“As long as I am involved with a creative business, I am happy.”
Fortunately for Sam this is exactly what he is doing. David Watson is entirely his own creation and is the perfect way for Sam to collaborate with some of his favourite British artists.
What were your plans when you left Radley?
I was uncertain what I wanted to do and my ideas were always changing! The day I left Radley I started working for a TV company that specialised in filming sailing, this was a dream job – travelling around the world on boats! Throughout my time I was able to learn how (and how not) to run a company and meet lots of inspiring people. It was meant to be a summer job while I decided what to do at university, but four years later …..
Eventually, I left to go freelance which gave me time to concentrate on my business ideas.
What business ideas were those?
One of them was setting up a small production company with a friend. The idea was to promote and film skiing events, plus promote ski chalets. I had been doing this for two or three years when I realised that I was mucking about too much, having fun with my friend, rather than concentrating on making it a viable business. To this day I am much stricter regarding the mix of business and pleasure. A lesson learnt!
What was your first entrepreneurial experience?
I suppose you can say it was while I was at school. My friends and I use to swim in the school pond and pluck golf balls from the bottom then sell them to the school. Does that count?
Did you go to university in the end?
No. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. The nearest I got to making a decision was Architecture – I had enjoyed a stint of work experience but found it difficult to commit. Hence the initial year out. Luckily for me my parents were very supportive. I have no regrets.
You have been running David Watson for 7 years now, tell me about it.
David Watson collaborates with British artists and shares their designs onto fashion and homeware products. We currently work with around 50 artists and have a range of almost 700 products. The products are sold online or into shops and vary from cushions to silk scarves. Everything is handmade in the UK and the designs vary from British landscapes to floral patterns.
In 2019 we were fortunate enough to be a finalist in the Drapers Accessories brand of the year. This year we’re hoping to win!
It’s quite a niche market isn’t it, what sparked the idea?
I love art and fashion, so it is a brilliant way for me to combine my interests. I always wanted my own company and having played with other business ideas this happened to be the one that stuck!
What’s behind the name?
I wanted my company to be very personal, it is a collection of artwork that I enjoy, and so I choose David Watson which are my middle names.
What does your average week look like?
There doesn’t seem to be an average week, which is one of the reasons I love what I do! I work alongside and collaborate with lots of different people, from the conception of new projects to press and distributors to sell the products. I naively started thinking I would be working with art 24/7 but actually, this is a surprisingly small part of my job.
How did you go about setting up the company?
I started the company alongside working as a freelance cameraman, this helped to fund my initial stages and over time David Watson has become self-sufficient. I have always been interested in external funding options but with relatively quick growth to date there hasn’t been the need! The growth of the company is partly organic but mainly through press and online adverts helping to drive traffic and retail buyers to the brand.
David Watson has been mentioned in the press on numerous occasions, eg Country Life, Harper’s Bazaar, is this driven by you or have the press sought you out?
We have been fortunate to have press features across most of the larger publications both online and in magazines/newspapers, mainly these come from constant press releases. I work with a press agency that manages all of this.
Initially, how did you choose which artists to collaborate with?
The range started with 15 artists, and it was a case of finding them online or at art fairs. I was always keen to have quite a few varied pieces of art in the initial offering as the concept of an ‘art collection’ needs this.
Now that your business is up and running and the collections are in well-known stores such as Harvey Nichols, do you have artists knocking on your door offering their services?
A lot of people didn’t initially want to be involved but now I have people contacting me on a daily basis which makes the job a lot easier! I love looking at new artwork and seeing their work come alive when worn.
Have you done any designs yourself?
I have always loved art and would love to spend more time designing but I really enjoy working with others and curating a collection. I have designed some basic designs myself, and work with some of the artists to bring their vision to fruition.
Is it a conscious decision to source and make everything in the UK?
I think when creating a British brand to manufacture in the UK is very important. Everything is made in UK; we print in Brighton, Worcestershire and Macclesfield using traditional silk screen printing where possible and digital printing when the design is more complex. The printed fabrics are then handmade into products; the silk scarves and pocket squares in Worcestershire, ties in Kent, facemasks in Macclesfield, and cushions, caps and scrunchies in London.
Making in the UK means that we can keep a very close eye on quality, create better relationships with the craftspeople and reduce our carbon footprint.
What fashion trends are you keeping an eye on?
We are a non-seasonal company so don’t have the need to continually be selling our products to clear the shelves for the next range. This said, we are constantly adding new designs and products to the range, we are looking to collaborate with more brands and organizations and keep abreast of colour trends. Currently, we are developing sleepwear and casual clothing ranges to try to diversify and increase our reach.
To what extent do you interact directly with customers?
The majority of sales are online through the website and into shops via our distributor and buying agent. This means our direct contact is less than a physical shop or market stall, but we always try and get as much feedback as possible to evolve our range and services offered.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of starting their own company?
I would say it is key to start your company doing something you are passionate about; this means you will be more inclined to work hard and enjoy the long hours needed!
I planned for too long prior to launching. Although it is good to prepare and research, I think it is also good to take the plunge as the company can change and improve over time. Go for it!!
How optimistic are you about the company’s future?
I am very pleased with the progress of the brand, we have collaborated with the William Morris Gallery, cartoonist PUGH, the National Motor Museum and created a varied range of products. The press and retailer interest is increasing and we are now targeting larger department stores and developing other clothing ranges. Watch this space!
Finally, what were your favourite Radley past times?
Outside of lessons I spent my time between the art and music blocks, and sailing was my sport. I really enjoyed being able to escape and paint whenever I wanted. Looking back now I realise how lucky we were!
To find out more about David Watson and to view the collection visit their website.