In just three short years, Rixo London, the fledgling fashion label launched by London College of Fashion graduates Henrietta Rix and Orlagh McCloskey, has grown from a passion project run from the living room of their London flat to a global business with a seven-figure turnover.
Without loans or outside investment, Rix, now 26, and McCloskey, 29, have intuitively built a brand that boasts 120k Instagram followers and an army of loyal fans including Holly Willoughby, Lily James, Kylie Minogue and Sandra Bullock.
Their collection of covetable dresses and separates features flamboyant, colourful patterns handpainted in London and printed on luxurious silk crepe de chines in Italy and China, and sells in over 100 global stockists in more than 40 countries. Last year the pair won the DHL Award for Fashion Potential and will be presenting the award to this year’s winner on Thursday (20 September). Here, they share their experiences and lessons learned.
How did you come to launch Rixo?
Henrietta: “My dad had his own business as a used car dealer, while Orlagh was raised in rural Northern Ireland, near Derry, where her father had a construction business, so we both came from families with a strong work ethic and an understanding of what it takes to run a company. We met on a Fashion Management degree, and hit it off immediately and later began plotting our shared vision for a brand. We always had the philosophy that it was do-able and just got on with it.”
You had very little industry experience when you started the venture…?
Orlagh: “We’d done placements in the buying offices of ASOS and TK Maxx, and everyone said we were too young to start up on our own, but we had no responsibilities, no dependents, no big mortgages, and we were already used to living on very little money. I think our naivety helped us. We followed our gut instinct because we believed in what we were doing 100 per cent, and didn’t really know any different. We didn’t know how other brands did things, so we did things our way, and when we got it wrong, we learned from that. You have to be willing to make mistakes, and accept that sometimes the first decision is wrong and needs to be re-thought.”
You have self-funded the business, without loans or outside investment, which is impressive…
Henrietta: “We have always been adamant that we should retain control and not live beyond our means. So, we did everything on a shoestring to start with and all the revenue back in the business. At the start, we had interns working with us and when we could afford to we’d keep them on if we liked them and they were passionate about the business. A year ago we won the DHL Award for Fashion Potential which was worth £20,000 and meant we could afford to employ a specialist to develop our website. This made a big difference to our operation, because we could sell internationally and improve our shipping options so we were accessible to customers all over the world. Since winning the award, we’ve moved from our flat to a new office and have grown from a team of three to a full-time team of 12, doing everything except manufacturing in-house.”
So, you’re now sold in over 40 countries and in the world’s best fashion boutiques…
Orlagh: “We didn’t plan to wholesale initially, but we had a meeting with Net-a-Porter in the early days and the order they placed with us sold out within 24 hours of going live on the site. In the last 12 months, Rixo has grown exponentially, with over 100 global stockists including Liberty, Harrods and Selfridges in London, Saks in the US, Dublin’s Brown Thomas, Le Bon Marche in Paris, Luisa Via Roma in Italy, Australia’s David Jones and Takashimaya in Japan. We also have a series of pop-up shops, including our current one in Floral Street, Covent Garden, which is open until the end of December.”
How important has social media been to the success of your business?
Henrietta: “We often wonder how we would have done without Twitter and Instagram. When we started, we got in touch with magazine stylists and editors via social media and begged them to give us ten minutes so we could show them our launch collection. As a result, we got coverage in key magazines during that first season and the orders started to come in on our website. Now we have over 120k Instagram followers who actively share pictures of themselves wearing our clothes. We know it’s important that our clothes are seen on a variety of relatable women, because we have customers in their teens right through to women in their eighties, of all different shapes and sizes, wearing our clothes as everyday wear or for special occasions. Instagram allows us to engage directly with customers and potential customers and create a conversation about what we’re up to.”
What have you learned in those three short years that have seen you go from start-up to success story?
Orlagh: “In the early days, we would walk to the post office every day, having picked and packed website orders ourselves. Eventually, as we staggered in under the weight of ever more packages each afternoon, we realised something had to change, and we had that moment of inspiration that changed the business. We are naturally control freaks, but when DHL began to send a driver to our flat every day to collect the day’s web orders. that took pressure off us, and allowed us to focus on using our skills to build the business. If you want to grow as a business, you have to learn to delegate, although we are still very hands on.”
Henrietta: “We assumed that wholesale customers would settle invoices promptly, but even when they’d had the stock on sale-or-return, and every garment had flown off the rails, so they’d banked the money, some retailers still didn’t pay, and we got burned. In the early days, we weren’t very professional and were doing invoices ourselves, without being on top of the cashflow. So, we had to toughen up and change our trading terms. But getting our clothes on the rails of those stores and in front of the end customer was paramount and offering sale-or-return terms was the only way we could do that in a difficult retail climate. You take considered risks and run with them because you believe in what you’re doing. Everyone who agreed to take our collection on that basis called us within a week to say everything had sold and requesting more stock.”
What was the hardest thing about launch Rixo?
Henrietta: “Getting our collection in front of press and buyers. We spend weeks, no months, trawling across the country, cold-calling and knocking on doors, with a suitcase full of clothes, because we wholeheartedly believed there was a market for what we were doing. It was great to be able to say ‘I told you so’ when everything sold out.”
Are there any myths you can explode about being entrepreneurs?
Orlagh: “Loads of people advised us against going into business together, because we were best friends. We lived together and shared Sunday morning hangovers together through college. I have a twin sister and Henrietta is like the third twin, we are so close to her. Outsiders thought that would make going into business tricky, especially if it turns sour, but we are comfortable working together 24 / 7 and have a strong shared vision of where we are headed. We finish each other’s sentences and it just feels natural to be in this together.”
Click here to find out more about the DHL Fashion Programme.