Rachel Carvell-Spedding got so fed up of trying to source the perfect jumper that she created a company devoted to just that.

Navygrey – a beautiful website dedicated entirely to jumpers – burst into life in January 2019. The brainchild of Rachel Carvell-Spedding, it sells three classic styles in four timeless colours, all of which are designed to slot naturally and enduringly into your daily repertoire. Sticking firmly to the principle of doing one thing and doing it well, Rachel’s chic jumpers epitomise the concept of the wardrobe staple.

Rachel studied History at the University of Oxford and started her career as a researcher for the broadcaster, Sir David Frost. She worked on a number of documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV before moving to a media and brand consultancy. She went on to run a leading education consultancy, which she sold in 2013, and then joined a fast growing start-up business.

Inspired by the classic jumpers worn by her parents and grandparents throughout her outdoorsy childhood, she later took the plunge and set up Navygrey.

Here, Rachel tells us how she manages the minutiae of this simple, stylish and sustainable brand.

I came up with the idea when… I had spent years trying to find a jumper just like the one that’s been in my mother’s wardrobe for 20 years and I couldn’t. So I decided to create one.

The biggest challenge is… everything, dare I say it! Getting started, dealing with production and manufacturing, scaling and cash flow.

We have the added challenge that we are trying to be as sustainable as possible at every stage of our supply chain. We require full traceability for our wool – from sheep to shop – so we will only work with certain suppliers and our production timelines are much longer as a result. When we launched and sold out of a number of jumpers very quickly, we had to hope that customers would wait for the restock. (The majority did, which was great.)

We print everything on recycled paper or card – and all of our packaging is plastic-free and made from 100 per cent recycled (and recyclable or re-usable) materials.

Finding a factory and warehouse that was OK with us not using the standard plastic garment bags was key. Sourcing materials that are non-plastic, organic, recycled and recyclable tends to cost more, and it isn’t easy with our quantities. But we’re determined always to find a way.

Finding like-minded suppliers and partners is key in helping you overcome what can seem like insurmountable challenges.

The average day is spent… getting up ahead of my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Clementine, so that I can get sorted before she wakes. My husband and I make sure we always sit down and have breakfast with her. We then set off for the day, with one of us dropping Clementine at nursery.

I am usually at my desk, in my garden studio, ready to work, by 9am. I always check the bank account and cash flow first. In a business like this, cash is king, and it’s essential to know where we are at.

Some days are pure admin; others are focused on fittings and design. Another might be on strategy and key meetings. As we head into our busy autumn season, a lot of my time will be spent thinking about marketing and sales.

I also try to speak to a customer every day. We are purely online at the moment, but engaging with customers, getting their thoughts and answering their questions is invaluable. I always want to be able to do this – whether the feedback is good or bad. It is all helpful as you grow your brand.

The team consists of... myself; my designer, Charlotte; Sarah, who supports us on various operational and marketing matters; and my accountant. We also work with lots of freelancers and ad hoc helpers – from graphic and web designers, to our project manager in Portugal (where our jumpers are made) and a really great team in Devon, who look after the stock.

We used to store all our stock in the studio, and my mother would come and help a lot (she used to work in fashion and retail), but within a few months it was clear we needed somewhere bigger.

My favourite quote is… “Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.” It’s hard to follow sometimes, as you always want things to be just right, but putting something out there and finessing it as you go is invariably the better way.

I am where I am today because of… hard work, gut instinct and my family support network. (I could not do this without a very supportive husband and daughter.)

Also, I have a genuine obsession with jumpers. I really felt there was a gap in the market for something different. So often, I would look at old family photos and wonder why I couldn’t find those classic, simple wardrobe items that my mother and father were wearing.

A lot of my memories from the past are my dad (who passed away when I was 15) in a navy v-neck jumper and my mum with hers tucked into “mom jeans” – which are now back in fashion. We’re currently working on a cardigan inspired by the one that my grandpa was still wearing at the age of 99. It just had such perfect proportions.

I always felt that, one day, I would start something of my own. So, real belief in the product and what I wanted to create has played a huge part in getting where I am.

I am who I am because of… life, timing and the role jumpers have had in my life.

My mum is from Aberdeen and my dad from Lancashire. If ever we were cold as children, my parents would just tell my sister and me to “put a jumper on” (or, if we were already wearing one, to “put another one on”).

My commitment to sustainability stems from my childhood on the North West coast, where I watched the landscape changing, from the erosion of sand dunes to an increase in plastic pollution. Sustainability always had to be a given for Navygrey. I believe it’s the only way to do business now. We have to learn from the past to change the future.

The best advice I’ve been given... ranges from “just get started” to “cash is king”. I’ve learned that things won’t be perfect, but that’s OK. I’ve learned to tell my story, invest in conveying it and go at the pace that suits me. It’s not about overnight success. I want to build a brand that’s around in 10, 20, 30 years’ time. I want to ensure that everything we do is underpinned by a genuine commitment to sustainable principles and practices. That takes time and means we can’t cut corners.

In five years I’d like to be… growing Navygrey with a bigger team, so that there’s capacity to do more of what we love. I love the idea, too, that as our product range grows we could have our own shop or two… or several.

The thing no one ever tells you about running your own business online… is that it’s actually still very personal. You are closer to your customer than you realise. Yes, they place an order through the website but they are just an email or call away. Even if you’re small and online, customer service is key.

The websites I most frequently use are... Xero (for accounting), Dropbox (where we manage all our files), Shopify, BBC Weather and Navygrey (because I’m constantly analysing our website). I also regularly check in with industry sites – like Business of Fashion, Vogue Business and Drapers – to see what’s happening.

What is your biggest mistake and what has it taught you? It involves timing. Everything takes longer than you think it will. We had hoped to launch Navygrey in the autumn of 2018, but due to supplier and manufacturing issues, we had to postpone until January 2019. We missed Christmas (which would have been a key time for us) but it meant that we could plan a little more. January ended up being a good month for us to launch.

The experience taught me that everything takes a long time and that, as a new brand, you to have to accept that you can’t get ahead as fast as some of the bigger players can.

Also, because we need to know the provenance of our wool (right down to the farms) and because we source the most sustainable packaging, we simply can’t turn things around as quickly as our competitors do.

That is hard, but if you believe this is the way to do business (which we do), you have to factor that into your story and timeline and work with it. The result is worth it.

What apps do you use to be more productive? A huge amount of brand engagement comes from Instagram. I have also used Slack in previous roles, which I know will serve as a great tool as Navygrey grows.

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July 2019