The Interview: Danielle Foster, Founder and Creative Director, Danielle Foster
Starting a career in art and design at 18 years old, Danielle Foster, designer of namesake accessory label Danielle Foster, was driven by her determination and desire to design strong minimalist pieces. Foster has been recognised by many for her talents; and in 2010 she was asked by Charlie Le Mindu to collaborate on his Spring/Summer 2011 collection. In 2012, Foster launched her accessory brand and rapidly grew from strength to strength, becoming known for her timeless pieces crafted in London. Danielle tells TheIndustry.fashion more:
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I moved to London when I was 18 to study Accessory Design at London College of Fashion. From my graduate collection I was asked to collaborate with Charlie Le Mindu for his SS12 collection, which I designed and made six pieces for his LFW show. This drove my ambitions of opening my own label and eight months later I launched my brand in early 2012. Shortly after graduating I was scouted by Elite model management.
For many years I have been juggling modelling in the day and my brand in the evenings, working on the brand in the living room of my London flat. The brand grew having featured in publications such as Elle, Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, Red magazine and many more. Grazia named Danielle Foster ‘UK brands to watch’, and Susie from Style Bubble picked our brand to style for the LFW daily paper. I showed my collection in London, Paris and New York. Last year we collaborated with Anthropologie for an exclusive six piece capsule collection and stocked with Fortnum&Masons.
When did you launch and what was the initial response? And how did you get to where you are now?
I first started the brand back in 2012. When I started creating designs it initially was a bit of a trial for something to do later on in a few years time, as at that time I had recently signed with Elite model management, but my products started to sell, so I carried on designing and making products and it kind of stemmed from there.
The brand got featured in many publications and I collaborated with some great influencers and I believe this is how I really caught the eye of some incredible stores worldwide. Shopbop contacted me so I straightaway flew to New York for a buyers meeting and they stocked me a year later after signing with a sales agent in London. This then lead onto stocking with Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, G&B Negozi, Anthropologie and Fortnum&Masons.
The brand has very much grown with me as a designer as I started the brand quite early out of graduation, so it’s been a bit of a test and trial process. I’ve had to learn along the way and develop my style and it’s probably only just now that I feel happy with my brand.
What was the drive to start up your own fashion label?
Since when I was young I have always wanted to run my own business. During my studies in accessory design I could never find a simple bag that I loved, there would always be too many pockets or too many details that I felt it ruined the design. So this originally fuelled my inspiration to design a product that was stripped back and more minimal.
What would you consider you brand identity and USP?
We create original and beautifully crafted conscious luxury accessories with a classic and minimal design aesthetic. Exploring luxurious tactile leathers to add modern twists to the classics that last a lifetime. Our products are proudly designed and made in London from the best Italian vegetable tanned leather. We offer a free repairs service to all of our products and produce everything locally.
What is your current route to market?
At the beginning of the brand I solely focused on selling to retailers but in the last few years I have shifted my focus to selling directly to the consumer. So I have invested more time into the website and being involved in pop up shops across London. I ran my own pop up store last November called A.C.Store in Shoreditch and it was great to be able to use this to build a relationship with our customers.
You studied in London, you live in London and your label has the “Made in London” as a premise. Has London as the UK’s capital inspired and influenced many of your designs?
A lot of our creative influences have come from living and growing up in the countryside but I have developed practicalities in the bags having lived in London for so long.
What is the design process at Danielle Foster?
It mainly begins with a product that I would like for myself, I start roughly sketching my design ideas from my head onto paper and then I would draw these in Illustrator to have a little play around with moving elements of the design or colour. Once I’m happy with the design I will create paper patterns and mock the designs up to check the scale of the bag and details.
I then make the first leather sample, which is another huge part of my designing process. This is when I can really play with my ideas whilst making the product and a lot of the time this is where I have discovered design details with manipulating leather during the sampling process. Once the sample is finished I will then wear the product and user trial it before putting the product into production.
What is your favourite piece from the current collection?
I really love the new Hayley mini and the Kai tote mini, the Hayley mini launches this month. The Hayley mini is small in size but some how fits so much in and then has a zip closure which is great for security when you live in a city. The Kai Tote mini is that every day bag that you can wear for work or for leisure, it has an optional long strap that you can remove and just hold by the short handle for a more evening look.
Sustainability is becoming a crucial focus the fashion industry, in what ways is your brand incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?
My brand has been sustainable in many ways even before the impact the industry is having on the environment was highlighted. I was brought up on a farm where my parents always used to express the importance of supporting local. So this was certainly a foundation that my business was built on, and from the beginning I sourced most of my suppliers and factories locally.
Carbon footprint is one of the biggest impacts the industry has on the environment and keeping things local reduces this massively. We use vegetable tanned leather that is chromium free and biodegradable, it is the most sustainable type of leather in the industry. We have been making more conscious efforts to assure all of our stationary is all eco printed now and that our paper isn’t only recyclable but that it is printed on recycled paper. We’ve completely stopped using plastic in any type of packaging and our packaging tape is now biodegradable too.
So we have been implementing all these small things to help reduce the waste that goes into landfill. We have also advertised it on our website that we offer free repairs to our products, so we hope that this will encourage customers to repair their bags, as apposed to disposing them after years of wear and tear.
How is the brand responding to such strange and challenging times?
It’s difficult, but we have been taking this time to communicate more with our customers to learn more about their needs and to also create more of a community within our brand. We have been focusing on assuring our customers have a smooth shopping experience with us, so that when they receive their product from us through the door it brings a little joy to their day. I can be quite slow on reacting to things as it personally takes me quite a while to process these events that happen and I want to respond in the right way.
What are your current achievements to date?
I have been really proud to of been stocked in some incredible stores worldwide, I think in this very competitive and over saturated industry, it feels overwhelming for buyers to of chosen my brand from all the other out there.
What advice would you give to anyone starting a fashion business?
Listen to every little bit of advice people give to you but digest it and research about it. Everyone will have valuable advice but its not always transferable or quite right for your business. Only you know your business inside and out and what is right for it. Be true to yourself and true to your business, be authentic and honest.