5 Minutes with... Jane Lewis
Goat's Creative Director and Founder talks to La Petite Anglaise about first jobs, the decision to start her own company and what it takes to be successful in fashion.
Interview by Ella Catliff. Reproduced with the kind permission of La Petite Anglaise.
LPA: What was your first job in fashion and how did you get it?
JL: My first fashion job was assisting Elspeth Gibson. My sister’s PR company represented Elspeth and I just happened to meet her by chance. I had been working in art history and just wanted a change of scenery so I tentatively went to work as Elspeth’s assistant and then increasingly became her design assistant although I had no formal fashion training. From there I just went on to launch Goat.
LPA: Launching your own brand is a pretty high risk move but one that’s really paid of in your case. What do you feel has been the ‘secret’ to Goat’s success?
JL: Well first of all success doesn’t come instantly, I’ve been doing this for quite a long time! I think trial and error plays its part, you hone your skills and fine tune the product. But that said, I think I discovered a bit of a niche in the market. I pinpointed a gap that I felt I could fulfil and that’s made us successful and kept us growing, last season we grew 60% in one season. We’ve got a very definite idea of the product that we make and the handwriting of the company. I think that’s really important because you’ve got to stay true to your own identity and your own style.
LPA: I can imagine that being picked up by Matches, with whom you’ve subsequently had a long-standing relationship, was a pretty pivotal moment for Goat. Tell me a little about that, and the collaborations you’ve done together…
JL: We’ve had a very good relationship with Matches and, in recent years, a collaborative one which has been really fun and very rewarding. We did Goat 10 for them and we’re doing another little capsule range for them now. As a pivotal moment it’s very gratifying when somebody with that reputation picks you up and continuously supports you, the platform it gives you is priceless. Matches have this wonderful clientele and I like the way they buy, the environment in the shop, their staff and the way it’s presented online. When you don’t have your own shop you rely so heavily on somebody else’s representation of you and Matches have done it so well for us. All of our stockists do actually, we’ve been very lucky in that respect.
LPA: For many people, the idea of owning a fashion brand seems like an absolute dream. What are the realities of launching and running your own business?
JL: I think launching a business takes a combination of courage, blind faith, a little bit of stupidity and lots of tenacity. There’s never a good time to do it, you’re never going to be ready or have learnt enough. I’d never been trained to do fashion and in a way that was a blessing as I didn’t know all the pitfalls! Then it’s about perseverance really. Things go wrong but you just need to keep going and get on with it. I don’t know why I started my business really… It’s a challenge and I like that and I’ve learnt loads along the way. A lot more than I’d have learnt at school I have to say, nothing you encounter on a course could prepare you for active business.
LPA: How do you keep things fresh each season while staying true to the low-key luxe aesthetic that has become your trademark?
JL: It’s really difficult and I have that exact conversation every season with my team. Ticking the boxes that your customers want is the first order of business. You want to be fashionable and stylish but I prize style over fashion always because it endures. I think our customer is an intelligent dresser and she’s a savvy shopper so we try to offer something quite bespoke; pieces that slot into your closet and are timeless, versatile and good value. Every season I have to think very carefully how I’m going to bring that to table so I have my own process. There’s a small amount of panic, but then I just get on with it. I try and think about a 24 hour wardrobe, I think about trend and about what I want to wear actually. I always say that the catwalk is like theatre, there’s the theatre of fashion and then there’s the business of fashion and I’m in business to sell dresses to stylish, discerning people. That’s what I try to think of and then the rest follows suit.
LPA: Which other designers do you rate and why?
JL: So many! I wear a lot of Isabel Marant, especially her jersey type things, because I don’t make that kind of thing myself. I really like that sort of dressed down style. I don’t want to wear Isabel Marant head-to-toe but I admire what she does and like the aesthetic. I love A.P.C because I love the simplicity of it. It’s so chic. It’s not for everyone because sometimes it’s a bit on the geek chic side, but I love that. In that same vein I think Prada is sensational. Again I’m not going to wear a catwalk look but I love Miuccia’s bravery and her innovation.
LPA: With a variety of prestigious etailer’s already stocking Goat, why have you decided to launch your own online store?
JL: Well, I don’t want to open a shop because I don’t think now’s the time and I don’t necessarily think that’s the best way to get to our customers; we have a lot of international enquiries and I can’t service that from bricks and mortar. But we do feel it’s time to expand because we’ve got increased demand so that’s what really prompted us to launch the online store. This is our first opportunity to showcase goat in our own environment. There are still going to be people who’ll buy our pieces from Matches or My-Wardrobe which is terrific and I don’t want to detract from that, but when you go onto an own brand site you get maybe a different way of seeing the clothes put together, a different offer, a different kind of feel, my packaging… It’s our window.
LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping for a career in fashion?
JL: I think follow the path that opportunity presents, the path that fate sends you down. Doing a degree wasn’t my journey but I know so many designers who went to Central St Martins. It’s no doubt the most fantastic course and people get so much out of it, technically as well as meeting other people that are doing the same thing… But by the same token, if you don’t go to university I don’t think that matters. Just because someone’s done a degree doesn’t mean that they’re going to be the world’s greatest success and vice versa. Just think be prepared to work hard and be prepared to have a few knocks, it’s normal. Just get back in the saddle because nothing’s plain sailing. The best thing to do is just to bite the bullet and get stuck in.
Interview by Ella Catliff. Read more at www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com