St Leonards Modern Goods : a South East Creatives success story
Credit: Georgina Piper
St Leonards Modern Goods – The contemporary, understated clothing and lifestyle store
Owned and run by designer and maker ‘K’ Avery, St Leonards Modern Goods is a stylish unisex clothing and lifestyle store in the heart of St Leonards-on-Sea.
The store sells contemporary, well-designed clothing, gifts and homeware and is the studio hub and production space for K’s own St Leonards brand of leather bags and accessories.
“I love designing, making, curating and interacting with customers. St Leonards Modern Goods brings all my passions together in one place.’”K Avery
A trained textile designer, K joined East as apprentice buyer when the fashion retailer was in its infancy. She spent eight years at the company, learning from the ground up, working closely with the owners, and gaining experience across all areas of the business including design, product development, buying and manufacturing.
A short-lived period as accessories buyer for an M&S supplier (“It was design by committee. I felt like a square peg in a round hole”) and several freelance roles with fashion brands followed. Then, keen to move out of the corporate world and establish a better work/life balance, in 2010 K launched her own premium leather accessories brand St Leonards.
K ran the business – designing, sourcing materials, fulfilling orders – from home. Manufacturing was initially outsourced but after taking a specialist leatherworking course with Cockpit Studios, K started making the bags herself. Selling online and at makers’ fairs, she built up a loyal repeat customer base across the UK and overseas.
By 2016, K had started thinking about expanding her business into retail – her vision to curate a store selling a mix of high quality contemporary goods. When an opportunity came up to lease a premises with an interior that fitted her vision and on Norman Road, home to an eclectic mix of shops, galleries and eateries, she jumped at it.
Thanks to loyal customers, friends and family, the start-up funding needed to get the store up and running was raised in just three weeks and on 1 August 2016, St Leonards Modern Goods opened its doors to the public.
To keep outgoings to a minimum, the store initially stocked K’s own-brand bags and smaller items. As the business became more established, the range was expanded to include trusted clothing and footwear brands such as YMC and Superga to fit with the store’s high quality, understated, pared-back ethos.
The business was doing well but K was finding it increasingly difficult balancing day to day demands.
“I was never great with numbers and data-entry. I was having to revisit spreadsheets and check for errors which took up a huge amount of time. Running your own business, you feel you should be good at everything. Realising I wasn’t really knocked my confidence.”
Following a recommendation, K applied for mentoring through the South East Creatives programme. The six sessions spent with mentor David Adlington helped K tackle her fear of financial admin and David also recommended increasing the frequency of her e-marketing and, crucially, delegating more.
“The mentoring was so liberating! I am more comfortable with the financial side of the business and my accountants now do the monthly reconciliations which takes some of the pressure off. I’ve also employed a fantastic marketing specialist to create and manage the e-newsletter distribution which I’ve increased to weekly from monthly.”
K has combined the practical advice she gained through the South East Creatives programme with other mentoring support focussed on helping change her mindset towards certain aspects of the business.
“I’m in a much better place with the day to day running of the business. I have more time to devote to the things I do best and feel more confident.”
While the Covid lockdown has meant the store’s closure for long periods to walk-in customers, K has continued selling direct to her international customer base and, through visual merchandising on Instagram, – to local customers.
She has also used the time to develop her own Modern Mentoring programme where she shares her own experience and insight with other designers and makers through courses and a Facebook group. ‘The mentoring is hugely rewarding,’ she says. “I genuinely get a warm kick out of seeing people blossom.”
At some point in the future, K would like to establish a larger space containing maker units, a retail space, a café, perhaps an on-site creche. But for the moment, the focus is on developing St Leonards Modern Goods, her leather accessories brand and new mentoring service.
“I’m really looking forward to re-opening the store after lockdown and, through the mentoring, continuing to work with a community of hugely talented people. Being self-dependent, designers, makers and artists develop resilience and life skills to help them adapt to all kinds of situations. Although it’s been tough for many, I think the creative community deserves a huge pat on the back for responding so well to everything the past year has thrown at them.”
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Posted by sally on Tuesday 6 April 2021