A mechanical engineer joins a mathematician and a physicist, all with expertise and backgrounds in financial technology, to start a business.
A fashion business. To be more specific, men’s apparel: art-inspired, conversation-provoking, loud, bold men’s shirts with designs such as “Lava Flows” “Rorschach Skulls” and “Musicians Diary.”
After the initial route through retail stores proved frustrating, they decide to go direct to consumer in the autumn of 2018. Currently, it is exclusively focused on selling into the UK market.
Today, Blake Mill’s shirts are flying out of the warehouse. “We didn’t know a whole lot about design but we did know about scaling a business up, says co-founder Ken Price (the mathematical engineer). “We have steered clear of bricks and mortar side so we don’t have high fixed overheads. The scalability of this business is just tremendous. There’s no reason why this won’t be a £5m business next year and no reason why it couldn’t be a £100m revenue company in five years.”
The company is based in Manchester’s city centre. “If you’re not in London, Manchester is the next best place in the UK to have a fashion enterprise,” says Price. “There’s tons of talent in digital marketing and fashion here.”
His current priority is capital raising. To date, the founders have invested their own funds but the scale of the opportunity means external finance. At this juncture, he is minded towards crowdfunding, given the supportive and affluent base of repeat customers that the company has established. “From a marketing point of view, it would also be a positive move,” he adds.
Once the capital has been raised, Blake Mill aims to expand its men’s product range; then to expand geographical coverage; and then to begin to expand into the women’s wear market.
“We are not going back to full occupancy in offices every day of the week any time soon, so we will go beyond shirts into leisure wear,” he says. “But men will still want to look good.”
Price is intrigued by the potential for using technologies such as blockchain and RFID tags to highlight the provenance and traceability of their shirts. “We can start to get clever with the products beyond the designs themselves,” he says.
As far as new markets are concerned, the US and Europe are the main targets. But Europe has become expensive since Brexit: “the only way we can expand into Europe is to set up a partnership with an EU-based fulfillment centre, which means doubling our inventory to keep that fully stocked.”
For these seasoned business professionals who gained their MBAs decades ago, building a fashion business is proving to be quite an education. So Blake Mill participated in the Creative Scaleup programme. “It was a refresher in some ways and cleared some cobwebs,” says Price, “but I learned a fair amount about digital marketing and analytics. Given the quality and density of the creative sector in this city, it was a pretty good networking opportunity.”
"The scalability of this business is just tremendous. There’s no reason why this won’t be a £5m business next year and no reason why it couldn't be a £100m revenue company in five years.”
Ken Price, Director, Blake Mill
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