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Interview: Jane Porter of Studio 104

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Jane Porter is the creative mind behind bespoke corporate clothing design company Studio 104. From her humble beginnings at M&S, Jane has worked with top clients such as The Savoy, Quaglino’s and JP Morgan. We discover how her dissertation subject inspired her to set up her dream business.

What made you start Studio 104?

Since being at London College of Fashion and studying successful entrepreneurs for my dissertation subject I have wanted to have my own business. Throughout my career as a fashion buyer I have always worked closely with the owners of each company I worked for and been fascinated in how they have grown their company. I have never felt comfortable working for someone else and knew I was destined to go it alone. Bespoke uniforms is also a market need. Before setting up Studio 104 I interviewed dozens of hotel managers all over the world to find out if offering a bespoke uniform design and production service was needed and it was very obvious that they were crying out for a good supplier, and one that could understand their brand and their needs.

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Tell us a bit about Studio 104 and your background – what led you to starting your own business?

My dissertation title at university was ‘How do entrepreneurs make their companies successful?’ I was lucky enough to interview some really famous fashion entrepreneurs and I was fascinated to learn about what made them tick. I graduated as a fashion buyer from London College of Fashion and went on to work for Marks and Spencer’s. I then worked for various well know fashion brands and travelled the world as a product developer. I worked closely with each business owner that I worked for and I had that feeling that I could do what they were doing. The challenge was to think of a good business idea and set-up a robust business model. Once I thought of Studio 104 that was it – I was hooked.

Studio 104 is a great name – where does it come from?

I couldn’t think of a name and I had already won my first contract. I started the business from my kitchen table and my Studio flat in London was number 104!

You have an impressive array of clients – how easy was this to build up?

My first five star hotel I won was the Savoy. I was able to use this example in other pitches. The Savoy’s expectations are extremely high which gave other potential clients confidence in us. As we were successful very early on starting with one of the most famous five star hotels in the world we had to work really hard to maintain our reputation and make sure the success wasn’t a one-off. This was tough. We were winning amazing contracts but I didn’t have the resources to keep up with the demand. I worked long hours to make it work. It was a stressful time.

Who would be your dream client?

My dream client is the Morgans Group. They own a number of hotels all over the world including the Mondrian London, the Sanderson and the St Martin’s Lane Hotel. My dream was to design uniform that didn’t look or feel like uniform. I wanted to work with hip hotels who would look to me for image and innovation. The Morgans Group are that brand.

Tell us about the process: how does it work from client brief to end result?

The client gives us the brief. Once the quote is agreed we start by with an in-depth research process where we create a strong concept. With the concept we present designs, fabrics and trims. Once the designs are signed off we move onto the development phase. We will work with our experienced garment techs, product developers and pattern cutters to create a proto-sample in the correct cloth and trim. We then present the proto to the client. Next we grade the patterns into sizes and then move forward to production. After going through quality control we will deliver the uniforms to the client.

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Which entrepreneur has given you inspiration?

I was really inspired by Tamara Hill-Norton, the Founder of Sweaty Betty. I worked for her as a fashion buyer. She had the work/life balance thing down to a tee. Jeff Banks also inspired me. I studied him for my dissertation. It was ironic when I beat him and won the design prize at the Professional Clothing Awards. He also founded a uniform design company and many well-known fashion brands.

Running a business is tough – what do you do when you aren’t working, and how do you manage the life/work balance?

I make sure I always have a holiday in the diary. I need regular breaks and I have to get away. When I leave London I can switch off. I love to socialise and my family are really important to me.

How big is your team?

On a busy day we have around eight people in the studio at one time. I employ three people and the rest are freelancers and an intern. I need to keep the business flexible. It works really well this way.

What’s your plans for the future growth of your business?

We have just gone international and that was a big dream of mine so I would like to grow this area and work with more hotels abroad. We will move into brand new offices soon. We will have more space and the place it very inspiring. I also plan to start an on-line uniform shop. If the client can’t afford our bespoke service they can buy uniform from our stock range.

How do you find the balance of creative ideas vs commercial viability? Has there been anything you really wanted to do which wasn’t commercially viable?

This is incredibly important. We are successful because we are offering innovative designs and a great look. Our challenge is fashion versus function. Sometimes we have to compromise the look of the garment so that the fabric is durable and stains can be easily removed. I don’t have an example of not being able to do something because where there is a will there is a way. We want to be the best at what we do so we will go all out to make it work.

What’s been your most successful form of marketing and promotion for Studio 104?

Word of mouth. The industry is quite small and my clients move around frequently. If you have a good reputation then you just need to keep delivering. I am aware that as we grow we can’t rely on word of mouth so we are working on a robust social media strategy.

What’s been your favourite project to date?

When we did the Mondrian Doha hotel in London. We worked with the famous stylist Karen Langley (Beyoncé’s main stylist). She used to be chief editor of Dazed and Confused. She really inspired me. The Morgans Group were a dream to work with and everything went to plan. Off the back of that we won a contract to do the uniforms for the Mondrian Doha.

What’s the best thing about running your business?

Having a dream and being able to make it happen without having to check with other people first.

Give us your work playlist!

I love the soundtrack from the movie Drive, I love London Grammar and if I want to feel happy I listen to Mercury Rising by Rae and Christian. My friend is a very talented DJ so I am always downloading his mixes from Soundcloud. I am partial to a bit of chilled house music.

What advice would you give to any budding entrepreneurs?

The first five years are really intense and tough. If you can get through this then you will successful. Don’t give up. If you persist, your dreams will come true. Surround yourself with good people.