Collaborations are an absolute must if you want to grow your business. Each week we talk to creative entrepreneurs who embrace collaborations to share their stories, experiences and tips so we can all learn from them and trigger some inspiration and ideas. Today, we’re talking to Sarah from Weald Handmade. Sarah runs a fashion accessories label that makes high quality leather bags using traditional techniques. Read on to find out how she collaborated with bigger retailer, TOAST, what she’s learnt from that collaboration and how it helped her business!
You collaborated with TOAST shortly after you launched your brand. How did it come about?
Weald hadn’t long launched and I was still doing it alongside my day job. I was actually at work when I got the email from the TOAST buyer. I googled and researched the buyer as I couldn’t quite believe it was a genuine email. The founder of TOAST had discovered me on Instagram and asked the buyer to get in touch. A completely amazing thing to happen from a free social media app. A friend of mine who is a photographer was doing a workshop for them around that time and he had previously posted pictures of my work. I think that might be how I crossed their radar on there. They had two clear choices for bags they wanted to see so samples were sent that week, followed by a phone call to discuss how to adjust the design to make it an exclusive version for TOAST. Then the final sample was sent and signed off before production commenced. When new designs were introduced we had face-to-face design and planning meetings. Even though we had been working together for a year, I was very nervous. Having your designs analysed in your presence is pretty nerve wrecking. I needn’t have worried, of course they were so lovely and made me feel at home.
How important is collaboration in terms of your marketing/ strategy and growth?
It’s certainly becoming more important than I previously realised. I think for small businesses like mine collaboration is key. It could help me find a better and more efficient way to achieve my goals. I’m currently working on my collaboration plans for the coming years and starting to reach out to small and big businesses alike to see how we can work together. Social media is an amazing tool to use to make this happen. I’ve met people through Instagram that I would never have had the honor of meeting otherwise. I’m in the middle of two interesting collaborations at the moment and hoping to have these live in the coming months. Both of these are working with other designers and merging our two disciplines. It’s been great seeing things from another perspective and has lead to me trying new techniques. You can’t beat a bit of fresh inspiration.
There are so many unexpected ways to collaborate and I’m currently brainstorming and watching other brands collaborations unfold. Other people’s collaborations can be a great way to inspire your own strategies. I’m paying much more attention to the marketplace now, seeing what big retailers are doing as much as smaller ones. What are they doing, why are they doing it, what do I like about it, what don’t I like about it, what would I change, can it be done better?
What would you say the biggest gain was for you from the collaboration?
The collaboration made me completely review my production and has allowed me to streamline and tidy up the process. Going from small level production to larger scale was certainly a steep learning curve and TOAST were fantastic at supporting me along the way. Each of my bags are hand stitched and we were able to work together in the supply timeline to ensure we didn’t lose this and the production could remain handmade. Knowing that I have the ability to upscale if and when I want to is a fantastic tool to come away with. I had gone into the collaboration thinking my biggest gain would be exposure. However, I would say that was a much smaller aspect than I expected. However, I am now armed with this collaboration on my portfolio as I go forward and put my brand out there for further collaborations. The knowledge and power of knowing I can achieve it with the right company to collaborate with is very motivating.
What was your biggest lesson you learnt? Good and bad.
Not to put all your eggs in one basket. I knew this at the time but it was physically impossible for me to do anything about it. I was stretched to my capacity and was unable to put any focus on my own brand, which is vital, especially for a very young brand. I had plans running through my head but zero time to execute them and even if I could, I had no time to fulfill them. As what happens to most collaborations at some point, they come to an end. It was just my small business and I again. A small business I hadn’t put any time into for the previous two years aside from this collaboration. It was a strange feeling, a little daunting and unsettling but exciting, too. I know I had all this time to do all those things I’d been saying I would do, if only I had the time. I’m still working on this and growing organically and thoughtfully.
Another lesson learnt was, bigger brands aren’t as scary as you think. They are approachable, understanding and supportive.
What advice would you give to anyone considering collaborations?
Make sure the collaboration fits with your brand and you share the same ethos. Don’t just collaborate for the sake of collaboration. It needs to be something mutually beneficial. If there are individuals or brands you would like to work with, talk to them. You may get a no or it may not transpire into something but every element will have its learning outcome. You get a no from a brand, explore why, was it the wrong brand, was your pitch not right, was it the wrong timing, etc? Use the answers to these in your planning for the next pitch. Research and pay attention to the negative responses as they will arm you with resources to get that yes. But don’t hold on to that no, use it, learn from it and move on. It wasn’t right and that’s fine.
When you do get your yes, keep true to your brand. You know what areas you are willing to compromise on, it may be a big brand or the perfect influencer but continue to weigh up the benefits to your brand too. The benefits can go far beyond monetary value, so always keep that in mind.
Follow your gut, if it feels right then go for it. If it doesn’t, then withdraw. With TOAST, as soon as I got that email it felt like an amazing fit and continued to be so. I’ve since had emails from bigger brands where it hasn’t felt right. I’ve always met with them and explored the collaboration idea further but don’t force something that doesn’t feel right just because it’s a bigger brand.
Stay connected with Sarah!