A seamstress with 25 years in the bridal industry is using her extensive experience to launch an online retail business, with support from Heart of the South West Growth Hub.
Joanne Christoforides, based in Bridgwater, is a self-taught seamstress with decades of experience running wedding dress boutiques, as well as designing and creating bespoke gowns for brides.
Following an 18-month break from the industry, Joanne has been exploring an idea to create an online retail experience, where brides can buy a basic dress but personalise it using innovative layers and embellishment to make it their own.
Having run businesses before, Joanne spent several months developing a detailed business plan. To support her planning, Joanne turned to Heart of the South West Growth Hub, having been signposted to the service through the Government run Business Support Helpline.
She said: “When I start looking into something, I look deeper and deeper. All of these services that exist can only help you if you take that first step, and if you keep the dialogue going. The onus is on you to engage, because it’s your business you’re planning.
“But once you’ve taken this step, these services can help you navigate the confusing network of support. I am just at the beginning of several working relationships that I hope will propel my business forward.”
The working business name is the Artisan Bride, and Joanne is working closely with a branding and marketing agency to develop her visual identity and online presence.
She said: “The range has been developed to be simple yet exquisite, and it’s styled to be flexible and forgiving in terms of fit. An important part of my brand is to support brides to have a no stress wedding.”
Challenges have involved obtaining accurate costings for sample products, and researching returns policies and planning this into her budget – managing volume of returns is a key aspect of running an online fashion business.
Adviser Laura Daniel referred Joanne to Get Business, Get Digital for digital marketing and online retail advice, as well as the Local Manufacturing Advisory Programme (LMAP) which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund for specialist manufacturing support.
Get Business, Get Digital enabled Joanne to receive one to one mentoring in digital marketing, which has given her up-to-date advice on how to structure a website for e-commerce.
The referral to LMAP has also helped her make sense of the variety of business finance options available, for which she is hoping to gain backing for sample development. Overall, the Growth Hub service has helped Joanne to gain confidence and to develop strategies to take her business from planning stage to launch.
“The support I’ve had has been absolutely marvellous. I’m looking forward to continued contact with the Growth Hub in the run up to my business launch.”
She is now planning for a soft launch in September 2017, in preparation for the 2018 wedding season which starts in January. If all goes well, there are plans to expand the range into bridesmaid dresses, evening wear and accessories.
To visit the Heart of the South West Growth Hub for more information and other examples of how they have made a difference to businesses click here.