Meet the Makers: Hannah Lavery

Meet the Makers is an ongoing series in support of 10and5’s new concept store Creators’ Depot, where we learn the ins and outs of running a successful creative business from those doing it best. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Hannah Lavery, the founder of the women’s wear brand striking an elegant balance between “pajamas and power suits”. Lavery opens up about getting the brand off the ground and what it takes to run the business now, nearly a decade after launching.

Tell us about your brand, Hannah Lavery, and how it was established. 

The brand was started at the beginning of 2012 straight after I finished college. It was one of those relatively lucky moments where things just sort of fell into place and I was able to start small and slowly build the brand up. I had a part time job for the first year and a half and really only fully immersed myself in it after that, and then soon afterwards we opened our store at the Watershed.  

What led you to starting your own clothing brand?

I had studied law before I had studied fashion and I guess the thinking for me was if I just went into a corporate job in fashion then I may as well have stayed in law. I loved the idea of creating something from scratch – the urge to create something is really what pulled me away from law in the end so when the moment arose, I just decided to try.  

It is a known fact that starting and building a business comes with some challenges. What are some of the challenges you experienced in the beginning phases of establishing your brand? 

In the beginning for me it was all money, money, money. I didn’t start with some grand business plan or investment or any real cash startup amount at all so I could grow only as fast as I sold. Which really is a great incentive to make sure your product is right for the market.

How were you able to overcome these challenges? 

I kept my part time job for as long as necessary which meant that I could re-invest almost all the money I made in the beginning. I kept my expenses low by working my own stands at markets, having my ‘studio’ in the attic of my apartment and storing my stock in my garage. It’s just a hustle in the beginning unless you have some real investment. 

For many entrepreneurs, funding is usually a challenge, and as you have mentioned, this was the biggest challenge for you as well. Are there organisations in place within the fashion and textile industry that assist with funding for start-ups? 

The CDI has supported quite a few events that we have done and we have been sent to international trade shows. I know Wesgro does this too, but I am not that clued up on this unfortunately.  

From starting your brand right out of college to opening you first store at the Watershed, how has your business grown over the years?

We are closing in our 10th birthday at the start of next year so looking back it is crazy to think of where we have come to where we are now.  The most noticeable part is to see how our team has grown – we have gone from a one woman show to a team of 20 with some of the team members having been there since almost the beginning.  We now have two of our own retail stores (in Cape Town and Joburg) as well as multiple stockists across the country and more around the world. 

Sourcing fabrics and materials that are distinct to your brand sounds like quite an exciting process – and maybe a taxing one, too. Can you tell us about this process and what goes into making the perfect garment? 

Sourcing materials really is quite difficult in South Africa, but luckily we don’t go on the hunt for new materials very often because we keep the same base fabrics in our range for a long time because it is part of our ethos to create a wardrobe and a range that can be mixed and matched across the years so that you can buy something today and know that it will work with the pants you bought two years ago or the jacket you buy in two years time. Because of that, our designs often come out of where there is a gap in the range. The gaps appear and we design the garments to fill those gaps so that the range is organically updating.  

Briefly fill us in on the behind the scenes of running a business. 

Now that we have a bigger team, for me running the business really involves consulting my team members to help solve problems they are encountering or pushing them to change or to aim for new targets, but they are really carrying the load of the operations work in their individual departments. Because of this it’s not easy to get to sit and do one thing for very long so I am often darting from production to shoots to meetings about planning to sales training – I’m generally always on the move. 

In what ways does running an online store differ from running a physical store? 

The most obvious way for me is that online the connection with a garment really has to come from a more intentional place from our side. In a physical store, a customer will walk in to the store and from that moment there are so many natural ways that a connection with the product can arise – from touching it, trying it on, seeing something on the sales person, seeing someone else try it on, etc. But with online those moments have to be created by us and then presented to the customer to see if its something they connect with.  

The brand’s colour palette includes very beautiful, neutral tones. Why are these the shades and tones you opted to go with for your products? 

We have been very intentional about sticking to a totally neutral colour palette. We want to give our customers the ability to feel amazing without expanding too much energy – because we will have done the work for you – so you trust your wardrobe. We do this by offering a complete wardrobe in a cohesive neutral palette that ranges from crisp white linen to earthy tones of cinnamon or butterscotch to the classic black and navy. By doing this we can reduce the amount of time and energy that it take to put outfits together because each piece will very easily work with the others in the range. They are the classics and they are those for a reason, because they are versatile and not trend specific.  

What advice would you give an individual who’s looking towards creating a business similar to yours? 

To really think about what makes you you – what makes your product unique or your range different from other brands? It’s not to say that it needs to be completely revolutionary, but just that it is clear to YOU what it is that you are uniquely bringing to the table. 

Follow on IG and shop the brand on Creators’ Depot.

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