Inside Track: Charlotte Cargin - Charlotte & Jane
Keeping it local works for Cork design label
What distinguishes your business from competitors?
All of our clothes are made in Ireland and most of our fabrics are sourced here too. Each dress is completely unique and bespoke for the client. They come and select styles they like and we advise them on the best style and colour for their body shape. If you have an unusual body shape, it can be very stressful trying to find things on the high street.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
When we started the business, we couldn’t get any funding or backing. We had to live off a shoestring for the first few years. It was very hard as we both had families to support. We knocked on a lot of county enterprise board doors but got nowhere.
It has also been quite a challenge finding seamstresses to make our clothes. Ireland used to have great factories producing garments. In school no-one learns to sew anymore and a lot of clothing manufacturing is outsourced to China and elsewhere.
We started a tailoring course at the Kinsale College of Further Education to try and make sewing more fashionable again. A lot of the students we taught are coming to sew for us now.
And your major success to date?
Having clients continually coming back to us. We used to go to various towns promoting our business and clothes. Now people are travelling from all over the country to see us. We’ve done nine collections, our business is thriving and we got it off the ground ourselves.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Initially setting pricing was a huge challenge. To begin with, our price was too low. We also thought you had to be selling in boutiques to have a design business. Stocking in the boutiques was not a mistake in that it was a helpful method of getting our designs and name out there and we increased our client base hugely through it. However, it was not financially viable for us to manufacture in Ireland and sell wholesale. Boutiques have to have their mark-up, so we weren’t making a penny.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Stick with it. There have been many times when we thought we couldn’t do it anymore. We were working obscene hours, day and night, with no money coming in. Our friends and family kept telling us we could do it though, and to stick with it.
Another good piece of advice would be to follow your intuition. We considered getting the clothes made abroad as it would have been much cheaper, but we are glad we settled with Ireland and get them manufactured here. We pay more to do that, so our profit margins are lower, but we give local employment.