This week, we talk to Katie Jackson, founder and CEO of the Fashion Marché Group, the company behind the brand School Active Sports, which offers a line of activewear specially designed for kids. Katie is an experienced fashion designer who worked with some prominent brands before venturing on her own to fill the need for quality children’s activewear. School Active Sports was originally focused on school sportswear but as the pandemic struck in early 2020, Katie quickly pivoted towards helping kids remain active while staying at home.
ISB: What got you to take interest in designing children’s activewear?
KJ: It started off as a solution to a problem as I couldn’t find good quality activewear for my daughters to wear for school sports. I had been designing and manufacturing ladies activewear for mass-market USA so I decided to use that knowledge to design activewear for kids. School Active Sports activewear is super comfortable and basic so it can be worn for playing sports or can just mix into their everyday wardrobes.
ISB: What was the most challenging aspect of managing your own fashion brand after years of working with other brands and how did you overcome it?
KJ: Imposter syndrome! I think a lot of people suffer from this when they break away and go out on their own. On a more serious note, It’s hard to be everything to everyone in the beginning stages. I have employed a virtual CFO this year and it has the best investment ever. It frees up a lot of my time. I’m quite time-poor so my strategy has been to outsource tasks to skilled people until I can afford to employ them full time in-house. This has worked really well during this pandemic.
ISB: Being a business that was affected largely by the pandemic, how were you able to pivot the business in such a short time?
KJ: As a small business I knew we had to be flexible and pivot quickly. We were only 18 months into our brand School Active Sports when the pandemic hit. I started to talk to everyone around us about how could we work together to keep people in jobs. We went into survival mode rather than growth mode. Like many businesses, our local printers lost 90 per cent of their work overnight and with that 90 per cent of their employees. Together we worked on a plan to offer individual personalised leggings. Pivoting into personalisation actually made our business grow over 200 per cent in the first month. By diversifying our product range during this time we also found new opportunities to sell on other platforms like The Iconic.
ISB: How do you ensure the quality is present and consistent in the design of the activewear?
KJ: I previously worked in China week on, week off, so I have really strong relationships with my factories and suppliers. We have good processes and testing in place. We also have a long term growth and sustainability strategy that we have worked on together with our factories. I think working together with your suppliers and good communication keep quality consistent.
ISB: Why is it important that kids remain active even while stuck at home?
KJ: Everyone’s mental health has taken a bit of a beating over the past 18 months, kids included. Being active has proven to combat anxiety and depression. The one hour a day allowance for exercise outside has made parents more aware to allocate the time to be active with their kids.
ISB: What advice can you give to those who are looking to build their own business in these challenging times?
KJ: Have a strong plan that can be flexible to pivot quickly. Being flexible allowed our business to grow during one of the most difficult times in recent history. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities and invest time in your relationships. Relationships have been the most important part of my businesses success so far. Play to your strengths and outsource your weaknesses.