Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix both studied BA Fashion Management at the London College of Fashion. After working on a project together they hit it off and decided to go into business together. Now, a year later, they have just launched their own Womenswear contemporary label, RIXO, a strong British take on vintage creating wearable flattering shapes for women of all ages. We met with Henrietta and Orlagh to find out how their journey from the classroom to the boardroom…
Henrietta and Orlagh
What made you want to study at LCF?
Orlagh: There was no one from where I’m from who had ever been to LCF; it was definitely the name and the reputation that drew me to study there.
Henrietta: I found three courses I was interested in – one in Manchester, one in Westminster and one at LCF – I knew I wanted to come to London, and was torn between the campus-feel of Westminster and being in the centre of London with London College of Fashion. One of my friends had done the course at LCF and recommended it to me, she said the connections that you gain through LCF, being in the centre of London and the reputation makes it stand out.
How did you adjust to life in London?
H: In my first year I found it hard as I didn’t know that many people and I wasn’t used to it, but it does make you stronger as a person definitely.
O: When you’re at a campus Uni you don’t get that taste of what living in London is actually like, you’re in the campus bubble. LCF helps you adjust to getting a job after and the London lifestyle, because you’re already used to it.
It takes a year to find your friends, it took longer than I expected – you meet people in class but it takes a while to forge the relationships after class…
Part of the first collection
What were the highlights of your time at LCF?
All the modules had a commercial side with real life situations, not necessarily all design – we were always grounded in the reality of the industry, and what’s going on 24/7.
When did you decide you wanted to work together?
We did a consultancy project together where we had to go out into industry and find a company to be consultants for. We found Anne’s Podium by going round loads of studios and knocking on doors in East London. She opened it and agreed to take us on. We worked really closely on that and realised how well we worked together. We had the same sort of attitude and approached work in the same way.
We then both went on the placement years. We decided to do the year in industry to get some contacts and experience, and as soon as we finished we could start the business!
Tell us more about RIXO…
We’ve always been obsessed with going to vintage fairs and finding timeless pieces, and we were thinking more and more about how the high street is commercial and saturated – you can go in to Zara and everyone will be wearing the same top as you, and we were getting sick of that. We saw a gap in the market for the entry level contemporary price point and our concept. Our customer is someone who would go into Zara, but it willing to spend a bit more for something that is timeless and not trend-driven…
How do you switch off and relax?
It’s not a 9-5 job, we are constantly thinking about the brand, reading stuff, looking at competitors. We don’t ever switch off.
O: This morning I dreamt that our development samples were getting mixed up and I woke up in a sweat. We constantly have to check with each other whether we’ve had the conversations or just dreamt them!
H: I’ll wake up in the morning and it will be as if I haven’t seen Orlagh in a week, I’ve got so many new ideas and things to talk about.
You have to have the drive and ambition, which we both have. We can’t have doubts. We are realistic and have plan B’s but you HAVE to be positive and believe in it. There’s no way that both of us would give up our income living in London and be putting our own personal finding into it if we didn’t think it was going to work. We have to be REALLY self-motivated. We can’t wait to get up in the morning and start working on things.
Do you do the designs yourself?
We design everything and hand-paint all our prints in our kitchen. We’ve had help from family and friends with design and Photoshop. You have to have your finger in every pie and work out what you can do yourselves to get costs down. If you don’t know something there’s so much information available at your fingertips to learn. For example, we know we can paint a print, but actually getting it on to a dress is a different matter altogether. We have taught ourselves lots of new techniques.
We also designed the branding/website/logo – we have a clear and strong idea of how we want everything to look. We wanted to do it ourselves as we had the vision in our heads. That helped with the development process as we were able to be really clear on what we wanted. Our e-commerce website is launching now!
How has your degree at LCF helped you with your ventures?
One of the most impotatnt things we learnt on the course at LCF, and from working in industry is being really aware of your cash flow – a lot of designers struggle with this. For example, a lot of on-line retailers don’t pay on delivery, they pay 120 days later, so you have to bear that in mind when working out how much you can afford.
The experience we got on the course and the year in industry also gave us the contacts to be able to trust the suppliers we are using now. If you have a supplier who you’ve worked with and you trust it gives you the confidence to deliver what you’ve promised, which is crucial to your reputation.
We’ve also subsequently worked with loads of UAL alumni, and through that met loads of crucial new contacts. So many of the people on our course are working in the industry, it’s been really good to have friends who can put you in touch with people, it’s helped a lot!
What have been the highlights so far of setting up the label?
Seeing our name in the label in the back of a dress is an amazing feeling. Also, we’ve started to get some really good press coverage – so when we see our dress in Red magazine, or the telegraph and Grazia are featuring us during London fashion week, it’s unbelievable.
H: My dad bought a 100 copies of the telegraph when we were in it!
What’s next for RIXO?
We are currently selling at three boutiques in London; Wolf and Badger, Bar and Bass and a pop-up in Soho.
Our plan for the immediate future is to launch the website and get our first collection going and then we are planning on rolling the collections – we always want to be adding new things every couple of weeks. We also want to work on getting more press and get noticed.
Orlagh and Henrietta’s Top Tips for setting up your own brand;
- Meet people face-to-face – this has been one of the most important things we’ve done. When you’re starting out people are much more likely to help you out if you’ve met them in person.
- You never know when you’re going to work with someone in the future – so it’s really important to keep up good relationships from all your jobs because it’s such a small industry.
- If you can, don’t go it alone – We would find it so hard by ourselves, a partner will help you stay motivated. But is is so important that it’s the right person too; someone who you have the same attitude and aesthetic vision as.
- Be really flexible and able to take opportunities as and when they come – don’t be stuck and rigid. If a colour comes back slightly different than we imagined but it still looks good, there’s no point in being difficult about it. In the long run that won’t help anyone.
- Be nice to everyone! At the end of the day everyone is just doing their job…