Rebecca May Johnson talks to Jade Holland Cooper about how she grew her pioneering British-made luxury label into a £10 million business...
Jade Holland Cooper grew up on a farm in Suffolk where her father worked 20-hour days running a large arable operation and her mother – designing from a studio on site – ran a small couture business serving international clientele. She cites her parents as her entrepreneurial role models. 'Their incredible work ethic set me up for fashion', she reflects. If Holland Cooper wanted something as a child, she had to work for it – and mucking out five horses and organising a hectic eventing schedule stood her in good stead for the hard graft of an entrepreneur.
The two sides of Holland Cooper’s childhood – farming and fashion – initially made it tough to decide which path to take. Jade rejected unconditional offers to study at Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion to study marketing at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. However, having spotted a gap in the market for a country outfitter working with tweed, with a Savile Row sensibility of cut and modern trims, she quit university after a year to get stuck into building a business.
It started small, selling a few skirts at Badminton Horse Trials with a friend – and was met with an enthusiastic response. Starting with only £2,000 borrowed from her father, Holland Cooper decided to go for it, and sought out 'workers’ in the Suffolk area – that’s skilled machinists who work from home – to make her designs to exacting, luxury standards. She spoke to people locally, putting up adverts in the supermarket – and eventually had a stroke of luck. A legion of skilled machinists who had made clothes for upmarket British brand Jaeger were living in the area and working as cleaners having found no other machinist work after the UK’s substantial garment industry moved east.
'Cash is king!' declares Holland Cooper when asked how she’d built the business. Sales of each collection she had made paid for the next, building up the business order by order, keeping it out of debt. 'The budget is the bible', she continues – 'at the beginning of each year we set out our annual goals for expansion and where we are going to invest – and stick to it.'
The prudent but ambitious strategy has served the business well so far – Holland Cooper is the UK’s leading buyer of British wool, it has won coveted retail space in Harrods where sales have doubled and tripled annually, making it the best performing brand on the 5th floor – even with Burberry, Canada Goose and Ralph Lauren as adjacencies. In Edinburgh the label is situated near to Louis Vuitton and Burberry, and it bagged a space in Bicester Village, a major shopping destination in the UK. Digital sales have played a significant role in driving growth, too, constituting 60 per cent of revenues.
Holland Cooper has her sights set on building up the company into a global concern. A new sports line will be launched later this year, and there are plans to the roll out franchise and wholesale operations, including internationally, in countries where British luxury tailoring has an established fan base, such as Japan and wider Asia. But Holland Cooper has not forgotten the importance of keeping a pipeline of talent moving through the business to help it grow – the company runs a substantial apprenticeship scheme to support people into work without taking the university route. 'I really believe that in business, the best way to learn is on the job,' Holland Cooper observes – and surely the success of her eponymous label is testament to that.
So, here’s to the next 10 years of Holland Cooper!