Building The Brand
Ladies, what was the A&W mission statement when set out?
Nicky: Debz and I set up Arkell & Wills almost 2 years ago. We wanted to create a luxury cashmere brand that was not out of reach on price but was based around fabulous quality, whilst at the same time having all the A&W signature detailing within the design. We wanted to create pieces that became your ‘wardrobe warriors’ that you will love and cherish from season to season.
Debz: As Nicky says, It’s all been about quality with A&W. I think Nicky via her sourcing has found some wonderful suppliers that give us superb quality, which together with our signature detailing ensures that each Arkell & Wills piece is finished beautifully and has that luxury feel that we, and more importantly, our customers want to wear again and again.
What have been the main challenges you have faced?
Debz: Financing I would say is the biggest initial hurdle when it comes to setting up your own business; ensuring you have enough to set up websites, marketing and most important of all designing and manufacturing each piece of A&W. Not coming from a fashion background, timings have been something I have had to get used to - we are always working so far ahead, we haven’t launched our Autumn Winter collection yet, (although the designs are done and all is in production!); but we are already working and planning Spring/Summer19 – this level of forward planning is tricky. Social Media is insanely important to us, not only as a marketing tool, but also trying to ensure that A&W is ahead of the curve and this takes time and energy. I guess at this stage of the business being so young, Nicky and I have to look after every aspect of the business, we don’t have different departments to help us, so you rather become “Jack of all trades” and quickly master of them all!
Nicky: Building your own business and brand doesn’t come without many challenges across all areas of the business. On the buying and sourcing side working as a tiny start up brand with new suppliers across the other side of the world in Nepal, China and India can create some challenges. There are language barriers to try and address along with design interpretation and general communication. It is very easy to end up with wrong design details or colours which is not ideal! It takes many, many conversations and emails to try and ensure no design or quality detail is missed. You need to create strong supplier partnerships to get product consistency for your brand. However when the collections arrive with us at Arkell & Wills all the hard work is rewarded with our stunning new Seasons collection.
The retail landscaping is changing quickly all the time, how are A&W keeping pace?
Nicky: In this ever-changing retail environment as a new brand you have to create your own USP. We design every piece with all of our signature A&W detailing, along with offering a unique customisation service on our styles which give the customer a one-of-a-kind piece, that’s really personal to them. Consistency of quality and fit is also of upmost importance to us so we can have loyal customers who keep coming back to us for their cashmere.
Debz: A&W designs are classic pieces, which will stay in the front of your wardrobe for many seasons. What keeps us apart from other brands is the finishes we offer as Nicky says. We always have our signature lurex stitching and our A&W dog tag, but what makes our cashmere that beautiful piece that stands out is the finish with embellishments, elbow patches and this season we also added the option of monogramming, so most of our pieces can be personalised with your initials. This is a lovely gift idea and has been popular, especially this season as wedding gifts for bridesmaids and Mums. The great thing with our brand though is that if you don’t want any sparkle, but you love the shapes and colours of our designs you can have them plain, so really no one needs to go without!!
How did you go about creating the branding for A&W?
Debz: Nicky and I when we initially sat down to talk about how we thought the brand would look, both had very clear ideas, which thankfully were similar. Finding the name was the most difficult part, we tried so many and they just didn’t feel right. Then one day we were chatting with our hubby’s in my kitchen still trying to sort the name and we came out with Arkell & Wills and it just seemed to work - once we had all said it about thirty times!! It also seemed right to Nicky and I; Arkell is my maiden name and Wills is Nicky’s married name - so just like that there is was over a coffee and a chat the brand was born. We then took our ideas to a great agency in Cheltenham, Third Floor Design, who put everything together. I remember the meeting when it was all presented to us, it was so exciting to see it there, our ideas actually in front of us. The most exciting time for me was at our first event though, seeing our first client walk off and going to other stands with one of our bags being carried on her shoulder - yippee!!
Nicky: The Arkell & Wills branding was born through Debz and I having a very clear vision of what we wanted as Debz says. The brand needed to convey luxury through the look and feel; for example it was very important to us that when a customer received an Arkell & Wills item it felt special packaged beautifully with the same attention to detail in the branding and packaging as in the garment itself. The name is a combination of our own names which made it feel very personal to Debz and I, and this was something we both felt strongly about from the beginning - that we wanted a personal friendly feel to our brand.
What advice do you have for other aspiring female entrepreneurs wanting to embark on creating their own business? Nicky: If you’re thinking about starting a business our advice would be to go for it - follow your dreams! Yes, there are many challenges and learning experiences along the way and some days don’t go as well as planned, but ultimately when you see the rewards of all the hard work and in our case customers loving the product and giving us great feedback on the brand that is something to really feel proud of. Debz: Wow, do it! - I remember when my husband and I launched our business before A&W and we sat and thought should we/shouldn’t we, but in our hearts we knew what we wanted to do. Sometimes you have to stop talking and just go for it! Don’t get me wrong it may not work and there will be hiccups along the way, but you’ve got to try rather than look back and say I wish I had. I think for Nicky and I what is good is that we bring different strengths to A&W which compliment each other. We help and support each other which with only the two of us running an ever-growing show is vital and is testament to the strength of our friendship. It can feel daunting at times, but it is also rewarding when you see a piece of A&W being worn around town or one of our boutiques places an order because they know their clients will love the brand.
You ladies obviously both know your stuff when it comes to fashion – what’s your favourite piece of this season’s A&W collection, and what your favourite look this season?
Debz: My favourite piece for this current season was the hyacinth blue cable poncho, (sorry they have all gone ladies, but you can see our other ponchos here), but oh my I have worn and worn mine. It has gone on flights, Cornish beaches, the garden, school pick up and been screwed up in my handbag (sorry Nicky!!) just in case I need that extra layer. I have never been a poncho wearer, this season was my first and I loved it - converted! My favourite piece for Autumn/Winter18 it would have to be our amazing new roll neck. Nicky and I have both popped an extra on the order for us and yes we try and make sure we’re not wearing them at the same time! They have been produced for us by our new Italian supplier and they are absolutely gorgeous and will fly - so be quick and visit us online or at one of the many events we will be at if you fancy one too.
Nicky: Having worked in fashion for over 20 years it becomes a slight obsession for me! I can’t resist some of this seasons stunning A&W pieces, my own personal favourite has been the pink cashmere crew with our bespoke embellishments. However our new Season collection also launches in September and there are so many new favourites arriving it would be impossible to choose one piece. It’s worth a look as soon as it lands as I really think some pieces will fly out quickly . Debz and I have already created the starting point for next Summer’s collection with the samples due any time so we really are working ahead…we will save that as a surprise! .....