Claire Howeson used to spend every Monday night crafting hats for friends and family as a way to relax from her job as a human rights lawyer.
A year and a half ago, she decided to pursue her passion full-time by launching a luxury hat company: Penmayne of London. Howeson’s designs, which are made from start-to-finish in Britain, are stocked in London’s luxury department store Harrods, and have also been featured on the pages of Vogue magazine.
“There is something incredibly beautiful about a woman in a hat and, as a brand, we want to empower women to wear hats in the same way that they carry a handbag,” she says.
The milliner spent years preparing her career switch, but admits that making that final step was difficult. Here, she shares her tips on how to start a fashion business with CNN.
Keep your ears to the ground
Howeson stresses that being flexible and able to respond to your client base is crucial when building a business from the ground up.
“If you’re being told by all of your customers that they want pink hats, you need to be making pink hats,” she says. “You’ve got to be adaptable and when things go wrong, learn very quickly.”
Spot the opportunity
With millinery for special occasions, such as weddings, in abundant offer in Britain, Howeson thought that there was a gap in the market for beautifully made hats which could be worn every day.
“There just aren’t very many people doing it and we think we’re doing it really well,” she says. “My passion for hats is very much about every day hats. We want these to be wardrobe staples that women wear every day,” she says.
Get the skills
Howeson spent six months working for two hat makers in London in order to get the technical experience to get her company off the ground. She also completed a millinery course at Kensington and Chelsea College before launching Penmayne of London at the end of 2013.
“Developing a product is very difficult and the attention to detail on absolutely everything has to be second to none, because otherwise you’re going to end up with a product that’s less than perfect,” she says.
Do your research
Having a strong, thought-out concept of what you want your product to be before you launch is extremely important according to Howeson.
“You’ve really got to do your research and plan how you’re going to take it to market, and what your strategy’s going to be in the first years,” she says.
Keep it light
The businesswoman says that resilience is one of the most important qualities for entrepreneurs, as is the ability to make light of difficult situations.
“You’ve got to have a really good sense of humor when everything goes wrong, and just not be afraid of failing, really,” she says. You’ve just got to be prepared for an adventure. It’s so exciting, but it’s such a roller coaster, lots of ups and downs,” she adds.