Oxstu interview: Students of design SODS

This week, our Fashion Editor Sherry Chen gets in touch with Students of Design  (SODS), a newly-established, multi-distribution and marketing platform generating opportunities for talented students and young designers. The founders of SODS, Anoesjcka, Lindy, and Michelle, come from very different backgrounds, but are brought together because of a shared passion for fashion and design.

SC: Tell us a bit about the founders of Students of Design (SODS)!

Anoesjcka: I had been making clothes since I was a little girl. I studied fashion design and pattern making in Milan and did various short course in London, focusing on fashion business. I refined my skills on Savile Row and Sackvile street, after which I returned to Milan where I had a chance meeting with the master of design himself, Mr Giorgio Armani, in one of his restaurants and asked him for help and advice. With his recommendation, I was put in touch with one of the most renowned factories in Italy where I started producing collections and learnt the craft of quality from some of the finest artisans in Italy. I had grown an impressive contact base before moving back to England where I started my first limited company in 2008. Soon after I counted many celebrity clients and legendary sports stars amongst my catalogue of clients and launched a handbag brand on the back of that. Today I have 2 fashion brands under my belt and want to use my experience, contacts and knowledge gained to help emerging designers leap years ahead with SODS.

Lindy: Prior to starting SODS I worked mainly in marketing, brand management and events. I have hosted city based events and managed venues all over the Square Mile. In 2012 I returned to university as a mature student. I enjoyed my job but wanted to work in event design. I have a BA interior design but completed an FdA graphic and spatial design leading up to my BA. While at university I met and interacted with so many talented students. I realised at university how difficult it was for students to get working experience and earn money. Not everyone has the ‘right’ connections, the confidence or ability to market themselves. All too often talented painters, sculptures and fashion designers end up doing any old job while the incredible work they have created gathers dust.

Michelle: My background is in marketing, communications and business development, I love to see ideas grow, especially those that are to benefit the growth of others, that’s why SODs was so fitting when the concept was created. I studied Communications at Brunel University; I worked many sectors throughout, funding my education, and now consult for various clients and have launched a couple of my own businesses, one being in retail. It seems that the common trend that has always prevailed in my work and experience is my passion for the art of communication, I love to see the different ways people communicate a message! Whether it is through words, music, design, media, art or personal grooming choices, we can see, read and hear so much from the way people convey their information, this excites me, and SODs excites me for this very reason. Many new talents all communicating and expressing their messages through their designs. My inspiration comes from seeing talent, undiscovered talents….The new talents behind SODs are those who understand good quality products and then combine it with visually appeasing creations, this is why we are passionate about what we do!

SC: When and how was the idea of SODS born?                    

Beginning 2013 over a casual get-together, we discussed and refined the idea for SODS. The idea evolved overtime; we experimented with ideas ranging from exhibiting designers work to raising funds for designers. As fashion conscious shoppers the appeal of owning something not readily available to the public was a huge draw to us. We were all strong women who were prepared to swim against the current and had such fun coming up with the name and the abbreviation. We loved the strong brand identity. Our actual circumstances at the time formed the now business module. Lindy was at Uni and had first-hand experience how her peers struggled to make ends meet while creating cutting edge fashion and art, Anoesjcka was launching a second fashion brand selling to buyers and on-line and could sympathise with the struggle of these designers while Michelle was consulting for various brands across the EU and all too quick to point out the opportunity. We registered the company in Oct 2013, but unfortunately opportunities came up which took Anoesjcka to the Los Angeles and Michelle to Paris. We kept in touch and started putting a business plan together. Putting her degree on the line, Lindy used the initial SODS idea as her final major project. Presenting the work to a large group of students served as our first market research a barometer if you like, to test the idea. The feedback and support from the students was just what we needed to give us the final push. The next step in our research was to start buying these students products. The quality and talent was evident in these items and a breath of fresh air in a market fluctuated with generic mass produced items. As soon as we received comments from our friends and social media on where did we bought what we were wearing, we knew we had a market and needed to join forces to bring this opportunity to life. April 2015 saw us all living in London with a marketplace website as the answer to connecting these designers and their products to the world. We are launching it first to our British designers with the aim of adding our international designers in the near future.

SC: “SODS aims to champion empower and nurture young designers in Britain”. What difficulties do you think young designers in Britain are facing? Are these the same for local British designers and overseas-born designers who are based in UK?

We can’t pretend to know the plight of every designer across Europe, some have financial backing from families, or have no trouble attracting investment or support from the BFC or ACME for example, whereas others simply don’t know where or how to start. It is easy to load your work onto a free site and try. It isn’t easy taking on Industry with a degree scroll or an idea you love. The international market recognises Britain’s edgy creativeness and there is a huge market for it. With luxury and high-street brands dominating the market for the last few decades, it is almost impossible for a young designer to establish a brand without financial support and a marketing machine behind his or her brand. Eventually these creative geniuses get worked into these dominants and the industry has lost remarkable gifts of talent and products. It is evident in the profit margins that the industry is currently changing with luxury and high street brands losing its appeal. With our marketing machine and strong brand identity we want to offer exciting new talent and products to a conscious aware buying market who now wants quality from an individual rather than a company.

SC: How exactly does SODS create “an income revenue stream” to help young designers fund their studies and practice their skills? And how does SODS itself make profit?

SODS will be a way for fledgling brands to work creatively without taking financial risk. Designer can sell their university collection, or a small factory production. This way they can earn money and exercise their craft. Designers are able to add a single item and gauge the public’s reaction, learn and experience what it takes to be successful without racking up debt and if the public shows interest and they sell work they will in turn earn money. They are in control of their own stock, they are aware of how fast and at what prices products are selling at and can adapt their offer accordingly. Some designers have to work a second job until they can draw a salary from their business, this is the ideal way for them to run a business until they can afford to go it alone. We want to motivate and inspire designers to be entrepreneurial and we want to help them achieve that independence. Nothing would make us happier than students working creatively to pay their bills using the SODS portal. We charge 15% commission on items sold and have a 20p listing fee renewable every 3rd month, ensuring we push the designer to produce creations for a buying market and also that we do not collect dead stock on our site. In comparison to the industry standard costs, this is a very inviting proposal.

SC: As a multi-distribution and marketing platform, how does SODS differ from many other “fast fashion” online platforms, e.g. ASOS, Boohoo, or eBay?

SODS is a marketplace website unlike Boohoo and ASOS. We do not sell fast fashion and we don’t hold stock. We won’t offer or sell second hand clothing, unless it’s reinvented into something extraordinary and you won’t find rubble and bric a brac. We also provide the services one will find on any good retail, e-commerce websites or etail. Our site features integrated software to our preferred courier service, our courier service collects the item at the designer’s home/office and ships it to the client unlike our competitors.  We are able to offer our designers the chance to market themselves directly to the wholesale market and we offer buyers a way to safely make purchases directly through our website. All too often buyers are reluctant to place orders from young designers as the risk of late deliveries and payments are too high. SODS acts as the facilitator, holding the monies in escrow which offers security to both designer and buyer making the transactions more appealing to both.

SC: SODS has a vision for fashion designers to “collaborate and be introduced to professionals working in exhibition, event management, surface design and other creative industries”. What kind of plans do you have in mind to make this happen? How do you think these can benefit students of design?

We have a private log-in for all our designers who can view articles and on-line interviews from various industry experts, some of whom have helped us along the way, others are industry heavy weights whom we have carefully selected. This is a case of “I wish I knew then what I know now” where we aid the designer’s to progress faster to successfully reach his goals by interviewing these experts. We are currently in talks with a prestigious venue to exhibit our top selling designers to buyers and industry professionals creating an added incentive to our designers to work hard and grow their business.