This month we’re going to be conducting interviews with small business owners in the UK to get a handle on some of their challenges, successes, and what they see as the future of their business. This is the first of a three-part series so keep an eye out for the next two coming soon!
Ismay Mummery is the founder and Managing Director of BoyWonder, an ethical boys’ clothing brand.
Tell us about yourself
I trained in fashion design, I did a BA and an MA, originally in menswear. I fell into children’s’ wear when I started working. After having a son, I realised there was a gap in the market because I struggled to find things I liked, designs that were inspiring to me as a designer. The high street is very generic, particularly with boys’ clothing. We moved to Sweden for a year and I was really inspired by the brands there.
What’s the vision for BoyWonder?
It’s sustainable and ethical clothing for boys, the opposite of fast fashion. The garments have extra growth designed in and are very much designed to last. I always wanted it to be sustainable from the top down. And I wanted it to be made in the UK, to bring back the skill and craftsmanship and to lower the carbon footprint.
It’s a high-end product, but if you want to buy British and ethical, the brand is up there with Stella McCartney! I’m planning to have open pricing on the website, to show customers exactly where the costs are coming from. Then a crowdfunding campaign will begin in the summer, with the website launch in autumn.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
It’s not just a service business, it’s a manufacturing business as well, so I’ve had to make all the decisions about the product, the business and everything. It’s hard not having a partner to bounce ideas off. I’ve done all the designs myself, drafted all the patterns and made all the prototypes from scratch. All the print work is hand drawn and I designed all the branding.
It’s also been a challenge to find enough variety of sustainable materials and sustainable suppliers across the UK. I’m hoping that will change over the next few years as that market grows a lot more.
What suppliers are you working with?
The factory I’m working within North London, Fashion Enter, has the highest ethical audits. They have SMETA and Fast Forward. They’ve been really supportive.
The factory makes the cut and sews garments. But I’m also working with a knitwear manufacturer in Mansfield, and then the direct suppliers. The fabric suppliers are mostly UK based. The jersey is knitted in Leicester and is all organic. The wool Melton for duffel coats comes from Yorkshire. I’m using hand woven denim from India supplied by a really great company called The Organic Textile Company, in Wales. It’s all raw denim and there’s no extra treatment, so it’s sustainable and organic. My button maker is the last button maker in the UK. They make buttons from the Tagua nut, which grows in Ecuadorean rainforests and is all sustainable.
I have to ask about Brexit. What implications does that have for you?
I’ve contacted all my suppliers to find out if there’ll be price changes. Some of them have reassured me that there’ll be no changes, some of them have said there definitely will be but they don’t know how much. A lot of people have said they just don’t know. I’m holding out hope that everything will be ok. I’ve invested a certain amount of money but it’s not sink or swim. I’ll play it by ear and maybe change a few things to mitigate risks.
What was more serious was that the main client of the factory I’m working with is ASOS, so when they issued profit warnings, the factory wasn’t sure if they’d survive. That would have impacted me and that’s due to the death of the high street.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Keep the faith. I strongly believe in what I’m doing, and my product and I think that goes a long way to keep you going in those dark hours when everything looks really bleak. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts, especially for ethical businesses. I wouldn’t be doing it this way if I wanted to be really successful or make lots of money and a lot of people don’t go along with that.