Meet the #Girlboss behind Squid, the color-changing umbrella that's taking the UK by rainstorm
Ever since she launched her revolutionary Squid London brand with her cofounder 9 years ago, business has been growing rapidly for Emma-Jayne Parkes. Starting with an umbrella line that changes color when it gets wet, the brand has now expanded into selling color-changing jackets, boots, bags and even shower curtains. Today I was lucky enough to meet Emma-Jayne for coffee in between her busy meetings at a café near their headquarters in Shoreditch. Confident, poised and full of energy, Emma-Jayne was exactly how I imagined the cofounder of a successful brand, which is already selling in over 25 countries including prestigious spots like the Tate, MoMA, Hamley's and Norstrom, to be.
Who is a typical Squid London customer?
When we were just selling umbrellas, our target customer was someone who was interested in fashion, liked things a bit wacky and wanted an accessory that was quirky, but not over the top.
Why is the brand called Squid?
The name Squid just fit, in a lot of ways; a squid's ink changes color when it is in contact with water, a squid lives in water, and a squid with its eight arms embodies a lively, energetic creature -just like our brand.
Squid has experienced enormous success, what advice would you give to emerging designers who dream of being in your shoes?
It is all down to perseverance and hard work. It sounds cliché, but it is true. You look at all these big brands that are doing very well but forget that they have been operating for over 15 years. Nothing is an overnight success. Fashion is a tough market and we still have a long way to go. We're happy with the current turnover, but there's still so much to achieve. The hardest thing is that other people around you will mention all the awards and milestones you've achieved, but as a cofounder you're always looking at the next step. You don't spend enough time celebrating your successes, you're too focused on reaching a new milestone. Being an entrepreneur is definitely not for everyone, you'll have good days and bad days. You just really have to be passionate and believe in yourself because if you don't, no one else will.
How did Squid start?
We launched in June 2008, and Viviane and I graduated from the London College of Fashion in July. We started selling our first Squid umbrellas at Spitalfields market with a stock of 100 units wearing lab coats as my cofounder thought it would make us look more "professional". Within eleven days we sold out. But our big break happened when Viviane and I pretended to have a meeting at the Tate museum. We literally rocked up to the Tate and said to the assistant that we had a meeting with the buyer. The secretary obviously could not find our names in the agenda, but thought there had been a miscommunication, so she let us meet with the buyer anyways. I'm pretty sure that midway through the meeting the buyer realised that we did not actually have a meeting planned, but our enthusiasm and excitement for our product convinced her to keep speaking with us. Five days later, she came back to us and asked us to design a bespoke line for an exhibition coming from MoMA! It was incredible. The contract required us to initially produce 600 units, but over the course of two years we produced at least 8000, and our umbrella was one of the museum's top selling product. If we hadn't pretended to have that meeting, it would have never happened. So I say, fake it till you make it.
Would you have ever have thought Squid would turn into what it is now?
Never. Viviane and I were passionate fashion students and had an idea for color-changing umbrellas. We started it during our last year of university and knew that if we wanted to do it, it would have to be now. We had no family or financial commitments, so we took a leap of faith. But it wasn't all smooth sailing– the first two years were horrific. In order to fund ourselves, Viviane and I worked part-time at these big event companies and had to hand out canapés. It was extremely hard work. We would work at events that went until 4 in the morning, and then from 10 am to 5 pm we would work on Squid. But we had to do it. Then 2 years later, we got the business to a place where we could earn a full-time salary from it.
You have expanded into rain boots, bathrobes and curtains. Where do you see the brand expanding into in the future?
We are definitely going to expand into swimwear. My final year project at LCF was in swimwear in which I designed a swimwear collection to prevent sun exposure and protect against skin cancer. So I have a bit of background in it and would want to create a color-changing swimwear line for both women and kids. But it's important not to expand too quickly. You want to focus on what you're good at and then expand when you're ready.
In terms of geographical locations, we are currently expanding massively in Asia; selling our products in China, Korea and Taiwan. Towards the end of next year we also plan to be launching in the US.
How do you get inspiration for your collections?
Having a good imagination - it helps! We do a lot of research, a lot of competitor shopping. We will look at what's happening on the catwalks because everything that happens in adult fashion will at some point filter down to the kids. We also read a lot of keynote reports. But at the same time, we look at what happens around us.
Is Brexit impacting you at all?
Yes. In terms of buyers, I definitely feel that European buyers are a bit anxious as they are not sure how Brexit will affect duty and shipping costs, and we don't know either. So there is definitely a sense of anxiety.