In the first of a new series about creative businesses, Notting Hill-based womenswear designer Lisa Redman talks about her journey from art school to bespoke high-end design.
Lisa Redman is a fabrics-wrangling force of nature, with glowing testimonials from the likes of Sunday Times Style, the Telegraph and Tatler. Conjuring luxurious pieces out of her West London studio, her work ranges from exquisite silks to elegant cashmeres, fairy-tale bridal gowns to classic ready-to-wears.
After leaving Brighton Art College, she studied textiles at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and on graduating worked for British designer Betty Jackson CBE and Calvin Klein. She was right hand to fashion designer Elspeth Gibson for around five years before founding her own, eponymous fashion label in 2007.
Redman works closely with her clients, ensuring they’re part of the process each step of the way. Everything is done in-house, including embellishments – all by hand. Now a tight team of three, including a seamstress and a beader, the business has grown thanks to its fantastic reputation and good old word of mouth.
I think every entrepreneur reaches a point when it’s right to take the plunge. It was about six months before Elspeth Gibson shut up shop, and I’d been headhunted by another company. ‘We just don’t think you’re going to enjoy the role,’ they said. But they also asked if I’d thought about starting on my own. I hadn’t thought about it at all. But when Elspeth’s leaving coincided with my mum dying, I thought, ‘Actually, maybe it’s now or never.’
The first piece I made under my own name was a massive ballgown. It was about 30 metres of silk chiffon – a strapless, ruched, gathered evening dress in a blush, nudey pink.
As a creative person, it’s exciting learning to run your own business. To begin with, you’re like, ‘Ooh, I can do this on my own!’ And then maybe a couple of years in, when you’ve got to get to grips with the VAT return, you’re like ‘I’m not good at numbers, I don’t like it at all.’ But I had to get a grip on it.
Cash flow is a constant juggling act. It’s the biggest challenge from the business side of things. Because we tend to be driven by one-off orders, we have peaks and troughs which we have to manage.
It’s an intimate relationship that I have with clients. I like meeting new clients and chatting to them about who they are, what they’re doing and how they’re going to wear the outfit. It’ll usually be for an occasion – they’re the mother of the bride or the groom, or they’re going to Ascot, or they want a bridal dress. It’s something they’ve saved for. We also have clients who I’ve worked with for years. It’s a really special relationship we get to build with these women and we really become part of their lives.
Sustainability and Britishness are definite trends. A lot of our silks are woven up in a mill in Suffolk and they’re personalised for the client. We also work with a Scottish mill called Holland and Sherry. They’re well-known for their men’s fabrics but we’ve been working with them on womenswear. People really like the fact we use British fabric.
My pieces are investments, and they last for a long time. We design our pieces to not only wear well, but to have a truly timeless design. I think there’s real demand for heirloom pieces. A good design really shouldn’t date.
From order to delivery, the timescale is usually six to eight months. Of course, we also have pieces that can take over a year to come together. It’s all about getting the right quality and, when you’re making everything by hand, you really can’t cut corners.
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We just love making an #eveningdress to any specification here 💕 This woven jacquard column dress in pastels is a particular fave of ours especially as the bodice is scattered with #Swarovski crystals! . . 📸 by @serenabolton . #lisaredmanbespoke #bespokewomenswear #eveningwear #love #lisaredmandaily
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My favourite dress is always the one I’m working on. And I like that, because it means I’m getting in the zone.
We dress many incredible businesswomen who are so extraordinary, elegant and inspirational. I love being around all of them. They’re really inspiring – an interesting group.
I want to expand the business. Originally, I just wanted to make really lovely clothes for really lovely women. There’s definitely a hole in the market – there are women out there looking for unique, high-quality clothing.
My advice to young designers is to get some industry experience first, perhaps working in a small company, which can give you an overview of the business. I’d then advise them to meet some industry mentors and build a wide network – organisations like Walpole, they’ve been so helpful to me.
Lisa Redman was interviewed by Lysanne Currie, who writes about business and luxury travel for magazines including Robb Report, Luxury Plus, Glass Magazine and Meet The Leader.