Plum of London

Hugo Douglass talks about his first year in business, alpaca knitwear and more.

Plum of London is known for its beautiful collection of knitwear and accessories made from pure Royal alpaca. Designed and created in Britain, alpaca knitwear is as soft as cashmere, hypoallergenic, warmer than goose down, breathable and stronger than mohair. We catch up with founder, Hugo Douglass, to find out more.

We’re celebrating Plum’s first official birthday and can’t believe the year’s gone so quickly... I guess that what happens when you’re having fun! Although we carried out a significant amount of time prior to this, we’ve now been trading for a year and somewhat overwhelmed by the incredible reception and wonderful feedback both the brand and our products have received. We started off our celebrations by exhibiting with many other like-minded brands at Best of Britannia – the perfect event. Otherwise, we’ll be at many other fairs over the next few months, so keep an eye on our diary…

There are always obstacles a startup business must overcome when setting up... and the inevitable unforeseen issues that will have to be negotiated too. The several keys areas that I believe are critical to allowing a startup to flourish whether it be during an economic down-turn or when the economy’s booming, is that the business plan must be sound, the product exceptional and the route to market already mapped out.

Social media’s proved to be an exceptionally useful tool for us in many ways.... The most obvious being that it’s free and gives us the ability to reach a huge number of customers as well as connecting with a wider audience. It’s an incredible concept and with so many different platforms available, they offer some amazing opportunities. It’s been great to keep others informed with what we’re currently working on, where we’ll be exhibiting and educating them about the infinite benefits and qualities alpaca possesses.

<>I have a list of entrepreneurs who I admire... which is too long to include here, but I’ve been inspired and hold the utmost respect by anyone who’s built their own brand for it to have become a household name during their lifetime. I think that alone is a truly fantastic achievement but ultimately, anyone who’s started and runs their own business - that is pretty impressive too!

People can gain a lot from actually handling our alpaca products and experiencing the quality and softness for themselves so this is the one major disadvantage of selling our products online... We obviously overcome this by attending fairs and shows but with the lack of knowledge and understanding of alpaca fibre that’s still out there, we always knew it would take some time before we could educate and inform others of the incredible attributes it possesses. We are however changing people’s pre-conceptions pretty quickly, so it seems the message is getting out there!

It is from experience quite easy to be all-consumed by your business and so this is quite a prevalent question... Effectively, I’ve just tried to be quite stringent by literally diarising my work, sleep and eat whilst trying to fit some down-time in there too. Unfortunately I’m not always disciplined enough to know when to switch-off but this format certainly helps.

As for recommending apps that I couldn't live without... Several social media platforms would be up there for obvious reasons whilst I’ve recently found ABBYY which scans a business card and then stores it into a database which is pretty useful! Staying on the same subject, Linkedin is amazing to keep up-to-date with my current contacts as well as finding new ones. I’m always listening to music and love finding new artists and bands and for this reaso,n I often find myself using Shazam. I’m always impressed by its functionality and accuracy - one reason why technology always amazes me!

Our brand in three words... Luxury British Knitwear.

As for a favourite testimony from a customer... I’m pleased to say that I’m spoilt for choice, but a comment that I’ll always remember was from a lovely lady in Chicago who said, "Just wanted to say - this is the BEST warmest scarf! It's below -12 F degrees out and it blocks wind and keeps me nice and snug! Can't wait for my next scarf, ideally I could be encased in some kind of alpaca chrysalis!"

As for highlights over the past twelve months... I’m happy to say there there have been quite a few but the feedback and compliments we’ve received from key industry experts always prove very humbling. Both national and international publications have also shown a lot of interest in the brand and our products so it’s always very encouraging to know that our vision is being well received by the press.

I’m often attending seminars in which to network and acquire new ideas and inspiration... Enterprise Nation and Brand Gathering are just two which offer some great opportunities. Otherwise, with regards to podcasts, I quite like EFO too which articulates the ideas of the world’s most influential entrepreneurs throughout the week.

I am motivated by... the fear of failure. That may sound a little extreme but I just want to ensure that I’m doing all I can to give my business the greatest chance of success. The interest and compliments I’ve received from anyone I or the brand has been in touch with has eased that pressure and allowed me to realise that I’m onto something pretty special.

The advice I would give myself if I could go back in time... I don’t have any regrets and so wouldn’t want to change anything per se but if I told myself to take a step back and enjoy the experience a little more and not to get so stressed or anxious about the situation, then I think that that would have given me a better base on which to build from!

We’ve got some incredibly exciting things coming up for the brand in the near future... most of which I can’t say much about at this stage, I’m afraid! The one thing that I could mention is that of a possible collaboration with Positive Luxury. The company acknowledges brands who are taking steps towards social and environmental sustainability by awarding them the Butterfly Mark. It’s always great to be recognised by such a highly regarded programme.

My best trait ... Difficult one, but I’d say that my passion just pips my determination…

As for websites that I like to browse... On a retail/ work note, I like browsing through Mr Porter but in terms of further knowledge and keeping up with current affairs, I’d be happy spending some time on any news sites offering and reading certain people’s columns.

October 2014