Sew East

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"Sew East set out to build stronger, quality-driven collaboration between local companies to help place the whole clothing sector in Tower Hamlets on a much more viable, sustainable footing."

Sew East Supporting the Tower Hamlets Clothing sector was run by the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project based in East London. Proximity doesn't automatically breed collaboration. After all, how many small businesses clustered in an area and operating in the same industrial sector get to know each other well let alone collaborate on a routine basis?

Recognising this among clothing manufacturers and designers in London's east end, the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Project (EMEP) put together Sew East under the Phoenix initiative with matched European funding.

EMEP knew from long experience that local firms face two enduring barriers to growth and development - a lack of capital for pursuing innovation and a shortage of (affordable) premises into which to expand. So, in the words of programme manager Jennifer Williams Baffoe 'Sew East set out to build stronger, quality-driven collaboration between local companies to help place the whole clothing sector in Tower Hamlets on a much more viable, sustainable footing'

Around three quarters of an estimated 800 local businesses engaged in some aspect of the fashion trade were thought to be capable of benefiting from better access to business training and development finance, one¬to-one specialist advice, grants for exhibitions or showcases, and marketing or PR support. Sew East used a specialist database to cold-call around 500 businesses over the first two years. They included fashion & accessories designers, Cut, Make &Trim (CMT) manufacturers, fabric suppliers or retailers and leather garment or ancillary trade suppliers. Positive responses were followed up with a great deal of face-to-face discussion and a steady stream of topical information supplied by email.

Jennifer Williams Baffoe admits: "This process did prove much more difficult initially than had been expected, so building a clientele for the project took much longer than anticipated. 'Gradually the project's reputation began to grow so that by April 2003 (the end of the second year) it had recruited around 200 clients and built a large network of clothing designers:'

Sexy Buddha, a local design partnership between Leigh Odimah and Stephanie McLaren started out at EMEP on a basic business course in 2002. Sew East directed these women towards a specialist fashion industry course at Portobello Business Centre to help them target and market their small accessories portfolio. Later the same year the project helped Sexy Buddha market their products at Annex, one of the UK's main accessories trade shows. In 2003 they went on to exhibit at Necessary Accessory, a London Fashion Forum event where they won interest from Japanese and US clients and secured what has grown into a large account with House of Fraser.

Sew East also works with more established companies wanting to expand or to pursue a new idea. For example, the project helped a small men's luxury accessory business and a local luxury womenswear designer promote a new retail shop they opened together in April 2003. The two companies then went back to Sew East for more support to develop and implement a joint sales campaign. Having won further Phoenix funding under Building on the Best, Sew East ran under Phoenix funding until March 2006.

Contact:Jennifer Williams Bafoe