Fashion brand Mabli finds exciting future in Japanese market

Wales has a strong track record of producing and nurturing high quality fashion labels. Many world-leading brands having either been founded or have a manufacturing presence in Wales – Laura Ashley, Toast, Burberry, Hiut Denim and JoJo Maman Bébé to name just a few.

Following in that tradition is Mabli a Cardiff-based brand finding success in overseas markets.

Here, founder Lisa Roberts tells us how she turned her vision for a fashion label into a thriving business that exports globally, and shares lessons she has learned along the way.

 

Tell us about Mabli.
OK, first a bit about me. My background is creative and I was working as a fashion designer when I decided I really wanted to lead my own company with my own vision, making things I design.

It seemed like a natural thing to do. I had a strong vision about what I wanted my own brand to be - a high-end children’s knitwear clothing firm which used quality natural yarn. Central to its identity was Wales, as being Welsh has been a constant source of inspiration for me and I wanted that to be a part of the company’s DNA too.

I had no experience in business, so I’ve had to learn as I’ve gone along. It’s early days for us, but I’m pleased that we have found a global appetite for our products. People like the traceability, and the provenance of our range. It’s something that’s helping us build our name in international markets. So, some of our products are made in Wales, at Corgi Hosiery in Ammanford, and in Scotland. We’d love all our manufacturing to be UK-based but it’s just not possible to get the products made here and sell them at our price points.

We’re now jumping into a new growth phase as Japan has become a major new market for us. We’ve had a lot of help to get here, especially from Business Wales AGP. This is hugely exciting for me, and I’m learning Japanese to help as we explore the potential of this huge market. 

It’s been incredibly hard work, but hugely rewarding too. Since I started the company, I’ve had two children (along with the one I already had!) so home and work life are quite busy and have their own competing challenges. But everything has been worthwhile to see my brand grow and develop, and to see products which I’m proud of sold alongside other fashion brands which I admire I’m really excited about the future!

 

 

What are your proudest moments in business so far?
We have won accolades, for example we recently won gold at the Junior Magazine Design Awards for best UK Fashion. And that’s brilliant. Winning things, being recognised for the work we’ve done is something which means so much to me.

But I think the thing that I am most proud of is knowing that people love the things I design. And our products are in shops alongside brands I’ve always looked up to. It’s difficult to properly imagine that happening when you set out in fashion on your own, but achieving it makes it so rewarding.

 

What challenges have you faced in business
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the way we operate. When the pandemic hit the UK, we decided to bring fulfilment back in-house and build a bigger team here. Our summer shipment arrived on the same day, so it meant we were extremely busy, handling 10,000 items of stock! Our traditional customer base quickly became very quiet but then a new market in Japan opened up for us and we’ve quadrupled sales compared to last year. 

It’s been a very different year, with no trade shows and the market is moving online more and more. The sector has been very dynamic through 2020, and we have had to reflect that dynamism in the way we operate too.

If you were starting again, what would you do differently?

If I think about it, there are a million things I could do differently – but if you don’t try things you never learn. I would say that you should get advice as early as possible though. 

 

 

How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
In so many ways, the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme has been crucial to our company history. Working with Business Wales AGP helped shape the path and structure of the firm and helped us to think like a business and develop growth plans for Mabli.
I had no real idea how to scale and formulate a business when I turned to Business Wales AGP. The programme supported me with good coaches – who helped with structuring, pricing employing staff and e-commerce.

I manage all the design, supply chain, marketing and distribution – so I’m pretty busy, but I am now building a team. I have a strong vision for Mabli, and Business Wales AGP has given me focus.

 

What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?

  • If you believe in yourself, focus on what you want to do. Good advice I received early on, is that if you are creating things you believe in that the profitability will follow. Focus on your vision first. 
  • Take advice – but remember it’s still you who feels the consequences of that action on your business.
  • Exporting has become really important for Mabli. If you think that your business will benefit from access to international markets, learn how best you can exploit the opportunities out there.


To learn more about Mabli Knitwear visit its website here.

Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme

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