Tiffany Luckett talks to Constance & Matilda Murphy, Co-Founders of Harmur.
Launching a new brand or concept has never been easier. Access to customers via social media is free, setting up an online retail can happen in the click of a button, and supply chain retailers are to find so easily online… Conversely, it’s never been more challenging. With high-street retailers struggling and with customers being bombarded with choice every second of every day, how do you make a brand completely stand apart from your competitors?What made you want to start your own brand?
I’m so lucky that it’s a brand I share with my mother and sister. I’ve always been very creative and have always had a big interest in fashion and the arts, even deciding against uni to get straight into the industry. Working with so many other brands I always dreamt of having one of my own someday and being able to make all of the creative and business decisions. It just needed to be right. The right idea, the right time, and not just for me, but for all three of us. Doing this together was a big part of the plan; we are a real team.Where did the idea to create the pieces you started with come from?
The whole brand started from a conversation my sister, Tilly, and I had around our kitchen table three years ago. We were both working in London and were home for the weekend. We were discussing how the go-to item for special occasions or for going out was a dress and the big trend was as low cut and as tight as possible. We were so bored of it. My mother, Minnie, joined the conversation as we were chatting about party tops and how sexy and cool we thought backless designs were; less obvious and just a super stylish alternative to low cut.
Minnie then recreated for both of us the backless top she had worn when we were tiny. We wore them all summer long and got so many compliments. That was when we knew that this was the brand for us. From there we elevated and refined the design even more, decided on silk as our core material and created three more party tops to start the brand. All were backless, which we made our USP. We also coined the phrase ‘Undressed in Silk’ as you really do feel undressed in the best way possible when wearing them. Four tops and that was our brand.What roles do you and your family have in the company?
My role is very much brand director; shoots, marketing, brand image and business direction is my main day-to-day job. As there are only three of us, my role does span into production manager from time to time. Minnie creates many of our new design patterns – we all design and draw together and she will make that drawing into reality. Tilly still works full time outside the company and is in often in NYC so oversees a lot of the logistics as well as really supporting me across all business and brand elements. If any major decisions have to be made, we always make them together.Would you recommend starting with one key piece and then later developing more? What were the benefits and challenges of doing it that way for you?
It really depends on what kind of brand you want to create. I am a big believer in starting smaller and doing something really well and differently. This is a hugely competitive market and I think sometimes less is more. We knew our brand was niche but we weren’t afraid of that. It meant we knew exactly which market and customer we were appealing to and allowed us to become a leader in that concept rather than trying to appeal to everyone. The latter, I think, can sometimes dilute a luxury brand that can’t make mass product. Naturally you have to try harder to grow because you’re appealing to a smaller group of consumers, but it means you keep direction and control.How did you fund your brand at the beginning?
We self-funded initially and then we won a loan from Virgin. There’s definitely cost involved in starting your own business so you have to believe in yourself and the product to warrant the investment, but there are ways that you can control and measure what you put in. We always knew what we could afford and worked within our means to grow organically, which meant things like not sitting on extra stock and creating a core collection.Did you quit your job to start Harmur? How do you balance everything?
I did quit my job but not forever – I basically took three months off to re-balance and start Harmur. I think it’s so important to take the space and time to re-assess and clear your mind. For me, that’s when everything falls into place. That’s not to say I find it easy: I had to learn that you can’t be 24/7 all the time, especially when your role needs creativity. I try to stop working at 6.30 pm and make sure I have at least one day off at the weekend. I still consult and work with a PR agency so it’s full on and the balance is definitely key. The moment I start rushing – and I don’t mean working quickly, because that’s a given, I mean rushing and not doing a solid job – I have to have a word with myself.You’ve just secured an exclusive deal with Net-A-Porter. Why do you think it chose your brand?
I think the fact that we have a really strong USP and a great price point for the quality of our designs definitely helped. As a new brand we also try to be really receptive and ‘human’ towards everyone we work with so I hope that played a part too. We listened to them when designing the exclusives; it was very collaborative.Has social media played a part in your success? Have you used influencers to promote your products? I think social media is an absolutely vital tool for a business. It’s the modern-day shop window for your brand and it has definitely had played a part in our success. We’ve had some amazing requests from stockists, stylists, editors and potential clients via social media and it’s so great for us to be able to immediately connect with our consumers and see them in the pieces when they tag us. But I think we could do more and it’s on my investment list for this season. We do work with some amazing influencers – people we really admire or who have supported us from the beginning – but we try not to gift the product without purpose. Have you had a lot of competition from other brands? How do you stay relevant?
Yes and no. Of course there’s competition and I think of it as healthy rather than a negative thing. But I try not to dwell on it too much and focus on keeping our brand authentic and something that we are proud of. As a small, pretty much self-funded brand we can’t compare ourselves to big budget brands so we focus on what we can do and keep creative to stay relevant.What’s been the most exciting part of your journey so far?
Launching on Net-a-Porter has definitely been a real highlight. The team there has been incredible to work with too. I’m also so excited about the new SS20 collection and it’s been thrilling to take it to NYC, having been approached by stockists there.What one piece of advice would you would give to anyone starting their own fashion brand?
Really think about the ‘why’ behind your brand before you start. Anyone can launch a brand today so yours needs to have a story and a ‘why’ to make it stand out. Then I would say think about how you work and the support network you might need to stay motivated and productive. Starting a brand can be incredibly rewarding but it can also be stressful and, if you work by yourself, lonely, so just think about these things before taking the plunge. Once you make the leap, celebrate all the small wins and try not to overthink everything too much – it’s easily done when it’s your own brand.