Sitting Pretty: Secrets of establishing a fashion brand and thriving during the pandemic

Jack Pretty’s men’s designer fashion and athleisure brand has gone from strength to strength. Initially using his connections with footballers and boxers, and making full use of the power of social media, he has established Societe Noir as a recognised brand. Here he shares some of the secrets to his success and the challenges and lessons to be learned from the Coronavirus pandemic.

  1. How did you get started in your business?
    I left school after A Levels, working in a PPI Call centre. Due to this being a small business in which I ended up getting massively involved in growing, I was mentored by my boss and learnt all the basic fundamentals to running a business, managing cash flow and conducting relevant forecasts and achieving targets. It also honed in on my sales experience.
  2. What made you decide on a clothing brand?
    My next job was as digital marketing manager, learning how Ecommerce and online businesses channelled into relevant marketing tools to grow online presence and receive a strong ROI from ad spend. Also learnt how to scale and grow accordingly within your means and how ultimately this had to depend on stock levels to ensure you could fulfil demand. Knowing a few footballers and boxers growing up and seeing their social presences scale, I thought it would be an ideal business to start as I could use these contacts to raise awareness in the perfect audience demographic for us.
  3. What or who was your inspiration for starting Societe Noir?
    Have always loved fashion and clothing. I took a lot of inspiration from the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and his obstacles and troubles he overcame to grow and scale Nike into what it is now. Struggling in similar areas to NOIR with funding and growth it was a very relevant read and reminder to keep at your goals!
  4. Are there any brands that you looked to for inspiration?
    Have always loved Nike as a regular wearer and sportsman. Stone Island for its links into the footballing hooligan world and the power house that was created off the back of this, showing that cult followings can be created. Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana for the premium association and high price point focusing really into the quality of garments they produce.
  5. How much have your social media channels played a role in your success?
    Almost completely. Without the rise of Instagram / Facebook and digital marketing I don’t think we would have been able to scale the brand anywhere near as quick. We started the business as social media was hitting its peak and the exposure to such a large audience has really helped us.
  6. What do you think makes Societe Noir different?
    Our love for producing premium menswear, comparable quality levels to known high end brands but at an affordable price point. Along with our love for being on trend / as ahead of the trend as we can be & constantly providing newness throughout our collections.
  7. What challenges or difficulties did you face when starting Societe Noir?
    Funding was a big one. We could sell the stock we had but could never commit financially to having enough until we saw some sell through on the stock we invested in to generate the cash to go again. This has its benefits due to the demand it creates but ultimately stock is key to scaling and growing. As is money for putting the relevant spend behind marketing campaigns to sell the stock!
  8. Is there anything you’ve learnt along the way from when you started Societe Noir to now?
    I could write a book! Managing cash flow, forecasting up to 12 months in advance, keeping track on the numbers and ensuring the stock achieves sell through in the set out timeframes. Almost like a game of Jenga, one wrong move can mean everything else falls out of place and can quite easily come tumbling down! Negotiating terms with our suppliers has also been a game changer as it gives us confidence to drop more product and not need to pay for this up front before we start selling.
  9. How have you dealt with the challenges of the pandemic?
    Thankfully the pandemic has actually seen an uptake in business for us. People having a want and need for comfy day to day clothing that is on trend and stylish for the daily outings from the house! I have ensured we are more streamlined i.e. not overstocked as ultimately we did not know the challenge ahead with COVID, so I wanted to ensure we were cash rich enough to ride the wave as such if things didn’t go to plan. Thankfully as mentioned it has helped online businesses to thrive and ultimately made us feel very thankful and blessed to have the support and following we do.
  10. Your business relies on successful partnerships, such as your link up with quality cap suppliers Flexfit. What qualities do you look for when choosing who you work with?
    Flexibility – no large minimum stock orders as this can stop you from bringing the product out you need.
    Quality – ensuring the product is fit for purpose, meets our expectations and also that of our customers who are ultimately parting with their hard earned money to buy something from us.
    Understanding – I remember once we committed to a large order with Flexfit to service one of our wholesale partners. The stock ended up being checked in late in their distribution centre so that meant we were paid later than I promised Flexfit. The guys were understanding of the situation and due to strong relationships worked with us to ensure we could still produce the stock we needed online in the meantime as opposed to cutting us off until our account was settled which they would have been in their right to do.
  11. Where do you see Societe Noir five years from now?
    I would love to have a much more global presence. We are mainly focused into the UK and Europe. There is definitely more growth to achieve in both mentioned but also moving into American and Australian and Rest of the World markets would be great.
  12. Do you have any immediate plans for the next 12 months?
    Keep doing what we do! Drop lots of new and relevant products for our customers. Also open up chains into wholesale with the high street reopening to aid our growth and presence in the market place whilst trying to grow the current high street presence we have albeit very small currently as we are mainly online focused.
  13. What lessons do you think can be learned for businesses from the coronavirus pandemic?
    Stay streamlined, remove any unnecessary costs. Put some more thought into the products and services you sell and ensure it services the needs of your customer, but also doesn’t leave you exposed financially or logistically, as these are the things that can cripple a business. Also make sure you appreciate everyone who supports you. Go above and beyond to make their journey with you the best it can be. Without them there is no you!

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