FASHION DESIGN SOLUTIONS
BFW Talks to Mat Salter, Managing Director of Fashion Design Solutions.
Brighton Fashion Week was invited to talk to the managing director of Fashion Design Solutions. With our sustainable catwalk show only a month behind us and our mission to create systemic change with the production and supply sector, we were more than happy to find out more about FDS and their future goals…
Can you tell our readers about your background?
Fashion has been in my family a long time before I ever graced this planet. My father studied at the London College of fashion in the 70’s and has worked for some of the biggest names, from Chelsea Menswear (later becoming River Island), to Wrangler, Pepe Jeans and many, many others. Later on in my career, I started a sourcing company supplying many of the well-known retailers such as Topman and All Saints.
When I turned 17 I followed in my father’s footsteps and joined his sourcing company as a junior assistant!
As long as I can remember fashion has been a daily part of my life. I have always had a love for design and experimented with software such as Illustrator & Photoshop. With the help from my father in understanding fabrics & garment constructions, I soon worked my way up to become an aspiring junior fashion designer within his company.
After being there for 7yrs I decided to spread my wings and gain experiences in other sectors. I have worked for several sourcing companies, initially in the design departments and later as senior designer and brand manager. I have learnt many areas of the business and being a ‘jack of all trades’ has suited me very well!
After a further 5yrs working for others I decided to become a freelance designer and that’s when Fashion Design Solutions was born.
Can you tell us a little more about Fashion Designs Solutions?
Fashion Design Solutions has changed over the years. Initially I set it up as a freelance design consultancy and gradually moved into sourcing. To date, fundamentally, we’re a supply chain management company. We help start up as well as established brands & retailers with the supply chain. We take designs from 2D drawings, develop the samples & control the production process for our customers, all the way through to delivery.
Our UK office is customer facing, working with customers on designs, details & sales.
Our Turkish office is factory facing, placing products with our suppliers, chasing samples, making sure products are correct. We help start up as well as experienced brands & retailers take their products from concept through to delivery.
3) How did you get involved with Fashion Design Solutions?
Initially I set FDS up as a freelance design concept. Just me, my dining room table and a credit card debt to buy my first iMac. I quickly took on clients through contacts I knew and got to a point that I had to either turn away business or outsource the design work. I began to outsource and started putting projects together for other freelance designers and managed the process between them and the client.
One of my customers asked for help sourcing their products. I turned to a factory I knew in Turkey from previously working in my fathers company. That then continued to grow, taking on more and more design clients and turning that into sourcing projects. All this workload took place in less than an 18month period!!
This is when we took our first UK office and first full time member of staff! Over the next 3yrs the business has grown from strength to strength. We now have offices in UK, Turkey & Pakistan. We have over 16 full time members that make up the core team and we cater for a variety of different customers across multiple product genres.
The business also expanded this year into a new area with the launch of our e-commerce web site ThomasGun.com. This site sells many of the brands FDS produces directly to consumers.
How have you developed your company from a freelance design & consultancy agency into an international brand, Fashion Design Solutions?
With hard work, late nights, dedication and love! It’s not easy starting a business and I believe it takes a certain type of person to do it. It’s normal for me to work a 14-16hr day, 6 days a week. I think you can safely say I am a workaholic! I love the challenge and I enjoy work so it doesn’t feel too much like work some times. What has helped me in my career was gaining experience through previous roles and then applying that knowledge where applicable.
You can’t force a business to grow! Unless you have a large capital investment you have to rely on organic growth. Not too fast and not too slow.
One thing I have learnt over the years, the bigger the company grows and the more people you employ, doesn’t mean you can take it easy. Actually the complete opposite! With personnel and growth comes more questions, more areas you have to learn and more time you have to commit. It’s a lifestyle not just a business!
At heart I’m a menswear fashion designer yet I’ve not been able to design a single product myself in years. It’s all accounts and excel sheets now-a-days! As a business owner you have to be able to do everything inside and out. Running you own business is a steep learning curve. Always lead by example! I believe, if you have the fundamental experience of your sector, dedication and a love of what you do, you can succeed!
We know your products are produced according to the ethical manufacturing and trading policies. Could you please explain in depth a little more of what this entails?
Every single one of our factories is audited independently. In addition we perform our own on-going random checks. The auditors access the working conditions and hazards in a factory. For example: no child labour, acceptable working hours, working wage and health and safety are examples of obvious ones.
Less obvious are things like chemicals, print ink’s, dye’s, etc. Only staff of a certain age can handle these substances and equipments. Correct protective clothing needs to be worn and the chemicals disposed of safely.
Other less obvious things include x-ray machines. Each and every garment is x-rayed to make sure there’s no metal content. You wouldn’t want a broken needle turning up in your child’s Christmas present! All our factories are independently audited and all abide by these strict rules. You wouldn’t believe some of the modern things garment factories have in them.
Additional things to consider, whilst not strictly ethically based, are the quality control procedures. We have both in-line and end of line quality control. In line quality control performs spot inspections during the production process. They identify problems and solve them before they occur. End of line quality control perform final checks on garments at random before they are shipped.
We abide by industry standards 5% AQL reports (checking 5% of any production quality). Should a problem be found inside that inspection, they are dealt with promptly. A common example being oil marks, which need to be washed out or excess threads from the stitching process, which needs to be cut away. Should a more serious issue be found we could request the production to be re-processed or even re-made. No garments leave our factories without us checking them first.
How challenging is it to keep these ethics in mind during production?
Not too difficult. Most retailers are very conscious of ethical trading and therefore factories tend to conform to these (at least in Turkey where we predominantly work). Whilst it’s fashionable to use new techniques and washes, it is also widely known which techniques are safe! An example being, avoid nickel (a cancerous substance) in metal zips.
What are your opinions on sustainable fashion?
I’m a big believer in branded fashion, as I believe they are good quality products. Fashion Design Solutions cater for the mass market and do not operate in the volume sector. We work with high quality, lower MOQ (minimum order quantity) for brands and retailers.
Personally I’m not a fan of the high volume, low priced market. I don’t believe you should be able to buy a t-shirt for under £5.00. If you as a consumer are buying a product at this price, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that the garment has been produced somewhere around the world, where a person making the garment only makes a few pennies to stitch it. Think about how many third parties that garment might have been passed through before it gets in store.
I believe fast fashion is the most un-ethical part of our industry to-date, yet it seems to be accepted by millions of people in the UK alone. I don’t believe it’s being addressed quick enough. If only the consumer would stand up and vote. Only then will we see change, yet I fear it will never come.
I’m not advocating that we should bring production back to the UK, I’m a realist not an optimist. I believe it would take years of investment to be able to do this on a mass scale. We have lost the skills set needed in this area and the retail cost would increase too much. This said, I think there’s a happy medium of quality product at the right price without exploiting anyone in the process.
We know you work closely with Thomas Gun, How does this company link in with Fashion Design Solutions?
Fashion Design Solutions is a supply chain management company to brands and retailers. ThomasGun.com is the newest area of our business. It is our new ecommerce website offering the latest seasonal collections direct to consumers.
Here you can find the latest products from the established to the best up and coming brands.
Thomas Gun only went online last year. What is your next step to expand the brand?
Over the next few seasons our plan is to develop and grow the products we offer as well as increasing the sites marketing visibility. All products in store are good quality, branded fashion labels. Eventually we aim to be selling our own label, offering core wardrobe everyday casuals. The journey has only just begun with ThomasGun.com but we have big goals for the business. We’ll be approaching this business in the same way that Fashion Design Solutions has grown. Lots of hard work, commitment, organic growth and love!
Where do you see Fashion Design Solutions in the next 5 years? Do you have any plans for further expansion?
Fashion Design Solutions is expanding weekly it seems! Our client base is ever growing and is built up of loyal existing customers as well as new customers who are coming on board each season.
We’ve not scratched the surface of what can yet be achieved. At this moment in time we are mostly menswear based, but we’ll be moving into women’s wear as well as exploring additional product groups and additional supply routes. We predominately work in the branded sector but there are other sectors of the fashion industry we wish to explore and supply. It really is a very exciting time for us right now!