It's January again, and in many ways it doesn't feel like a year has gone by since the previous January. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was making my New Year's resolutions to get fit, watching fireworks on New Year's eve and then nursing my monster of a hangover the next day. But when it comes to London Collections: Men, it feels like a lifetime ago.
LCM January 2015 was the first public showcase of my work from my label, Rachel JAMES, and I exhibited an extended version of my graduate collection. I graduated from BA Fashion Design in July 2014: I showed my graduate collection at the Westminster show - a 70s inspired collection of floral printed leather, long shirt dresses and huge floral crocheted knitwear. After the show, us graduates all start applying for jobs, but I really wanted to launch my own label. I discussed this with lots of people close to me and the overwhelming reaction from them was to not do it: go and get more experience. In retrospect, I see this as very sensible and caring advice. However, I ignored them and with my boyfriend Tom agreeing to be a co-founder and director, we set up the label and business out of the spare room in our flat. We decided to get PR representation straight away to ride off the press of my graduate collection and help get the ball rolling, but otherwise it was a slow and unglamorous start.
Making the transition from fashion student to fashion designer didn't involve much fashion or design at all. The first problem was we didn't have a plan. I felt too inexperienced to apply to fashion platforms, showcases and stores: I felt I should do it alone and learn it all slowly - make things and sell them online. Next problem was we didn't have any money. It became apparent immediately that we were going to need a lot of money to get anywhere at all. I made enquiries about building a basic website - and that cost money. Registered the company, hired a sewing machine, bought some supplies, photographed a look book: it all cost a lot. I got a part time job to pay the bills and Tom and I spent a month researching and writing a business plan. Things were predictably slow and definitely not the glamorous explosion onto the fashion scene I had secretly hoped for. It wasn't until I received an email in the middle of October 2015 that things dramatically changed: I had been invited by the British Fashion Council to show my graduate collection at LCM in January! I was so amazed and honoured to be discovered and invited to join the many much more experienced designers and to have their support. We shared our excitement with our friends and family alongside our now half decent business plan, received some investment from those close to us, I quit my job and worked full time to refine my collection into an exciting yet professional industry-ready exhibition.
So January 2015 arrived, and I was terrified. I was the youngest designer in the building, seemed to be the only one without an MA/previous experience or award, and my collection of vibrant colourful flowers stood in the middle of the room surrounded by professional, slick, black collections. Incredibly intimidated, I had no idea how to behave, talk or what was expected. But to my relief, the other menswear designers took me under their wing and made me feel so welcome. The BFC were not a scary organisation but so encouraging and proud to support me and introduce me to the industry. Within the days of LCM there I changed from a shy, scared creative to a bubbly, inspired designer.
And now, it seems laughable that it's only been a year. My first collection was shot by Vogue Italia. I was interviewed by Wonderland. I had the film crew from Crane TV cram into my tiny flat. We took on shareholders and secured a business loan. We moved into a large studio in east London. I found some great people to make up my team and support me. I equally found people I need to avoid like the plague. I showed my second collection again at LCM in July and this time, also in Paris at Capsule. I collaborated with artists and film makers to create a fashion film. We held a pop-up store. I learnt how to work with factories. We took on three stockists.
Now I am in January, at LCM again with my new collection to show. I still feel nervous, shy and I still have so much to learn. I still intend to work out more and still haven't avoided hangovers. But now I am buzzing with pride and excitement. We have plans in place and plans going forward. A year ago I stood here thinking 'How the hell am I going to do this?' and really had next to no clue. Now I'm standing in almost the same spot and I think 'I'm ready. What's next? 2016? Bring it on.'
Keep an eye out for the Rachel JAMES Experience exhibition and pop up store - January 27 2016.