Anna Lou of London started out as an experiment at Portobello Market and became a globally-distributed label, with a huge celebrity fan-base in just seven years.
Designer Anna Lou Trent tells us how her colourful kitsch jewellery business has evolved.
|What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out?
The company started soon after I had a stall on Portobello Market. I didnít know my hobby of selling bracelets would turn into proper company occupying my time full-time! It was only when I started selling into Harvey Nichols and other boutiques I set up a limited company. A struggle has been self funding the business because I have never received a bank loan or had a private investor. This is down to not having had the time to sit down and write a full business plan. I set my goals year to year but I would like to find an active investor or VC who can work with me to grow the business in the future.
What sets Anna Lou of London apart from its competitors?
I feel the exhuberant use of colour and kitsch design really stands out. I have a lot of designs that you will not see elsewhere and my signature pieces, like the inital necklaces and enamel bangles, are instantly recognisable.
How important is the location and history of the company to its success?
I feel having a market stall first was a great way to trial and test new collections to see if customers actually like the pieces before taking them to buyers. It also shows people that want to start their own business that anyone can do it. I had no business experience and got advice from the Portobello Business Centre for the first year. Also, itís not hard or expensive running a stall but if your product doesnít sell there it wonít sell in a store or online.
Another advantage of being from London is that many of my customers from very early on have always been based in Japan. I work with Isetan, Hankyu and Takashimaya departments stores as well as United Arrows and select shops in Tokyo. Therefore designing and making jewellery in London was important from the start.
|How has the product offering changed over the years and how would you describe your current collection?
I began working with lots of beads and chains and the collections were more directional and sophisticated at the beginning. Then I went down more a kitsch acrylic look and now I am managing to mix both together. So the pieces are a fusion of directional kitsch sophistication. I am currently working with the festival collection which consists of bright acrylic earrings, gold plated charm bracelets, long gold plated pendants and neon enamel bangles. Use of vibrant colour remains throughout all of my collections. The pieces are being snapped up by the likes of Eliza Doolittle for all her festival performances this summer. She is a big fan of the Happiness pendant and the ĎEí initial necklace.
How often does Anna Lou of London launch new lines?
I tend to keep my signature pieces consistently throughout the seasons, these are the products that really earmark Anna Lou of London, I often alter or vary the designs throughout the year but remain true to the original.
What are the current best-selling designs and tell us about the recent campaigns?
The current best selling designs would be the stacked square and chevron enamel bangles. They play on the current colour block trend and can be worn in a multitude of different colour combinations complimenting any outfit. You can keep it simple with a couple of different colours, match them up or pile them all on at once. Sunday Times Style loved these bangles and featured them on their Hot List a couple of weekends ago.
Which trade shows do you attend and which one works best for Anna Lou of London?
Pure, London Fashion Week, Premiere Classe and Bubble. Pure is the best for gaining customers in the UK but internationally Premiere Classe is great.
When was the website launched and how does it support the business?
The website supports the business entirely. All of my sales are conducted online and it compliments my stock featured in top boutiques perfectly. All of the products are displayed clearly and concisely they are very easy to find and the press exposure for the brand is constantly updated pointing the consumer straight to a product they may have seen in a magazine that week.
|What have been the key milestones in the business?
There are many milestones I can think of. The moving from my house to an office 6 years ago was the first big step, then taking on staff and learning how to manage people is hard, the opening of a shop and the high costs involved, dealing with contracts, moving production from in-house to having everything made in a small factory, logistics is always hard when you are a busy company working with large department stores as they have strict criteria to follow for delivery etc, and the hardest has been juggling having a baby and working. When number 2 comes along in November thatíll be another challenge!
How do you view the current market and what trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging over the coming months?
The current market is undoubtedly harder than it used to be. Independent boutiques used to place orders of an average of £1000 and now spending £400 is struggle for buyers. The confidence has dropped. The buyers seem to be ordering many times per season but with smaller quantities. I have lots of loyal customers though so I always make sure delivery is on time and the product is of a very high quality. I include gift bags, press images and POS as well to assist with the sales.
I think customers are still looking for classic pieces with a bit of an edge. They want pieces that are versatile.
What are the future plans for Anna Lou of London?
I am happy running the business as I am from my little office and hope to continue to manage to look after my children for the time being.
Once they are old enough to go to nursery I will consider growing the business. I am working on developing more products but I am taking small steps and when the time is right I will launch them!
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
The products Iíd like to add to the collection in the near future are scarves, stationary, and candles.