Fashion with a conscience

Jenny Holloway - CEO of social enterprise Fashion Enter - shares the lessons she has learned from her experience as an entrepreneur - from maintaining business relationships over a long period of time, to knowing when to ask for help.

Philanthropy and partnerships are central to Jenny Holloway's most recent business venture - Fashion Enter. So much so, in fact, that in 2016 she won the 'Not For Profit and Social Enterprise Women In Business' award hosted by Forward Ladies.

Her background is, however, in fashion buying, and it was an unexpected turn of events that led her down the not for profit path.

Having worked in top jobs at Littlewoods, Arcadia and Marks & Spencer, Holloway founded her own label in 1991. After 10 successful years, she approached a competitor about a merger. An agreement was made, but at the 11th hour, the other party reneged.

A change of focus

This was a turning point for Holloway: “It was a real game changer,” she says. “We nearly lost everything. We had two children and the third was on the way. We had to start all over again from the beginning, and because of what I'd been through I decided to focus on giving other people in the industry a leg up - I wanted to make sure they didn't make the mistakes I did.”

Her first step was to approach the London Development Agency. She worked with Business Link for London and the London Fashion Forum, advising young designers and helping them start their careers.

A new venture

At this point, knowing she would never return to the commercial world, Holloway progressed her offering by opening a shop in Croydon where these designers could sell their items.

“We were making recommendations to them about getting garments made and they were coming back to us in tears telling us that they'd been ripped off. So we decided to open up our own sampling service.”

Use your network

While enabling others is a huge part of her business model, Holloway is more than comfortable with admitting when she is out of her depth. Despite having decided to branch out into this field, Holloway admits, “I didn't have a clue about production.”

So she reached out to an old contact: “There was a gentleman that I'd met when we were doing our own collection about 15 years ago and he'd been fantastic - providing me with relevant advice and networking me to machinists. I just rang him up and said, “You've got to help me, Michael!””

So how did she maintain these professional relationships over such a long period of time? “I'm a great believer in picking up the phone. I often feel that email doesn't get the job done. You really have to have relationships with people and people have to trust you. Social networking and media both have an important role to play, but if you want meaningful relationships in business, people have to really know you.”

Social networking and media both have an important role to play, but if you want meaningful relationships in business, people have to really know you.

Don't be shy about seizing opportunities

In the same way that she's not afraid to ask for support, Holloway knows when and how to put herself out there. This is perfectly illustrated by the way in which a collaboration with ASOS, which brought the company to the scale it operates at today, came about.

“About 10 years ago our young designers were showcasing on ASOS and we were making the press samples for them. So I approached them and said: “It's all about fast-track production now - you need a factory.” So they invested £230,000 in us to open one up. How amazing is that?”

With more than 100 employees and many impressive clients, the enterprise now offers mentoring, apprenticeships and highly sought-after professional qualifications in the fashion industry.

Secrets of success

So what characteristics of her own does she think helped to enable this? “I'm a big believer in integrity and honesty. People know that if they ask me for an opinion I'm not going to give them any flannel,” she says.

“My view is if you don't want an honest answer to a question then don't ask me. In turn, people know my word is my bond. I think that's one of reasons I've maintained so many long-term connections, and these are in turn what have contributed to our success. And of course, I wouldn't have achieved a fraction of what I have without our staff - who are all such dynamic team players.”

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