Achieving your dreams usually starts with a big, brave step, and that was certainly the case for SilkFred CEO and Co-Founder, Emma Wilkinson. “I left what was a comfortable and well defined career path that I’d worked really hard at for eight-years to do this. It was pretty scary at the time.” But the (well-structured and carefully planned) gamble paid off, and Emma now has a team of over 40-people working for her at this innovative, disruptive and exciting young fashion business.
An eye for fashion from an early age
Emma has worked in the fashion industry for much of her adult-life, working her way up from shop floor to the CEO’s office in something of a fairytale story. But it’s the result of years of hard work and clever thinking, with every step informing the next and driving Emma forwards.
“I’d moved around a little bit,” she says, recounting her early career and inspiration. “My first shop floor experience was here in the UK, but then after I’d finished university I went to work for a retailer in Spain, and then after that I went to New York. And when I was in New York in 2010, I started seeing how social media was growing. I was interested in how people who wanted to start their own companies suddenly had this platform that was essentially free and organic. It was about reaching people in an interesting way and those options didn’t exist before if you were a young fashion brand.”
This was the early stage of SilkFred, an ‘etailer’ that works closely with new designers to market and sell their products through the SilkFred site. “The traditional routes to market were opening your own boutique or cozying up to a [magazine] editor. I think social media has had a huge part to play in getting designers to go straight to the consumer. And that started guiding a lot of my thinking around that time.”
SilkFred to the next step forward when Emma came across a brand making beautiful products that needed some additional help with their go-to-market plan. “The opportunity for SilkFred came when a friend of a friend invested in a young handbag designer. It was a really, really cool brand, but the sales weren’t going very well, so the investor asked my friend and me to look at it. My background was in fashion, his in finance. As we started to go through it, their range, the website… the interesting thing about it was if you said to someone ‘go start a fashion brand’ they’d ticked all the boxes. They’d opened a small boutique, had some stock made up, they’d appointed a PR agency…But even just looking at it, you could tell they weren’t coming at it from a retail angle. They didn’t have a credible route to market, but the products were so, so good. That’s when we started to think maybe there’s an opportunity to take lots of independent fashion brands online.”
It takes a village
SilkFred is now a destination for fashion lovers looking for affordable new items that you simply can’t find on the high-street. And for the designers, it’s a place where they can market their products with the support and knowledge of a much larger company at their back.
Emma and her team are proud of the support that SilkFred is offering to a whole new generation of designers, many of whom are women with the same passion and drive to succeed in the industry that Emma had. “[I think] 90% of the brands we work with are run by women, and 90% of the SilkFred team are women as well. Most of the senior positions here are filled with women too, which is really important to us.”
As SilkFred continues to scale, it’s the passion for the products and designers but also the respect for the customers that will continue to make it a unique business. Emma and her team pride themselves on speaking to their customers the same way they speak to each other, and new tools are appearing all the time that let them better communicate with the growing SilkFred community. “Right now it’s a good time in the company and we love being very agile and active,” says Emma. “We’ve [recently] done Facebook Live streams. All we have to do is grab a phone and put someone in front of it, and all of a sudden we’re connecting with all those people. We don’t need a big production team or a ton of organisation and that’s part of the fun of everything right now.”
Learn more about Emma and SilkFred: