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Allie Lawson and Jack Williams launch their clothing business Elsie and Arthur with £8,000 loan!


Allie Lawson (@AliZora), 20 and Jack Williams (@FreeAirGuitars), 21, may only be young but next month sees the launch of their second business, Elsie and Arthur (@ElsieandArthur). The duo secured an £8,000 loan from the School for Start Ups fund, founded by ex-Dragon’s Den investor Doug Richards to kick start their dream of selling a range of high quality clothing and accessories. Jem Collins (@Jem_Collins) caught up with pair to ask what they’ve learnt from their past ventures and why they want to run a business instead of study.

Where did the idea come from for Elsie and Arthur? Was it something you've always wanted to do?

We’ve always been on the lookout for new business ideas, and we both invest a lot of our own money into clothing, so instead we’ve decided to give ourselves free clothing for life! In all seriousness, we’ve got a great set of combined skills which we know work well together. Elsie & Arthur was actually born on a long car journey!

What’re the chances of you summing it all up in a paragraph?

Elsie & Arthur is a premium country-clothing brand from the depths of Devon. Our clothing is made from high quality materials, in simple, flattering designs. Our launch range includes wool and cashmere knitwear, summer dresses, and silk scarves.

At Elsie & Arthur, we mix old with the new, hopefully creating a brand that reflects our British heritage, as well as quality and elegance.

You previously launched a company selling secondhand textbooks to students when you were at college. How do you think that experience has helped you with the launch of E&A?

The main thing we learnt was that a business will never succeed unless you’re passionate about it. Our last business was set up when I (Allie) was just 16 – we achieved a lot considering our age but our hearts were never in secondhand books, unlike with E&A.

We’ve obviously had a loan invested in E&A, which we probably wouldn’t have risked in our last business as we weren’t confident that it could work, or that we wanted to spend the foreseeable future selling books. It’s different with this business, however, and we have put financial means and time and effort into making sure that we have a successful launch.

You mentioned that you've been supported by some schemes and loans. How did that come about and how much help has it been?

We believed in our brand so much that we knew to give it the kick-start it need we needed a sum of money that we couldn’t provide. We searched around and applied for a few things, and were successful with the School for Startups scheme, which was founded by original Dragons Den investor Doug Richards.

I’d definitely recommend any young entrepreneur that has a business proposal and plan, and has worked out the figures, to apply to this scheme. We’ve had emails from the Startup Loans company supporting us, whose main mentor is another ex-Dragons Den investor, James Caan.

So what advice would you give to another young person looking to set up a business?

Do your research. There are so many schemes out there willing to help young people, it just takes time to apply to them. I would definitely recommend saving your answers because by the fifth application you’ll be bored of writing the same thing, and end up leaving stuff out and in turn writing a rubbish application.

Secondly, make sure you are passionate about the thing you are creating or selling. If it doesn’t excite you then there’s something wrong – since we came up with Elsie and Arthur we have been living in E&A land, and we don’t want to leave!

Both of you are still current at uni, which makes this launch even more impressive! How do you manage to juggle it all?

Allie: I’ve never been one to just study; in all honesty my heart isn’t in academia but in the practical side of things, such as running a business and managing the marketing for it. Being at university and my interest in the media has certainly helped though, giving me contacts in unlikely places (from an embroiderer who embroidered our netball hoodies, to a PR company who is managing publicity for the brand).

Jack: Like Allie I’ve always been very practical, but it’s been worthwhile learning the theory to give me a base of what to and not to do in practice.

How involved do you get with the creative side of the business? What's your least favourite part of it all?

We’re very involved. At this stage we wouldn’t put our trust and money in someone else’s decision; at least this way anything good (or bad) that happens is on us, and our decisions. I came up with the penny farthing logo, and it’s just a case of getting an artists to create something following our exact instructions.

My least favourite part of the business is saying no to cool ideas we have. While we were given a loan, we weren’t given a crazy amount of money to play with, so there’s been times when we’ve wanted to buy something for our event stall, or get an item made in an extra colour, but we simply don’t have the budget to do everything. The way I get around this is by saying, when the time comes and we have enough to be a little adventurous, I’ll get to do all of the things I wanted.

Do you find it quite hard to get the word out there about your brand? How do you stand out against other big name players? 

It’s never going to be easy starting out and competing, but as long as we keep remembering that we are at the bottom and have to work our way up then we won’t be disheartened by the challenges. Everything takes time; give it a year and hopefully we’ll be known by many.

What made you decide you were going to be an entrepreneur and not going to just try and get a part time job?

We both want to work for ourselves, and ultimately the only way this will happen is by starting up a business sooner rather than later. We both understand that sometimes things don’t work out, so the earlier we start hopefully the earlier we will achieve success. I (Allie) have a learnt a lot of skills from various part-time jobs, including team management and brand marketing. I know that I can use these skills to benefit myself and work towards my ideal future.

Where do you see yourselves and the business in 3 years time?

Hopefully, by then we’ll have graduated and be running the business full time. Our aim is to double the size of our business every year, so we’re launching with 40 different products now, maybe our spring/summer collection in 3 years time will have 320 different products! That sounds a lot, but clothing is a huge market, with space for us to move into accessories, shoes, bags, and more.

And finally, what do you think success is?

In my mind success is being happy; so really the question is what is happiness? I’d love to be happily running a business that’s constantly achieving new things. What’s the point in coasting along, you always need an aim or a goal otherwise you’ll get bored.

Elsie and Arthur launches on May 10 and you can find out more by visiting their Facebook, Twitter or website.

We are always keen to here your views, please do let us know what you think of these articles. If you know any young businesses from your area you would like us to profile, please get in touch.