It’s that time of year again when thousands of buyers, chief executives, magazine editors and celebrities flock to the capital to eye collections from the UK’s best-loved and emerging designers. This Friday marks the return of the first physical events at London Fashion Week since the start of the pandemic, with a mixture of in-person catwalks and digital shows for the public to watch at home.
Premium womenswear brand Rixo is among the more than 120 firms taking part. As well as A-listers, Rixo’s founders are also expecting another special guest at their presentation this week: their former landlord. The entrepreneurs behind the vintage fashion-inspired company — Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix, aged 32 and 29 respectively — set up the business in the living room of the Barons Court house they rented with university friends.
McCloskey recalls having boards up, samples in the room, and using the kitchen as a packing station. “We’d ask the landlord to take out more furniture because we’d run out of space.” The entrepreneur, who leads the design department and is wearing one of Rixo’s £165 “Amanda” lace trim tops as she chats on Zoom, says the owner of the property was always very “supportive” of their business ambitions.
Rixo has come a long way since that 2015 set-up. Today, it has four stand-alone London stores, is stocked by wholesalers and sells online.
It recently notched up annual sales of more than £10 million and its clothes have been spotted on celebrities including Holly Willoughby and Kylie Minogue.
Rixo has further growth ambitions, with up to three more stores planned in the near future, and the start-up recently launched new divisions such as shoes and knitwear.
The founders met at the London College of Fashion, where they did a four-year fashion management course. Rix, originally from Cheshire, says they learned plenty about the commercial side of apparel retail: “Buying, merchandising, elements on branding, elements on coding and ecommerce.”
Rix and McCloskey, from Dungiven in Northern Ireland, both had various retail jobs in their teens and while studying, including working on the shop floors of Selfridges and Reiss.
After graduating they would work on their business plans on weekends. They also spent time meeting people to learn about website design and visiting vintage stalls for inspiration. The pair had a love for silk clothing and 1970s dresses and wanted to re-create a vintage look for customers.
They invested around £3000 each to start the business, and had built up a relationship with a team in London that was able to get small orders of garments (around 50 items) made in China. The women sold the orders in the UK, making enough money to order more stock.
Rix says they started with online sales, and then borrowed her dad’s car, filled it with stock, and visited potential wholesalers. The efforts paid off and revenues grew steadily. One highlight Rix recalls was getting goods sold on the Net-a-Porter site.
Like other start-ups, Rixo — still owned by its founders — has had difficulties and setbacks, including the pandemic. McCloskey says: “Wholesale was a big part of our business that took a bit of a deep dive, but we managed to grow the DTC (direct to consumer) side.”
There are other headwinds: “The biggest thing for us is the cost of shipping. The other thing is a lot of fabric prices went up.”
Numerous companies have reported higher costs as manufacturers grapple with a backlog of orders. Freight costs have also climbed, in part due to bumper online orders leading to higher demand for transport.
But the Rixo team is feeling optimistic about growth ahead, with West End footfall improving weekly. They are raring to go for London Fashion Week, with a packed diary of press appointments, fittings and alterations with models.
Meanwhile, McCloskey says work is already underway for the collection that will come out after the one being showed off at this event. That will give well-heeled shoppers something to look forward to in 2022.
Staff: circa 50
Turnover: £10.5m in year to June. Targeting £18m this financial year.
Headquarters: near Shepherd’s Bush