I started my entire business on a measly 7 K

Designer Jason Lingard launched his dark edgy eponymous label in 2014 after leaving a career in graphic design. He’s been building his label slowly with an ethos around authenticity. New K!D caught up with the Auckland-based designer to find out his secret to growing an independent label and why he has his sights set on Asia.

“I’m not interested in the girl I’ve never met with 20 thousand followers and for her to be flogging off my stuff for a 5k fee or whatever. It’s not a good business decision. I want to make sure my social media is authentic.”- Jason Lingard, designer.

Jason Lingard’s Dystopia collection. Image supplied.

Jason Lingard’s Dystopia collection. Image supplied.

NK: Your brand has an identifiable and solid aesthetic. Has that developed over time?

Jason: Yeah it has shifted and I’d love to say it’s gotten more identifiable and more unique, but to be perfectly honest it hasn’t. In your first year you take more risks. If anything, my brand has matured, and I realised who my market is and respond to my followers. Earlier on it was very dark and edgy. But I realised this wasn’t the only people who wanted to buy the clothes. There were plus size and older women. Also in expanding - especially in stores in smaller towns of Australia - I’m trying to pivot the aesthetic in a way that doesn’t scare people off - not becoming more commercial, but more accessible.

Designer Jason Lingard. Photo: Sonia Sly

Designer Jason Lingard. Photo: Sonia Sly

Often people couldn’t relate to the models. So it’s grappling with photography and campaigns to keep the Jason Lingard message and edgy, but also to soften things down a bit.

The challenge with me is to ask, would my mum like the shoot and would an edgy 20-year-old goth girl like it as well, or someone who is gender diverse? Is my stockist in a really small town who caters to farmers wives and are they going to like it? I’m just trying to cater to a niche that likes my brand and within that niche there are other niches. It’s a tricky formula that I’ve been developing.

NK: Your brand has expanded since you showed at New Zealand Fashion Week a few years ago and now you have a number of stockists around New Zealand and Australia. How has that changed your production flow and the way you operate?

Jason: I’ve always grown my business organically and slowly at the start and the momentum has picked up quite a lot and grown to 25 stockists in under 4 years.

When you’ve got no capital and you’re working from a small studio at home and you suddenly have to start doing large production and you’re dealing with a lot of stockists, which is a lot of admin with regards to selling and dealing with orders and dispatch, I think the hardest thing is that the admin takes you away from designing, so I often worry about the quality of my design work.

The biggest thing I’ve had to change is dealing with that growth and hiring other people, and making time to work on my business. I hired two part-time staff and I’m outsourcing a lot more. So when it comes to pattern grading and cutting - that’s being outsourced and is freeing up my time to focus on the creativity. There are only a certain number of stores and retailers in New Zealand and I’ve grown as big as I can here now without going that extra step to open a retail store. The next step is Australia and doing a range of basics. I’ve started accessories and jewellery as a way to grow the business. I find Australia a difficult market with my particular aesthetic being a little bit more avantgarde, dark and edgy, which doesn’t really fit into the Australian market so much, apart from Melbourne.

NK: Did you feel you needed to change anything in order to get the attention of Australian buyers? And do you find that different pieces from your collection are more popular there?

Jason: Yeah, definitely. It’s hotter there. They like more colour and pattern. I had already started adding more colour and pattern and I’m already using soft sheer fabric - those did well in Australia. There is a Brisbane store who loved the black aesthetic and it worked perfectly with Brisbane and the people who like the dark European aesthetic. So far in Melbourne, I’m stocked with three stores, which is its own little pocket within Australia. Once I start my diffusion range of elevated basics and knitwear it will allow to break into the Australian market.

NK: Running a business successful is challenging. What kind of game plan did you have in order to make that happen?

Jason: My philosophy going into business was to take it slow, to not overextend myself, stay true to myself...to be a nice person and leave my ego at the door. Networking is not for me. I can be a little bit of a hermit and prefer not to have to do that. I prefer to let the work speak for itself.

Keeping things small is really important. I would recommend not showing at fashion week in the first year. I was lucky early on and invited to do group shows where the financial outlay was small and shared among a group who supported each other. It’s a big mistake for fashion designers to splurge 10 - 30 thousand dollars in their first year when they’re just not ready for it.

I started my entire business on a measly 7 thousand dollars, so if I took a loan out to have a fashion week show that’s a sure way of bankrupting my business. So I think slow and steady wins the race and just being genuine, focusing on your product and design; make good relationships and meet stockists face-to-face, selling to them directly. I wasn’t going to use a sales agent, so I think I’m more successful because of that game plan that I put in place.

NK: Are you seeing an equal balance of men and women buying your brand?

Jason: No, definitely not. I would say 90 percent are female or 80 and 10 percent gender diverse and 10 percent male. Men aren’t really buying the brand. I wanna be working on things that I wanna wear as well, so my long term game plan is to expand into the European and Asian market. Unfortunately, the Kiwi guy doesn’t take a lot of risks with his clothing, but there are small pockets of guys in Auckland and Wellington who do.

NK: What’s your approach to social media and has instagram been worthwhile as a marketing tool to sell your clothing?

Jason: Instagram is worthwhile as a marketing tool, but not as a selling tool. As a marketing tool it is great to get the brand name and product in front of audience really quickly, but I don’t see follow-through with selling. Most of that comes through Facebook because people use that and spend more time at their desktop.

Younger people are not using Facebook - they’re on Instagram and have a shorter attention span. So with more people in their 30s, 40s and 50s on Facebook, they’re more engaged and more willing to buy, and we can tell more of a story on Facebook as well.

When I launch my diffusion range, Instagram will be more important because it’s at an accessible price point to connect with people who are on Instagram.

I have heard the term, micro-influencers and I kind of like that term. I see that as being the people who are wearing my stuff already, or the women that work at (and own) the store selling my product. I’m not interested in the girl I’ve never met with 20k followers and for her to be flogging off my stuff for a 5k fee or whatever. It’s not a good business decision. I want to make sure my social media is authentic.

NK: How valuable is it to show at an event like NZFW, especially considering that fashion week events globally seem to have lost their gloss and have become a market for influencers who don’t even attend the shows.

Jason: An event like NZFW is always going to be important. And New Zealand fashion can’t be invisible or die away. It’s a tricky time with how fast things are moving with globalisation, the internet, media, and the fashion landscape has changed dramatically. It’s hard for traditional runway shows and Fashion Weeks to keep up with that, but it’s important for us all to come together every year and if those influencers aren’t turning up, they’re not going to get the vibe and they need to do the job if they’re getting paid.

For me, NZFW is changing slowly. They have included the studio which allows for installations, video and art alongside their clothing in a different way. More could be done, but the show will shift next year. The current venue was corporate and in a dead part of town. If I had a bigger team I’d show every year, but it’s really difficult. Moving forward I’d love to show every 2-3 years.

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NK: Last year you traveled to Thailand as part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative. What were the things you took away from that experience?

Jason: From a business point of view the surprise benefit of the trip was the time that I spent with the other young fashion entrepreneurs sharing their business ideas, mistakes and successes. As an entrepreneur it’s something that you don’t get to do very often because you’re working alone you’re your own boss and sometimes it’s quite isolating. Whenever I travel, it stirs me creatively, and Asia is a place I love traveling to with the colours, culture, food and traditions.

NK: Why did you want to be involved in the initiative?

Jason: I’ve lived in Asia and take inspiration from Asia in terms of culture and fashion. I thought I was a good fit for the programme, but from a business standpoint I’m playing with the idea of manufacturing another label offshore with product in development from T-shirts and knitwear. It’s elevated casual wear to be made off-shore. But I’ll keep the Jason Lingard brand here in New Zealand.

NK: How does Thailand differ from other parts of Asia in terms of production and manufacturing?

Jason: For a host of reasons due to infrastructure and ethics, I wanted to check out Thailand. In the past Thailand was a manufacturing centre, but not so much now that China and India has taken over.

When you’re a small business it’s really hard to meet the massive minimums and to do business in China is just a real headache, especially when you’re trying to do it ethically and sustainably. Thailand was really good for that. We visited some really good factories where the staff were treated really well.

In Thailand, conditions for minimum wage has grown, working conditions and human rights are good and it looks like a good option. The craftsmanship is a lot higher and it’s more of a boutique industry known for high quality, rather than pushing things out quickly and cheaply.

NK: Being immersed in a different culture is always eye opening, what inspired you most in Thailand?

Jason: In the Isan District I saw how traditional silk is harvested and woven, which was super inspiring. Seeing the time and energy and craft that goes into the art from the lower socio-economic part of the country they’re doing everything by hand in every way.

There was a local tourist group supported by Asia New Zealand Foundation. Every house in the small village had a different task. There was a lady who grew plants in her backyard which the silkworms fed on. Someone from the next house extracted the silk from those worms and the next place spun it into yarn. Then it went to a centre where they were weaving and had relationship with agents who sold their wares in big centres like Bangkok.

We also went to social enterprise ‘folk charm’ and their mission is to go into communities who were being taken advantage of to help the woman, teach them business skills and also buy their cloth and sell it at fair prices with a fair cut. The owner of the company faced friction with local business who were taking advantage and didn’t like that they were offered fair trade.

NK: How important is Asia to your market?

Jason: From a business point of view, I see Asia as being really pivotal. As far as selling goes I have goals in my next five to six year plan to expand into Asia, particularly Japan. Also places like Hong Kong and Shanghai and Beijing as they have a market for an avant-garde high fashion aesthetic. On the flip-side, creatively it’s important for my brand as well, in terms of inspiration.

NK: Sustainability is important for designers and brands in the immediate and long term. How does your brand deal with dead stock for instance?

Jason: Dead stock is an issue for larger brands mostly. I produce in small number, so if I produce a few extra I make sure I don’t make too much. It’s horrible to make too much and a waste of my time and resources. It’s also bad for the brand to have lots of sale stock lying around. Also, pop-up shops are good for customers to get something on sale and people who haven’t seen the brand before.

We tend to move all of our stock the following season. We don’t usually have anything left over and it’s sickening to think of all the chemicals that go into producing polyester fabric that will only be on shelves for few weeks and might end up in landfill, or selling for 10-15 dollars. Polyester isn’t going to biodegrade for thousands of years.

NK: Tell us about your next collection.

Jason: It’s called Fleetwood and it’s loosely based on Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks. I got really obsessed reading her biographies and listening to a lot of their music. I enjoyed working on that collection and being inspired by that music. I’ve been reading the books while draping silhouettes and fabrics.

To find out more about Jason Lingard or to shop online head to: jasonlingard.com