informed and loyal base who will use this platform from the word go.
The fashion industry - from raw source of materials through to the shop floor - is nebulous but it should not have to be. A platform with volume and range of suppliers across the industry, supported by rankings and endorsements, will encourage more commitment to transparency, quality and reliability.
M: Where would you like to see Mysource in 10 years’ time?
AB: On the supply side, I want Mysource to be the dominant go-to platform for researching sustainable fashion supply chains, just as LinkedIn is the first port of call for searching out professional and business connections. And by validating sustainability credentials, and quality, through testimonials, research, and rankings, this will have made a real impact on driving more sustainable, less wasteful methods of doing business in fashion.
I also want to see Mysource as a robust online trade show platform seriously competing with the wasteful, hit-and-miss conventional trade show. I want Mysource to be the trade show platform that is targeted, curated and well-moderated, and relevant for serious buyers, giving small brands the chance to get their collections in front of buyers without incurring the crippling costs of money hungry trade-shows. This will also save serious costs for smaller buyers, who can then put more of their budget into new product! A win-win for everyone.