A year ago today I put my money where my mouth was and launched my new brand, DressCode Shirts. A business inspired by a glitch that started a process of investigation, education and the realisation of dreams, lets be honest. Concepts that have led to designs, and designs that have built a business that I am very proud of. Like any young business it has been a roller coaster year featuring some amazing highs and the occasional low as well. Here’s a few of my personal highlights.

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The Launch

Everyone likes a party and there’s nothing quite like the launch of products that you have designed and produced to get you excited and nervous in equal measure. Believe it or not, I don’t relish the limelight, I appreciate the need to let people know what’s happening but I’m used to playing more of a conductor roll, where I’m often out of site, pulling the strings, creating the buzz from a safe distance. But when it’s your thing, people want to see you, meet you and hear the story, so being front and central at a launch party was a ‘must have’.

Dress Code Launch

As you might imagine, there was a lot of preparation that went into sourcing the venue, the speakers – thank you Jon Torrens and Dan Sodergren for excellent, fun and informative talks, the people to meet, greet and serve food, drink and a whole host of other things – thank you to the Drive Tribe, notably Ann Hawkins and Louise Lee.

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As I’ve said, I do have experience in creating these types of events for clients, but when it’s your own thing the pressure is really on, not only is your professional reputation on the line, but you want to give the new business the best possible start in life too.

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I’m pleased to say that things went pretty much to plan, there were a couple of teething issues with the payment platform, despite numerous test transactions in the ‘developer’ mode, switching over to the live site threw a couple of curved balls our way. Thankfully they were rectified almost straight away leaving me free to get on with the important work of introducing people to the product and walking them through what we’d been designing and producing.

My clients always want to know about the ROI, budget control and measureable outcomes. I have always treat DressCode in exactly the same way that I would a client. Looking at the customer experience, the early touch points, the medium and big picture. The budget was tightly controlled (and maintained, coming in just under the quoted costs), we had a host of measured outcomes and KPI’s that we tracked on the evening and have monitored, segmented and developed over the course of this year. The bottom line, the ROI, the launch event set the tone that I wanted for the business and allowed us to learn a lot about both potential customers and customers in a very short time.

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Many firsts

DressCode is also an active case study for the brand work we deliver in ‘Busy as AB’, so the pressure was on. This is my first fashion collection, my first business outside of branding and marketing, my first products…the list goes on, let’s just say that there were a lot of firsts involved in developing the brand and the business.

Having an active case study is really important for Busy as AB. We have great relationships with our clients, but many of them really like the fact that we sail below the radar, out of site, helping them to look great and connect well with their customers, really understanding their business, the products and services and how they link into peoples lives.

I’m not just saying this because it’s the work that I’m involved with, but it is powerful stuff and as a result a lot of clients prefer to keep us ‘up their sleeve’, happy to give personal recommendations but less happy to share the differences we’ve made to their business with the world through case studies. DressCode rewrites that, we’ve developed the concept, the brand and everything associated with it, so we can talk about it with authority, share our learnings and best practice, improving the work we deliver for other clients and showcasing what we do, with a tangible working example.

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Bright lights

When starting something new, your enthusiasm carries you a long way. Of course there are times when you question your sanity…why am I doing this? Knowing what success means to you and those around you is really important, there’s many ways you can measure the activities that you’re doing, but real success and joy comes from places you don’t always imagine.

I always thought it would be nice to be recognised by the major publications one day, but that day came quicker than I’d imagined with the opportunity to work with GQ coming weeks after the launch. This was then followed by a host of other fashion and culture titles who wanted to work with us. The feeling when this happened was nothing short of amazing, it was like walking on air, we’d made a connection with some of the biggest players in fashion, now comes the hard part, developing those relationships.

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In the past year we’ve had more approaches to collaborate than I ever thought possible, culminating a few weeks ago with an enquiry from a TV production studio in L.A who are developing a new Netflix series and feel DressCode can play a part in the narrative of that programme. This was just amazing to hear.

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We have also worked and supported some of the biggest online influencers including –

Brian Solis – Speaker, award winning author and global innovator

Dan Sodergren – BBC tech correspondant

Jason Bradbury – Tech commentator

Tom Cheesewright – Book of the Future

Martin Bryant – Big Revolution

DressCode shirts have been worn around the world at conferences and many other live events including SXSW, Let’s Test in South Africa, PechaKucha 20×20 and almost weekly on the BBC ‘red sofa’. We have global reach with customers in Australia, Canada, the US and across Europe.

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If you’ve done anything like this yourself, you’ll know that there is simply no better feeling then hearing others say that they searched you out, love your product and want to work with you. When that comes from an international fashion title or global influencer I found myself, double taking, checking that this was really happening, the sense of fulfilment and validation has been enormous!

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Who’s wearing my shirt?

This will sound a bit crazy, but it’s the truth, it had never really occurred to me what it would feel like to walk into a room and see customers wearing the shirts. I’m not sure why, but I can tell you, it’s one of the greatest feelings, there’s nothing more personally rewarding than seeing others enjoying the products.

It makes all the hard work worthwhile, hearing the stories, the journeys and experiences where our shirts have played a pivotal role is amazingly rewarding on a very personal level. I am grateful to every one of our customers, their support and encouragement has been my personal inspiration, validation and joy, heaps and heaps of joy – thank you all.

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Sustainability

Is very much a central theme in fashion right now and we’re pleased to say that we’re not ‘fast-fashion’, we believe in buying quality items that last, so that’s what we make. We have done everything possible to minimise our environmental impact when sourcing materials and production that is sustainable. We work with those who share our values. Such is our confidence about what we produce that we have introduced a series of experiments that will explore the longevity of our shirts, we’re videoing these and will be sharing the results soon.

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Learning from doing

I’ve always prided myself on being ‘busy’, using my time well and always delivering the goods. When I look back at the past 12 months I now know that what I previously thought was good time management and project delivery was actually full of holes.

Developing DressCode has sharped my skills no end, I’ve really had to up my personal game. First and foremost throughout this process it was imperative to me that Busy as AB should benefit from the energy that was going into DressCode. Making sure everyone involved in delivering for both businesses had access to, and could understand the vision for both companies was really important.

I wanted my team to feel involved across both, supportive of one another and both businesses. We worked really hard to keep everyone connected, updated and aligned with where this project was going. It wasn’t always easy, there were a few moments of harsh reality for me for sure, but we’ve got there. We’ve achieved more in 12 months than many businesses do over much longer periods, so I’m confident that we can deliver and more importantly we can scale the team and our workflow.

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Dark corners

I’m not going to lie, there have been darker moments as well – cash flow, the life blood of every business, remains tricky as we have a lot of upfront investments that we need to make.

DressCode is all about quality, there’s no cutting corners, we use the best materials for every aspect of the business and that has associated costs. Managing the cash flow, explaining to people that we’d love to be involved with their events and publications, but as a start-up we’re unable to commit the physical resource and financial commitment can be really frustrating, watching opportunities slip by, but then I have to remind myself that we’re not even 1 year old and we are being regularly approached by major events, publications and influencers to work with them. So we’re doing lots of things right, being patient and maintaining a securely grounded outlook is critical.

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Work life balance

We all aim for work and life in perfect balance, at times I have achieved it, maintaining it is probably the trickiest part for everyone, it remains a constant personal goal for me. As a start-up you’re wearing lots of hats and I am no exception, as we (both Busy as AB and DressCode) grow and mature the balance will improve. I believe that it has to in order for the businesses and the people within them to flourish. Whilst we have many business directives and goals, we also have a responsibility to one another, to our own well-being and that of those around us.

Developing DressCode has really brought home the value of time with my family and friends. The re-charge zone, the place that I can switch off from it all. This usually involves 2 wheels and mountains for me, though I try to take a small amount of time every day that is just for me. This is reflective, contemplative time, to be mindful and to be grateful for those who work with me. I feel this is really important, not in a self-indulgent way, but to ensure that I am being my best, supporting and collaborating with those around me in the most constructive ways.

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Next steps

What does year two hold? Well I know what we have planned, the exact direction of travel but every aspect of that plan is not within our control, and nor should it be. We know where a lot of things will take us, but there will always be the unexpected and the unusual – these are the things that make for the most interesting learning and memorable parts of the business journey, overcoming adversity and embracing change.

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Our CashCuff®smart clothing – shirts are about to be launched. These shirts feature contactless payment control embedded into the cuff, hence the name. These new products see us pushing the boundaries of shirt design and construction, integrating NFC technology and control with a super simple operation and UX that we believe will help people as they go about they daily lives.

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Insights and data

The CashCuff® development was influenced by a number of things, (full blog here) without a doubt one of the major contributing factors was data. This has proved to be a powerful signpost for the general direction of the business, validating our thinking and providing depth, real human characteristics – wants and needs to what we do. With that depth comes understanding, allowing us to better connect with our customers in human ways.

The CashCuff® is one of the first pieces of smart clothing to come to market, it follows in a similar vein to Google’s Project Jacquard in collaboration with Levi’s, which has recently been updated with the Saint Laurent Tag bag. Our vision is simple, life is so hectic these days, there’s so many distractions, we need things to make life simpler, we believe the CashCuff® can do that.

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New Designs

It’s that time again, butterflies in the stomach, just like the launch last year, only this time there’s more expectation in my opinion. We’ve established a strong brand this year, that brand will be judged by it’s ability to continuously deliver and there’s no greater opportunity to demonstrate our commitment and passion then our second collection.

Initial reactions have been very promising, the design and colour choices that we made 4 months ago were recently validated when Pantone revealed their colours of the moment last week, ahead of London Fashion Week. To our absolute delight we are already using many of these within this second collection, knowing that our thinking is aligned with that of a global professional body, the likes of Pantone is reassuring.

We’re now just a few weeks away from releasing these new designs to the public, so the nerves are really kicking in, because whilst we believe in what we’re doing until the shirts surface we’ll be guessing, hoping, crossing fingers and even praying that our customers love them as much as we do.

Visit www.dresscodeshirts.co.uk to see all the latest developments and register for further details about the CashCuff®