I met the wife & husband team behind Riyka through this very site, as they came across some of the stories of new businesses, and thought their story was worth telling, and they weren't wrong. Rebecca and Vedran are a great couple, with a lovely attitude to working. They are focused on producing product they believe in and creating a lifestyle that makes them both happy, vs. world domination for their brand. They produce a fashion label that is a small edit of basics, using sustainable methods and sourcing, and have created their own look using denim and pops of colour in materials like leather that grows season to season, rather than chasing trends.
The big change for them has been the decision to sell their product directly, rather than via wholesale routes, meaning that they have had to become designers, retailers, accountants, marketers...you name it, to make the business the successful.
I caught up with them to find out more about what they do, and how it all came about.
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here....
Rebecca: I studied fashion and I graduated in 2008, during the financial crisis. I didn't feel that there was much for me in fashion in Israel (where we're both from), so we came here because we thought it would be more interesting. I was interested in the mix of cultures in London.
I did a year of internships and then decided to look for work and couldn't find any. I spent about 2 months sending out my CV and realised there wasn't really anywhere for me to go. Ved suggested that I should do something on my own and try it.
I started to look into it, as I liked the idea, although I spent 6 months panicking about it! I created a mood board, developed a collection and had 26 pieces that weren't commercial at all. We went with that to the shops and they said 'we can't sell this'. I had a moment of clarity of what we needed to do to make it commercial, and so we stripped it all back. That did quite well and I realised how much I love doing this. That was in 2012.
Vedran: The idea was to make a brand with a range of products that we would buy, and that represents us, not really to build a business. Because we didn't start with that business goal, we weren't sure exactly how the product would look or how we would sell it. It was more to see if we could do it. That automatically enabled us to do whatever what we wanted. It therefore took a while for it to develop. Even after 2 or 3 seasons it wasn't a whole.
What does the label stand for?
Rebecca: It's fun and playful. The sustainability part of the brand happened naturally, because we are like that as people, and try to be good consumers. We want to know if the people who make our pieces are getting paid well and that the fabrics aren't having a negative impact.
Vedran: The sustainable part is not a unique selling point for us, but journalists often talk about that point because it sells the line. People care more now about how they eat and drink and what they wear, it's a bit of a trend. I think they always cared, but there are cycles of people having more energy to invest into finding out what they are consuming. When we started, the idea was to make something that has the stamp of how we make it and represents something beyond a factory line.
Rebecca: The main thing for us is that the clothes are about functionality with ease and they are 'forgiving' to women. It's a different attitude to dressing - discreet femininity - as opposed to being in your face.
Vedran: It doesn't emphasise your body, but that's what sexy. In terms of design and branding that was more of the goal.
Rebecca: The most important thing we're interested in is combining materials and colours to create different contrasts and make it visually dynamic. I want to feel like the clothes and colours are bouncing out at me.
And you've made the decision to sell your clothes directly to consumers, rather than via wholesale - how has that been?
Rebecca: At the beginning we were mostly selling through other shops, and since last year we're selling about 90% from our own shop online. It's a hugely scary thing to do, but has been much better for us. Now we're completely in control of the product in all ways.
Vedran: Control is the key word here. If you're selling through someone, they're in a state of power. They have the retail space and can demand certain things to be done. When you make and sell something by yourself, there is no-one else to try and influence your decisions.
Rebecca: It's tough when you're starting out, and you have no experience with wholesale and invoicing - it's a learning curve! Now I'm doing the press as well as the design, and the technical aspects of developing the pieces (with an assistant). Most of the time I'm going crazy!
Vedran: I make sure that Rebecca doesn't go sideways. I deal with the money, admin, and sourcing the best way to do things. I'm actually a qualified engineer and worked as a traffic engineer when we first came to the UK. However, I wanted to do something else, and I think the most interesting thing is the control aspect. You want to create something and have full control of it, steer it and see what happens. If Rebecca were an interior designer, we'd probably have done something in that scene.
What was the reason for changing from wholesale to selling independently?
Rebecca: Ultimately, some of our wholesalers stopped working with us. Places closed - when you're a new brand, new shops take you, but they're also new so they might change direction, or they can't sell you any longer. Our label isn't right for every shop because of the price point and the way it looks, it's a niche product.
In January 2015, we had no wholesale accounts booked for A/W, but we decided to do it anyway and see how it went. We used a brand consultant who gave us some tips and after the first season, we got the gist of it. We learnt how to find the people that would be interested in our product, to create a connection or relationship with people. We've had to be much more open about the whole social media thing, being more constant, creating a network and constantly working at it.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress?
Rebecca: Pretty much straight away, but when you do it like this, there are times when it's really quiet with no sales or press coverage and you're pulling your hair out. But, then a month later it's the opposite, so it's learning to manage that flow - which is easy to say but harder to do.
How often have you felt like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
Rebecca: We've always believed in what we do 100%, even when people didn't want to stock us.
Vedran: People buy it, so it makes you realise that someone likes it. It's about how much the product is worth to them and what makes it work for you. As we developed, we realised that this is the product that we really feel good with. Then you're willing to stand behind it and push it as hard as you can, because you're confident that it will work.
Rebecca: The underlying feeling was that I believe in what I'm doing, but it might be really shit that someone isn't replying, or you're not selling. You experience self-doubt, but in the core you love what you do. I didn't think that we'd be selling on our own, not ever!
Vedran: I didn't think it would be possible, but in the last 5 years the online market has grown 5 or 10 fold. Most people don't sell on the first collection, and they stop and give up when that happens. You can't stop because you've failed once. You have to try a few times more.
Rebecca: S/S is our second collection without any wholesale accounts, and A/W 2017 will be the third. S/S 2016 has been online since the end of March, and that's going better than what we had expected. The jumpers have always been a big hit for the A/W collections, and then in the summer it's always slower, but this one is the first time that sales have been up from previous summers.
What do you find difficult about managing all of the different roles involved in selling direct?
Rebecca: I think about scheduling how much time I'm going to spend on different things, but that doesn't really work. I could come in here and end up doing 5 hours on research and no design and the last thing I want to neglect is that. But I feel like we're in the position that I don't have to think too much about what I'm designing now. But I also don't have to waste any time emailing shops, so that's a good thing.
The brand consultant we used gave me tips on how to approach the press, how to do the research, write copy, how to word things properly, how to network on social media and how to engage with my audience. All of the stuff that I had absolutely no clue about. I really enjoy those aspects now, which is super important. I wouldn't want to do it if I felt it was a chore.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
Rebecca: I always try and remember what the core of what I'm working on is. Sometimes when you get that panic it's because you're far removed from what you originally started out to achieve. Once I bring it back to that, it makes me happy about what I'm doing and how lucky I am to be doing it.
How do you find working together on the business?
Rebecca: I think it's easy, as it's completely natural. A lot of it is Ved supporting me when I'm panicking! I think we are the same way in the business that we are in our relationship. I'm the crazy creative one, and Ved is the relaxed, logical one and it's perfect for this kind of thing. You need someone to pull the reins a little bit.
Vedran: The key is that our relationship is based on good foundations. We love each other and the business is just another thing that we do together, amongst other stuff.
What or who do you find intimidating?
Vedran: They're not things that we find intimidating anymore, but most of the things that we have done have been intimidating as we didn't have experience in them. Finding a manufacturer and the whole manufacturing process is very scary. Someone can rip you off, or you ask them to produce something and something else comes back. You might get your money back, but you've gone through a merry go round by then. It's nobody's fault, it's either that you haven't communicated or they haven't thought ahead.
Going to shops and meeting buyers was intimidating. People meet you and often make you feel bad, and you think, why did you bother meeting me?
Rebecca: Those two aspects, definitely, but also marketing the product on my own has been extremely scary at times, particularly contacting the press. Sometimes you get replies from important people and you're bouncing around thinking you've made it, but it doesn't mean anything. You have to not give up if someone doesn't reply on the first, second or third time. It's just timing, it doesn't happen overnight.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
Rebecca: Obviously when we sell something, but also when we get really good feedback from a customer.
Vedran: I think for me it is more about the process. I felt best about our branding. It's very consistent, and it comes naturally to us to keep it that way.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
Rebecca: Someone wrote recently that it's a 'quality product for a lifetime', which is what we want to hear. Or if a customer says it's made them really happy, that's the best thing to hear.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Both: Enjoying the moment.
Rebecca: We're like that as people, very much in the now and trying not to think too much about the future. For me personally, the more I think about the future or the past it distracts from being good at what I'm good at.
How do you define success now?
Vedran: It's not in financial terms, or enlarging the presence of the brand, it's about being able to keep doing what we're doing. The whole process itself always has new elements in it, so you're moving forward just by doing it.
Where would you like the business to get to ultimately?
Vedran: We don't have a plan at the moment.
Rebecca: Ideally what I would like to happen is to have enough money to work with dream fabrics that I would love to work with. That's the ideal that I work to. I don't see us aiming for a physical shop.
How do you start your day?
Rebecca: I always have a good long breakfast, and I wake up at relatively normal hours. Ved works from home, and I come here (the studio in Dalston). I usually end up spending 3 or 4 hours on the computer, with a couple of hours of social media. There are quite a few girls in here (we sublet the space to other creatives), so we spend a lot of time talking about work and women's stuff more broadly. If it's a nice day we go to the park in the afternoon, or if we have orders, we do a post office trip.
Vedran: It's very flexible. There aren't things that need to be done at certain times of the day. There are schedules across the week, but you can do them at flexible times.
Rebecca: I have a schedule for each season and I work up to that, but it's really flexible as we don't have to go to showrooms or show anywhere.
What's the biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
Rebecca: I think we have more time and we're more free.
Vedran: There's no-one to be subordinate to, although you have to still deal with other people, you're really your own boss.
How do you come up with new ideas?
Rebecca: I go to exhibitions, read books, and listen to music. Those are the three things that are the biggest triggers and sometimes they all work together. With music, Ved will find something really interesting and I'll listen to it and think it's really cool.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Rebecca: A fashion designer!
Vedran: I don't know! Industrial engineering was just something quite broad to choose.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
Rebecca: Do what makes you happy, and never listen to anyone that says to you otherwise!
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
Rebecca: I would like to be a surgeon or a doctor. I love seeing inside humans and the idea of solving problems.
Vedran: Maybe a farmer. I like animals and nature, it's quiet and it's nice, with no people.
What's the single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Don't try to be somebody else. One of my tutors said that at the end of my degree - to do your own thing, and not to compare yourself to others.