The Interview: Jacynth Bassett, Founder and CEO, The Bias Cut

Jacynth Bassett

Online womenswear brand, The Bias Cut places great emphasis on British and sustainable brands as well as promoting the purchases of high-quality investment pieces that stand the test of time.

The Bias Cut supports small and independent designers, from favourites Fabienne Chapot and POM Amsterdam, to WYSE London, and new labels such as Jakke, along with accessories brands Milk Tooth LND, Laines London and Hattie Buzzard.

With celebrity fans including Susanna Reid, Lorraine Kelly, Kate Thornton, Prue Leith, Gok Wan, Jane Felstead, and Charlie Brooks, the brand has grown organically over the last few years and developed a loyal customer base.

Last month, The Bias Cut revealed a total rebrand – complete with new logo, fresh website design and packaging to coincide with the launch of its new AW20 collections.

With revenues up by +102% since the relaunch, it’s has embraced an effective strategy with its customer base, despite challenging trading times with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Founder and CEO of The Bias Cut, Jacynth Bassett tells TheIndustry.fashion more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? What inspired you to launch The Bias Cut?

Despite a love of fashion, at the age of 13 I decided I wanted to become a barrister. Committed to this, I went on to study Law at Cambridge. At 19 I became President of the Cambridge Law Society, presiding over a budget of nearly £100k and increasing sponsorship by 25%, and this experience simultaneously showed me that my path lay in wanting to run my own business.

Fashion was the obvious choice. However, I knew I also wanted to address an issue I was passionate about. I had increasingly grown saddened and frustrated at how my mum was feeling alienated by the industry as she aged. I realised there was a need and demand to disrupt the fashion industry’s perception of age, and a gap for a brand that empowers women to embrace the best versions of themselves. And with that, the concept of The Bias Cut was born.

I started the business with my minimal savings, with no prior experience or contacts in fashion, retail or marketing. I developed, built and ran everything myself – from the website, to sales, to marketing. We started with just 4 small British labels, and now we have over 30, my eponymous line, and a global base of incredibly loyal and engaged customers.

You launched in 2016, what was the response like and what has changed since?

When The Bias Cut launched, ageism and the importance of age-inclusivity in fashion were still relatively untouched topics. Very few labels wanted to be so openly associated with customers over the age of 40. They felt it would taint their image, which made it difficult initially to find designers whose values aligned with ours.

Some customers were instinctively resistant to the concept too. There were women both over and under 40 who immediately refused to even consider looking at a boutique that openly championed women over 40 – all on the perceived basis that younger is always better and desirable.

But there has been growth over the past 4 years; as a society we are increasingly recognising the importance of age inclusivity. This is translating into labels actively approaching us, and more and more consumers of all ages loving what we do. It’s particularly encouraging how many younger women are engaging with the concept.

That’s not to say there isn’t still a long way to go – but there’s been definite progress, and response to The Bias Cut has shifted to a predominantly positive one.

Who is your target audience?

As we’re age-inclusive, we proudly welcome customers of all ages. However, our core customer is 40s – late 60s/early 70s. She’s discerning, appreciates quality and style, and is looking for something different with a touch of attitude and playfulness. That said, at first, a lot of our customers lack the confidence so our aim is to help them develop their sense of style and self – and it’s very rewarding seeing them increasingly experiment as they continue to shop with us and their confidence grows.

What is your brand DNA and what sets you apart from other womenswear retailers?

The Bias Cut is an empowering, inclusive shopping destination serving and supporting customers who appreciate style and quality at any age. We offer online shopping with a soul and a purpose.

We sell independent, ethical and sustainable labels; our models are ‘real women’ of different ages, shapes and size; and we offer tailored features such as ‘shop by body shape’. Underpinning all of this, is our in-depth understanding our customer, uniquely curating our collections with her in mind. We know that a love for style doesn’t fade with age – it evolves – but bodies and lifestyles can change, so we ensure our collections cater to that without compromising on modern style.

We are also unique in having a strong emotional connection with our customers. Not only do we offer personal 5* customer service, but we have a movement and community called Ageism Is Never In Style®. It challenges ageism in fashion, champions age diversity and has developed a following of thousands of members. This drives so much of our continued understanding of our customer, brand evolution and fuels our values.

What do you look for when you source new labels?

We always look for brands with a unique point of view, and they must share our values of age-inclusivity, quality and sustainability. We particularly look out for labels that love colour and print, use beautiful materials, and are contemporary without being trend driven – often with dose of playfulness thrown in.

Are there any other new labels you are hoping to feature this year?

This year we’ve seen a huge surge in accessories sales, so we’re keeping an eye out for new accessory brands. We’re very excited to be introducing Laines London accessories this month, and we’re also working on some exclusive collaborations with a few of our existing labels.

What’s your bestselling item (or brand) and why do you think it sells well?

At the moment, for obvious reasons, our best-selling product is our #AgeismIsNeverInStyle face coverings – with £5 per mask sold going to Hospice UK. Aside from the coverings, our best selling items are knitwear and jewellery. Knitwear has always been very strong for us as we really focus on gorgeous quality (lots of cashmere) but with a fun twist. And this year our jewellery sales have soared as they’re great personal treats and additions to outfits for zoom!

Why do you think older women are so absent from fashion images and advertising?

Ageism is engrained into every corner of society. Modern western culture has an obsession with youth, which surged with the emergence of the cool ‘teenager’ in the 50s – a new, highly desirable and profitable demographic. This caused older people to be increasingly side-lined and treated as irrelevant or invisible.

Since then, fashion and advertising has both fuelled and reflected our society’s belief that youth is always preferable, and ageing is to be feared. It’s ‘aspirational’. But as I always say, there’s a difference between aspirational and not delusional! You can’t age backwards, so it should be about encouraging consumers to aspire to be the best version of themselves today.

Tell us about Ageism Is Never In Style?

Founded in 2016, Ageism Is Never In Style® is our movement and community, created to challenge the fashion industry’s – and society at large – ageist attitudes, and to champion age-inclusivity. Ending ageism means ensuring we all have the choice to age however we wish to, without external judgment or pressure. There’s no right or wrong, and our mission is to unite women and men globally of all ages to engage in the conversation, and to support and inspire one another.

To raise awareness and spark conversation, we have the #AgeismIsNeverInStyle hashtag, and free badges and charity face masks. We also have a community of over 4k members on facebook, content on our blog, and we recently launched ‘Share Your Story by Ageism Is Never In Style’ – a new sub-group connecting women over 40 with press and journalists to help them share their stories and commentary with a view to changing the narrative around ageing.

Over the last couple years, we are seeing more diversity within the fashion industry, what more can fashion brands/the industry do to support this?

Now that we are starting to see more diversity in campaigns and on the runway, the next step is to stop being tokenistic. For example, the majority of ‘older women’ featured in campaigns are typically tall, slim, Caucasian with white or grey hair.

Moreover, there’s usually just one or two women featured, who are meant to represent all. With age, why should someone for example in her 70s be representing a woman in her 40s? There’s a 30 year age gap. We wouldn’t expect a woman in her 20s to identify with a woman in her 40s, so why should it be any different?

We also need to demand more consistency. If a brand wants to be seen to celebrate diversity, then this must become engrained into its DNA. Otherwise it just comes across as inauthentic and opportunistic. There are brands that seem to celebrate diversity in their campaigns, but it’s lacking on their social media and/or website. This needs to change.

Why is it important to see diverse women (age, shape, size, colour) in fashion images and advertising?

Representation matters. We see 3-5k adverts a day, so we’re constantly flooded with images of what is beautiful and acceptable. If you don’t see yourself or others represented in that, it warps a sense of identity, hinders innovation, and fuels subconscious biases and prejudice.  Fashion, in particular, has a responsibility to celebrate diversity due to its undeniable influence over cultural and socio-economic attitudes.

The Bias Cut SS20 campaign

You recently revealed a total rebrand – complete with new logo, fresh website design and packaging to coincide with the launch of your new AW20 collections, tell us more?

Our AW20 collection is one of our strongest to date. And after a turbulent year so far, it felt like the ideal time to hit refresh. We’ve stayed true to our values and heart by keeping core elements and features, whilst injecting freshness and refinement.

Our new website is slicker and smarter, and our new branding has been designed by Eliska Haskovoca. Eliska and I studied together at university, and she photographed our very first collection in 2016. So it felt only natural for her to lead our rebranding as someone who has truly understood and championed our DNA from day 1.

You place a great emphasis on British and sustainable brands. What other ways is the brand incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

At The Bias Cut we’re committed to slow, sustainable fashion. We are focused on educating and encouraging consumers to adopt that mentality, and we’re constantly assessing and improving our practices with a view to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Our current initiatives include: our Cost-Per-Wear Calculator (a simple tool on every product page that helps customers make smarter, more considered purchases); detailing our designers’ sustainability & ethical commitments on each product page; carbon offsetting UK orders; active recycling and using sustainable packaging; charity collaborations; and working with local schools, colleges and universities to offer mentorship, internships and experience.

Is the Coronavirus pandemic one the biggest challenges facing the fashion industry today?

The fashion industry has already had a difficult few years – especially in the UK – and the pandemic has compounded this. It has presented unprecedented challenges for all of us, but equally acted as a catalyst in exposing out-dated business models, shifting consumer behaviours, and how imperative it is to be flexible and willing to adapt.

It’s a very worrying and stressful time, and we all are facing short term and long term challenges. But it’s also opening up new opportunities and innovation. Lockdown sparked a shift in attitudes towards clothes: more people are understanding and recognising enclothed cognition (the psychological link between what we wear and how we feel & behave) which is encouraging.

How has The Bias Cut direct-to-consumer website been performing throughout this uncertain period?

As a small team, we have been closely monitoring the Covid-19 developments since January to ensure we were able to respond immediately to changes. So we were prepared and able to implement new provisions seamlessly as soon as circumstances worsened. We’ve been very fortunate not to need to furlough or lay off any staff and we have been able to continue business as usual with no interruptions.

As soon as the government introduced the furlough scheme and lockdown, we immediately saw an increase in sales. Over the last 5 months, our total sales have increased by 71% compared to the previous period. Many customers contacted us to say how much they want to support and champion us as a small boutique they believe in, which we’re extremely grateful for.

In what ways has The Bias Cut been adapting to such challenging times?

As of mid-March, all our team has been working remotely with no physical contact with each other. There is a constant, ongoing dialogue between every single member of staff to confirm they continue to feel happy, healthy and safe, and we have mutually discussed and agreed on back up plans should anyone become unwell. We’ve also changed our shipping options to ensure that all orders can be collected from distance and delivered at a safe proximity without contact.

We also adapted our product offering in response to consumer demand. We introduced our best-selling #AgeismIsNeverInStyle face coverings in mid-May, and several new accessory labels including lower value items at entry price points.

What’s next for The Bias Cut?

Having established a strong, loyal customer base, we’re now focused on growing our brand awareness and exposure. We’ll be introducing some new labels next season, working on more collaborations, and developing my eponymous label, Jacynth London. And we’re also continuing to grow and develop Ageism Is Never In Style®.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a womenswear brand?

  1. Know what your values are and stand by them.
  2. Know your customer and keep getting to know them, so you can continue to develop with them.
  3. Make sure you love business as much as clothing and being creative, and vice versa. It’s vital you can balance the two.
  4. Hone in on your assets, use them as much as possible, and think laterally.
  5. When I started in the industry I had zero contacts – all my family & friends were lawyers! So I had to invest a lot of time going to events and reaching out to people to build up my contact base.