Pictured above are Jade Harwood (right) with Aurelie Popper (left, with sequin jacket), Co-Founders of #WATG.
Take two fashion students who met in London, at Central Saint Martin’s School of Fashion and Textiles : Jade Harwood and Aurelie Popper. Add a former model : Lisa Sabrier, ironically she is the one who ‘scooted’ Jade and Aurelie. Pour some DIY and sustainable design urge (all sincere) to create something new and disruptive, according to the then (and still now) laws of production and distribution of fashion apparel. This gives you one of the most innovative start up in the fashion industry. The company was created in 2008 on the basis of combining low tech (knitted) products with advanced e-commerce technology and much more ! The concept grew from an idea to a successful business and is now leveraging since last summer WATG raised $ 2,8 M from Index Ventures, MMC Ventures and Wellington Partners. A major step that enables the founders to drive their shift towards new markets better equiped with relevant technologies and business solutions. Of course Wool and the Gang is not the only one company trying to renew the business of knitting. But although I have been following the beginnings and development of these other players it is only WATG that has demonstrated that it could beat it all ! Its global strategy that stretches beyond traditional CRM and customer engagement models, its digital communication, its product offer in itself … It is all a lesson for bigger players !! Here is more than a chat with Jade Harwood, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Wool And The Gang.
Madame Business : We would like to know about you and the co founders of WATG so we can understand better what it is about and how it all got started ?!!
Jade Harwood : The concept of Wool and the Gang was born out of a passion for sustainable fashion, the initial concept was to bring back knitting to make it firstly fashionable as well as easy and fast to the modern aspiring knitter. Founded by university friends Aurelie Popper and Jade Harwood alongside ex-model Lisa Sabrier. Six years ago there weren’t any fashion focused knitting kits available on the market. Over the past five years we built a community of makers, with market demand and a rising trend for transparent fashion we’ve pushed our brand further by allowing our community of Gang Makers to make clothes for our customers through our online platform. Our vision is to re-evaluate the traditional fashion business model, we want to connect people to the products they’re buying and to the people who make them. It’s all about transparency! Localized, transparent manufacture can actually speed up the traditional fashion cycle, all made possible using technology.
MB : How international is the concept now ?
JH : Wool and the Gang is a global fashion brand that believes in exceptional design that’s Made Unique. Never factory made, each Wool and the Gang item is handcrafted or knitted by the Gang – our team of artisans and makers around the world. Our designs can also be bought as easy-to-follow Knit Kits, which allows you to knit your own customised Wool and the Gang designs at home. Our goal is to deliver fast, sustainable fashion. From design concept through to finished product, the fashion industry can usually take anything from 6–12 months. We think that’s a problem, so we’re cutting that time down by empowering our Gang of Makers to create fashion from their homes. We have customer in over 48 countries and a community of knitters who are knitting from their homes around the world.
MB : What changes did you make since you we’re backed up with investment funds ? what did it enable you to achieve better and faster ?
JH : Since the investment, we moved the entire WATG operation from New York and Geneva to East London. We’re on the doorstep of the tech hub of London, the scene is buzzing with new exciting ventures especially in the fashion tech space. In addition, with the investment we grew our team to execute our vision to be a fashion brand rebooting home-manufacturing, that involved hiring a technology team to build a new exciting platform.
MB : Looking back on your experience with WATG what would you have done differently, how and why ?
JH: The startup life is one big lesson learned after the next lesson learned. We wouldn’t change the evolution of our brand. We listened to our community from the beginning, WATG launched to bring back knitting making it sexy and easy, with market demand our customers started asking for ready-made knitwear therefore we introduced knitwear made in Peru. More recently with the growing trend of fusing community, technology, fashion, we wanted to disrupt an industry that we believe is in need of a revolution to change the current fashion model for the digital age, where brands will be fuelled by communities of like-minded people. We see a shift in the fashion tech space. Brands, more than ever before, will work with their communities, helping them to connect to the products they’re buying and to the people who make them. Localised, transparent manufacture can actually speed up the traditional fashion cycle, all made possible using technology. Everything we achieved today has been has been an incremental process. Mistakes are lessons that identify how we can continue to improve. You can never stop learning.
MB : What actually differentiates Wool and the Gang from other brands in the DIY and specifically the knitting business ?
JH : Not only do we offer a collection that you can knit yourself. We have the fans of our brand powering our production. We’re offering a premium product that is accessible, made by our network of knitters to sell on their behalf to our customers. Simultaneously our Gang takes a fair cut of the sales. The Maker Movement is fostering a new generation of home manufacturing bringing it back to our kitchen tables. We are bringing back the work-from-home model to the fashion industry, the workforce doesn’t need to be offshore in some distant place, instead local makers will be empowered to pursue their passions and succeed as entrepreneurs. We see a return to simplicity. People will crave more than ever to be a part of something that is meaningful. Unleashing creativity gives people a sense of self-accomplishment and happiness. Old skills of the past, now live and breathe online, we can learn and share through the power of technology allowing us to stay connected in the physical world as well online.
MB : I personnaly consider WATG as one of the most promising lifestyle brand and concept since a long time. I think that it is a case study in itself. Lifestyle gurus have sprouted all over in various industries and clones of Martha Stewart although each bearing her/his field of expertise (food, fashion, design, media, yoga, …) are excelling in sharing their passion. All turning it into relevant businesses. I am thinking Stewart herself of course and her business ‘twin’ Oprah Winffrey but new comers as well : Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop), Tory Burch, Ambra Medda (Design Miami, L’Arco Baleno), Aerin Lauder and smaller but very smart people such as Tara Stiles, Garance Doré or any other smart newbe ! Can you comment please ?
JH : Thank you for kind words. We think these happen because people are passionate, people like Tara Stiles are building a culture around their passions, connecting with like-minded communities who share the same passions. In our case we’re really passionate about beautiful clothes that last a lifetime, clothes that don’t last only 20 minutes or end up in landfills.We are enabling people to be creative with fresh, cool and modern designs that you want to wear, when you make something for someone or yourself you feel rewarded with your achievement.
MB: Lifestyle marketing consisting mostly in driving aspiring people into a better, funnier way of life through your products, how do you engage with your consumers and how do you plan to accompany them as they evolve towards more mature and complexe behaviors ?
JH : We’re a very experiential and collaborative brand. We engage with our community with our product through events and social media, each one of these interactions is a learning experience.
MB : I really like the fact that you did changed the role of brand ambassador into the 3.0 era, turning the ‘conversation’ to actually people genuinely doing things, loving to doing it and eager to share about it with their own audience. Beyond the buzz and viral advertising requirements … Can you comment please ?
JH : We are a creative brand. We love to feed off our customers creativity as well as our own creativity. It’s a two way street.
Thank you very much Jade for sharing your entrepreneurial experience and contagious enthusiasm with us ! Meet with the Gang and its community here : woolandthegang.com
This exclusive story is part of a serie of business interviews I am currently working on and that focuses on “Innovative Lifestyle Gurus, the new Martha Stewarts : from Jenna Lyons to Aerin Lauder, women entrepreneurs creating value and empowerment out of their lifestyle”. Stay tuned !
Copyrights Wool And The Gang/ Pamela Hanson