I, Steff Benton, took part in a blind review for Indie+Design, in which we were sent an item (sized according to measurements on the company’s size chart to ensure best fit) from a mystery company to review, and then have the company revealed afterwards to ensure no bias during our reviewing. The company in question for this was Caroline Ann, and you can find the review here. Now, I have interviewed her to find out more about what she is about as a clothing designer:
Hi Caroline, you have a fantastic range of sizes available; what inspired this?
I started about 6 years ago and was making sizes 14-26. Many customers were emailing me to ask for other sizes when they read that everything was made to order and I soon realised there was a market for smaller and larger, so extended the range from a 10-40!
What drew you to clothing design?
I was very tall as a child and could never find long enough trousers and sleeves etc and l also was into dressing a bit differently, so the main reason was being unable to find what I wanted.
Spandau Ballet then came along with tartan baggy trousers and sashes, and that was it! I went off to the local market and bought green tartan. When I got home I made a pattern from some old trousers in newspaper and heaps of Sellotape, the rest, as they say, is history.
I studied Fashion Design at college and spent 20 years designing for companies who supplied the High Street stores. I even went back to my college to teach pattern cutting, 30 years after leaving!
What is the concept behind your clothing?
Having piled on the pounds after my two children and going from a 14 to 22, I quickly realised that the clothes I could find on the high street were way off what I wanted to be wearing. Just because I was bigger, I still had a waist and curves. Wearing square t-shirt was just shocking and emphasised my size. I worked on the concept of vertical lines breaking up the front by way of stitching or contrast colours could create the illusion of length and narrowness. It’s a really simple concept; if you draw to identical boxes and draw a vertical line in the middle of one, it makes that box look smaller.
Once I’d made a new sample, I had to do the “Caroline” test. If it didn’t make me feel slimmer and look different it wasn’t going in the range! I played with samples for ages, chopping bits off adding extra panels, reshaping areas etc; great fun and a great way of coming up with something a bit different!
Lagenlook is a word I am seeing associated with your style. Can you describe ‘lagenlook’, please?
Lagenlook was a term that was coming though a few years back, from Germany. It meant ‘layering.’ I wanted to create clothes that had layers but as one piece, so no thought had to go into matching lots of garments!
You don’t appear to be on indie shopping platforms such as Etsy or Folksy – have you been in the past? Do you find these to be useful platforms for your work?
I started on EBay and then Amazon approached me to be on their site too. I’ve just listed a few on Etsy last week, and hope that it will be another platform. The commissions are much lower on Etsy, so it would be great.
Are designers missing a trick by sticking to these sites?
I think designers probably have to find their niche market, EBay has always been the best for me … so far.
Where would you say most of your custom comes from?
I get most of my sales from repeat customers these days. I have such a wonderful client base, that buy something every month. A few even send me sketches and ideas, and many choose their own fabrics and send them to me to make them up in my styles. It works really well, and great for my client to know they are wearing one of a kind!
In a world of heavy social media usage, you have not courted bloggers, as a lot of companies tend to: what are your thoughts on this?
I would love to get people blogging about me, but have no idea about how to go about this. I suppose I’m a bit old-school and don’t have a lot of spare time.
How do you deal with the PR elements of your company, and marketing your brand on social media?
I don’t deal very well at all, I don’t know any bloggers, and have no idea how it all works. I spend most of my time talking to my customers on email, designing new garments and sewing when we get too busy for my machinist to cope!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to create an inclusive clothing range?
Study your market, read, interview, question, make sure you know what people are looking for and why. Be versatile and willing to take on a challenge.
What are your plans for the future of Caroline Ann?
I would love to eventually do small runs of designs in factories, maybe 100 of a style, as opposed to hand-cutting and sewing each one. It would make my prices a little more competitive and with a bigger turnover, I could diversify into different fabrics and styling.
Thank you, Caroline, for an insightful look at your business and ethics. We really appreciate your time on this!
To find out more about Caroline Ann, please visit: