London Style: Dream with your eyes wide open

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Small businesses are the life-blood of the British fashion sector, their creativity and diversity gives our industry it’s unique and internationally celebrated identity; at our best we are a fashion culture that trades in dreams, offering new ways of thinking and living, as much as new products.

At CSF we’ve always recognised the vital importance of working with emerging businesses. Start-ups have the flexibility and the willingness to try something new, to engage in creative experimentation and lateral thinking; they may be short on resources but they are often rich in entrepreneurial spirit and a burning desire to make a difference.  When CSF launched in 2008 one of our first priorities was finding funding to support the growing number of small fashion businesses with a social and environmental conscience.

In 2009 we began work on ‘London Style’ in collaboration with Newham College of Further Education, East London Design Show and Holts Jewellery Academy. Our aim was to help businesses to embed sustainability thinking in both their creative and business management processes.

London Style offered us an opportunity to provide training, support and showcasing to 100 London based fashion businesses over two years. We focused on offering insight and practical advice through workshops and one-to-one sessions; we brought together a network of expertise to cover areas such as design, supply chain management, communication and sales. We developed partnerships with Estethica at London Fashion Week, Ecoluxe London and i-D magazine to promote some of the most exciting new businesses involved in the project.

The concept of ‘dreaming with our eyes wide open’ came to life through our work on London Style; we made new friends who have become ongoing supporters, contributors, and champions but at the same time they are the first to challenge any naivety or misplaced idealism on our part.

As CSF enters its sixth year we continue to explore ways in which we can involve our network of small businesses in projects and collaborations. Over the last year we have been working with Nike and London Style beneficiaries Christopher Raeburn, Matthew Miller and Michelle Lowe-Holder have been key partners in this project (we’ll be telling you more about that in a few weeks). We’re also looking for ways to provide ongoing subsidised business advice and mentorship. We work closely with The Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and the Designer Innovation Service Centre (DISC) both based at London College of Fashion and we are also developing new projects in this area.

This week we want your feedback on how best we can continue to support the small business community, remembering that our intention is to provide a space to rethink the way we work, operating both inside and outside the existing fashion system. We want to support exciting ideas and concepts whilst still recognising the need for solid business foundations. We want to encourage entrepreneurs who are able to strike a balance between personal, social, environmental, and economic drivers, allowing for success in the present as well as ongoing resilience in an uncertain future.