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Signature Cashmere: “Focus on your unique selling point and long-term vision”

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Robert and Katy Appleford started their luxury pashmina company 20 years ago. In 2021, they relaunched themselves as Signature Cashmere, continuing their focus on fairly traded garments handwoven by master craftsmen in Nepal.

“Build an ethical business”

Pay it forward tips

  • Communicate your values and work with partners who align with them
  • Focus on your unique selling point (USP) and stick to your long-term vision
  • If dealing cross-border, find a way to manage international payments quickly and efficiently
A close up of a person pointing at lots of different coloured tassels

Being under cold air conditioning delivered Robert and Katy Appleford a brilliant business idea. “It was 2003 and we were living in Thailand,” says Katy, who was teaching English while Robert was on sabbatical from his job as a lawyer. “At the time, I was buying pashminas for us to wear ourselves, because there is so much air con in Bangkok – every taxi and train has it. You always needed a pashmina, regardless of weather or climate.

Robert, who had experience in building websites and wanted to use that skill to start a business, realised they had struck gold. “They were lightweight, didn’t cost a lot of money, and were easy to put in an envelope and ship worldwide,” he says. Pashminas it was. The pair took an unusual next step: they hit pause. Thailand wasn’t to be a permanent home and, 12 months later they returned to the UK, started a family, and passed the business to Robert’s mum, who ran it successfully for 17 years.

Following her death in 2021, they relaunched the company with a new name and a push to reach new markets. “Before our rebrand we were trading as a sole trader business and HSBC Kinetic was a great fit, being quick to set up with everything in the app,” says Robert.

Focus on your unique selling point

As Katy and Robert expanded the business they moved their finances to the Business Banking Account*. “It had no initial fees, and that 12-month fee-free period was really good for us in the first year; although we had a solid foundation, we were managing expenses and cashflow like a start-up. We needed help to grow from our micro business mentality to a vision of something much bigger.”

At that point - they’d decided their core trade should remain internet retail. But they found it hard not to get distracted with the real-life promotion opportunities of their touchy-feely pashminas. “I was keen to get the product out to market on the back of the proverbial cart and go around selling them,’ says Robert. “We did quite a few fairs, and it took a lot of time and effort. Dividing the business between an internet one and a physical, shop-based one was our biggest strategic error. We should have focused on our USP.”

Close up of a blue Signature Cashmere scarf

Looking after workers and the planet

When Robert and Katy first came back to the UK in 2004 they made sure their new supplier offered fair pay; they also wanted to ensure they could send wages promptly even when earthquakes strike, as happened in 2015. “Smaller banks don’t have the global reach of HSBC. Our only suppliers are in Nepal, so we needed a bank that could manage those international payments quickly and efficiently,” says Robert.

The supplier they chose also supported a place at the local orphanage; their understanding of exactly where their product comes from is a big part of their ethos. “The goat herders really look after the goats that the cashmere wool comes from, as this is their livelihood,” says Katy. “Our supplier has had the same craftsmen working for them for 20 years.” Their cashmere has longevity. “We’re not a fast fashion business,” says Robert. We focus on quality products that will last.”

Play the long game

Back yourself, says Robert. “Many times in life you’ll come up with a great idea and then just get on with your normal life. You need to take the risk, focus on your USP and stick to your long-term vision. HSBC UK take our values seriously – they genuinely want to help communities and care about these global issues.”

The app-based HSBC Kinetic Current Account is subject to application, eligibility and credit check. Terms and conditions and fees apply.

The HSBC Business Banking Account is subject to application, eligibility and credit check. Terms and conditions and fees apply.

*Free banking for 12 months means no account maintenance fee and free standard transactions on your primary account, any additional or secondary accounts will be charged in line with the Business Banking Account.

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