Bedfordshire fashion firm DSL Licensing is going global with help from UK Trade & Investment.
The venture started by producing company uniforms and supplying big brands with promotional clothing like t-shirts and fleeces, made in Bangladesh.
But margins were tight, the market limited and the risk of relying on huge orders too great – so the business changed direction.
DSL decided instead to specialise in designing, manufacturing and distributing fashion accessories such as women’s handbags, men’s bags, wallets, belts and purses – under license, paying the brand owners a fee, but operating largely independently.
That’s where UK Trade & Investment – and trade adviser Anton Rudgalvis - came in, says DSL’s international business manager, Chris Barney.
“Anton helped place me on some of the seminars that UKTI run. These taught me the pros and cons of the choices we had - using agents or distributors, for instance – and the pitfalls of various markets.
“We were looking at far distant places like Japan that we thought we could crack. Very quickly we realised we were a bit out of our league as we hadn’t yet developed our brands in Europe. They really educated me on how to form a long term export plan rather than just go in like a bull in a china shop.”
From little or no exporting as recently as six years ago, DSL is now working with four major fashion labels to make accessories that complement their existing clothing and footwear and sell them abroad, as well as in 300 independent retailers in the UK.
DSL’s designers, now based in larger offices at the Capability Green Business Park in Luton after relocating from Leighton Buzzard, are working on accessories to match up with top boutique clothing and footwear brands like Storm London, Irregular Choice, Rocket Dog and Boxfresh. Raw materials are sourced in China and the finished products turned out there, too.
Exports so far only make up about six per cent of the company’s £4.5m turnover, but Chris Barney hopes UKTI programmes like the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS), Passport to Export and Gateway to Global Growth will help DSL take overseas sales to the next level.
He said: “We did an OMIS on the Spanish market. Anton helped me with that and they were great at the British Embassy and I have now got a distribution partner lined up to represent all four of our brands, which is incredible because usually you get people trying to pick and choose.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: DSL designer Sara Lopez, working on the the new Rocket Dog autumn winter 2012 ladies’ range.