Going up, level 1 - technology and fashion
We are in a unique place, DressCode is pioneering the fusion of technology and fashion in ways like no other business. We have bold ambition to redefine our relationships with clothing, bringing new levels of functionality into the clothes we wear every day. It’s important to us that these developments show care for both people and the planet, we want to be a sustainable producer, one of our goals is to become B Corp certified.
As we enter the latter stages of 2022, there’s a natural inclination, almost primeval really, to hunker down for the winter hibernation (less about a prolonged sleep these days, more likely to be a couple of days away from your normal routine, where you have the time to reflect on life). What you reflect on, well that’s another matter, we have so much going on each and every day, whether it’s your business, your career, your relationships and family – there’s just so much ‘stuff’ and that’s why we don’t look at life like this very often, let’s be honest, it can be pretty overwhelming.
The opportunity to step out of life’s super connected, super-fast, multi-level elevator is a rare thing. Catching your breath, sitting down and looking back, being open and honest about what you have learnt – because there is always something new to learn, each and every day – is really important and you simply cannot do that when you’re in the elevator, racing to the next level.
It’s also really important to mark the successes and learn from the things that either didn’t work (it is rare that things don't work at all, much more likely that it didn’t go exactly to plan – which is certainly not a fail). Understanding what happened, what was good and bad is very useful. It gives you the headspace to reflect and that helps you to move forwards with direction. If we don’t do this stuff we carry it around, like a lead weight, dragging us down, going round in (often ever decreasing) circles.
Lift going up. Level 489 - Awards
Obviously this is the top level, the pinnacle of achievement and the place where we’ve all been lounging throughout the year! That’s how the social pundits would have you believe anyway, the reality is a little different.
When you start doing something new there are a lot of challenges on the table, your energy is stretched across a myriad of demands from the business that you are trying to grow, the people you work with, the people around you and people close to them, it goes on and on, you’re all interconnected, supporting one another, working as a team.
This is where awards are really powerful, when other people recognise the work that you are doing, connect with it, they become excited to be with you on the journey, championing and supporting you. This ‘endorsement’ has an amazing affect on everyone connected to the business. There’s a real magic potion element about it, it creates an energy that flows from person to person, like magic, re-energising people and enriching the bonds amongst them.
This year we were nominated at 3 prestigious award ceremonies – Cambridgeshire SME awards, Cambridge Science and Technology awards and the Cofinitive 21 to Watch. Thank you to all of the people involved, those who nominated us, other nominees and award winners. We walked away with Business Person of the Year and felt elated.
This lift goes sideways! Really!
The elevation continued when we heard that our shirts were part of a presentation to the global fashion house Chanel. This really did feel stratospheric and almost other worldly. Global fashion brands like this are something of an enigma, hard to connect with (as a business), even harder to get face to face with. Nevertheless, we were there, what am I saying? We are there, as you can tell the excitement is still coursing through our collective veins.
To have the Chanel innovation team looking at us and our Climate Code products was one thing, to hear the really positive and encouraging feedback was something really rather special and a massive boost for the team.
Rooftop access - via the maintenance lift
It’s getting hot, really hot. We need some fresh air, we need to escape, let’s take the maintenance lift up to the roof. Oh my god, it’s even hotter up here! 2022 will be remembered for many things, one of the most significant in our opinion, was the global heatwave. It was the first time, pretty much everyone of the planet got a taste of the reality that is Climate Change. It was more than just uncomfortable, it was deadly and provided us with a glimpse into the future if we don’t change our ways.
Sitting here on the roof, there’s no freshness in the air. We are surrounded by concrete, glass and steel – it’s a totally un-natural landscape, what have we done? I started this blog talking about reflection, looking back at what has been good and where improvements can be made, there’s a lot to learn about the way we have been living on this planet, we have to make changes and make them now. Yes it’s a massive challenge, but as we’ve already said, these things have to be addressed, we can’t collectively ignore the impact of our actions any longer, can we?
I hope not, it feels like there is more enthusiasm and understanding about the climate than ever before. We have been fortunate to work some fantastic people in this space again this year – thank to the British Antarctic Survey innovation team, Professor Ed Hawkins and the University of Cambridge. Our collective work, the development of the Climate Code product that demonstrates climate impact – what we can do (because it's not all doom and gloom) as well as what we’ve done – has been a really powerful conversation starter. Not least because it demonstrates our ability to produce fashion sustainably with respect for both people and planet. The #showyourstripes movement continues to evolve and we are really proud to be part of it.
Lift going down! Fast, too fast, hold on!
You can’t have highs without lows, that’s just the way life is. When things outside of your control happen, things like the pandemic or war, they have major impacts on the world and the ripples are felt by everyone. In many aspects of life, not just in business it feels like you’re in free fall without a parachute. No lie, it is scary. We’ve all had experience of it in recent years, things can come from a number of directions, at all sorts of angles and that makes dealing with it hard. No matter how resilient you are, when you’re blind-sided you have to be creative, be agile, assess the situation and develop a new way, a different way forward in order to survive.
You also need perspective - the affects, big as they may be to your plans, they are often not life threatening – phew the lift stopped before we hit the ground :) We are a small business, innovating and pushing the boundaries of technology and fashion, like many start-ups we are often stretched, both mentally and physically, spinning lots of plates, wearing lots of hats and the route to a sustainable business involves more people, equipment and research. All of this needs to be funded. To date we are entirely self-funded, which is great but also holds us back from doing more, so this year we have been exploring investment.
Those conversations have gone well, really well, we were about to sign with investors when the war broke out in the Ukraine. The investment team we wanted to work with are geographically close to these terrible events and as a consequence scaled everything back. First and foremost, war, any war is a terrible thing. It’s 2022 we are supposed to be civilised, we are supposed to be smart, connected and on the brink of achieving miraculous technological things. If any of the hype is true, why do we have the current situation in the Ukraine? How has this happened? And why hasn’t it been stopped? Yes the impact of the war has affected our plans, but we are not facing life or death on a daily basis. It’s important to put these things in perspective.
This investment door wasn’t completely closed, there was the opportunity to access a small fund but we chose not to. The main reason for this decision was expectation management. We set out a plan, a road map with lots of goals and milestones. This vision was what the investors wanted, that’s what they were buying, trying to deliver part of it with the significantly reduced funds was simply impossible.
The vision that we had created wasn’t going away, it was hanging over us like a cloud, a constant reminder of what could have been. We needed to change the narrative, look at things differently. There were a lot of tough choices that had to be made. The option to take a small cash injection and see what could be achieved felt disproportionate and potentially damaging in lots of ways. The financial reality for the team was clear, we couldn’t make an impact within the business with what was on the table. Better to politely decline and keep the relationship positive, able to develop it in the future.
Lift going up (again, phew!)
We have adapted our strategy, changed our goals and developed different aspects of the business. There’s still the ambition to realise lots of the things that were in the original plan, just through different channels following a new timeline. Having had the opportunity to look at things afresh, we have innovated in new ways, re-evaluated the plan and achieved goals that demonstrate our skills and develop our relationships.
Next stop, the Tree tops
Yes the trajectory is slower, but it’s not stopped, the ambition just as grand and we are climbing, moving up and innovating our processes, for example, we have recently partnered with More:Trees and will be planting a tree with every shirt that we sell. Putting something back and nurturing our connection with nature, something that is important to us and a big part of our operating model. It’s why we continue to use Tencel - wood-pulp woven materials to make our shirts. These award winning, sustainable processes create a beautiful cloth that has a real luxurious feel to it and is so easy to look after, a real best of both worlds and proof that you can innovate and do good things at the same time.
We’ve also changed how we produce our shirts, switching to a ‘made on demand’ service, where shirts are made to your specification at the time of order, preventing waste (on lots of levels) and reducing the overheads of storage and transportation.
We’ve forged new partnerships with companies, educators and health suppliers, sharing our unique combination of technology and clothing – ‘digits’ – a concept that connects people with smart, assistive technology from within their clothes, tech that puts smiles on faces and makes connections. Digits are also a solution that is greener than what’s come before.
The elevator is going up, steadily moving, it feels reassuring because it’s born out of desire. Our desire to create fantastic products and integrate really useful tech, but also a desire to not be another drain on the natural resources of our planet. And most important, the desire from you, our customers – thank you all for your unwavering support of what we are doing, we really do appreciate it.
As we look towards the start of a new year, I’m sure that there will be new challenges. The need to innovate will remain an imperative, our ambition to grow a sustainable business is a constant focus, always refining, tweaking and adjusting. There are strong ethics and boundless creativity coming from the DressCode team, we feel confident about 2023 and the next stop on our journey.