In the world of fashion it’s all about being seen, so when Sarah Podlesny launched her own hand weaving studio and design consultancy she knew it was vital to get out to shows and meet potential clients.
Three years and a number trade shows later her company, The Aviary Studio, has broken into the US, Japan, India, Pakistan, France, China, and Spain, with exporting counting for at least 60% of income. So how did she do it?
“I already knew that my biggest market would be New York, which I learnt from my first job working for another weaving studio,” says Sarah, who graduated with a BA in woven textiles from Central St Martins in 2010 and also spent two years working for Zara Home in Spain.
“I was introduced to a British designer who could potentially sell my designs alongside her own portfolio in New York six times a year by a client I knew from that previous job.” This worked well and the designer is still selling for her.
“Having access to the Get Exporting 2 grant has been fundamental in enabling me to take the leap and start to grow my business”
As far as the UK, Europe and other world markets were concerned Sarah felt she needed more support to crack them, so she approached the Department for International Trade (DIT) in the East of England. As a result she received 50/50 match funding to attend trade shows through its Get Exporting 2 (GE2) programme, which is backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This is a tailored programme of advice and assistance for companies looking to sell overseas or expand internationally.
Sarah received a match funding grant to attend trade shows including Premiere Vision in Paris and Heimtextil in Frankfurt. “Having access to the Get Exporting 2 grant has been fundamental in enabling me to take the leap and start to grow my business,” says Sarah. “The grant softens the blow financially and attending these shows helps to market me to potential new clients, which has been great!” She has now done three trade shows and has seen a vast improvement each time.
“Mary Lewis, my International Trade Adviser, has been brilliant. She has been on hand to help with the applications, claims, and any other questions.”
“It’s so important to get out there and expose your brand and your product to as broad a demographic as possible. It’s not just about sales, but also meeting agents who can sell my work and other projects and collaborations that have come about as a result of doing the shows.”
Through the shows she has met agents who are now working for her in Japan and Italy. “Without doing these shows I would not have met those agents. As it’s such a niche area I would have had trouble finding out who to contact. And of course without the grant I wouldn’t have been able to do the shows.”
As well as match funding the shows, DIT has been a great source of support for Sarah: “Mary Lewis, my International Trade Adviser, has been brilliant. She has been on hand to help with the applications, claims, and any other questions. She has also been available to meet up locally to go through any other possibilities or other ways the DIT can help.” This has included arranging for her to attend seminars on website SEO and breaking into the German market, which she attended just before the Heimtextil tradeshow.
According to Mary, Sarah’s attitude has been a huge factor in her success. “Sarah is really enthusiastic, engages with us and is keen to do stuff,” she says. “She’s also really keen to build the business overseas.”
Sarah would encourage other companies wondering about starting on an exporting journey to go ahead but to also to look at it long term. “You have to be financially stable enough to accept that you will not break even at the beginning, but of course as you continue doing the shows, your brand gets a lot of exposure, you are showing where your competitors are showing and slowly you will see an increase in sales and build clients in a new market.”