Interview with Lisa Moore and Hadrian Thomas, co-founders of URBAN GILT
Lisa, Hadrian, thank you for taking part in our interview series in celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week. Not only do we love talking to early-stage business founders, but it’s a particular pleasure to speak to you both as the co-founders behind URBAN GILT and a romantic male/female double act here too! So let’s dive in:
Firstly, tell us about your current business venture; URBAN GILT:
We provide edgy, professional clothing for badass women on a mission, focusing on premium quality and sustainability. The GILTY woman is a changemaker. She wants to make the world a better place, for herself and future generations and nothing will stop her. She needs to be taken seriously, but wants her personality to shine through. In other words, she needs to fit in but also stand out. We provide a wardrobe to match her mindset. Super-sleek silhouettes, luxury fabrics, and small details which make a big difference. We work on the basis her clothes need to work as hard as she does.
How did the idea come about in the first place, and how did you go about starting the business?
Hadrian & I met on a blind date. He was about to go travelling for a year and it went so well that I quit my job too and went with him! We’ve been together every day since.
Up until that point, I’d been a business analyst in the city. I’d always loved fashion but never found a single brand which showed "I meant business", but also matched my personality. Hadrian is a product designer with a love of fashion too, so while we were travelling we came up with the idea. We were in San Francisco and I’d taken the afternoon to go clothes shopping but returned empty-handed. Again. That was the moment we decided to do something about it, and URBAN GILT was born.
We came home with the idea and just a few days later we were at our first manufacturing trade show and asking as many questions as we could. We wanted to sound like we knew what we were talking about but looking back now those questions make us cringe. We literally knew nothing! But we kept asking, listening and learning.
What makes URBAN GILT special?
We feel a responsibility to make the world a better place. I’m not sure if that comes from both of us being the eldest child in our families, but we feel someone needs to take responsibility or there won’t be anyone left to look after the planet. Right now that means making sure anyone involved in our manufacturing feels respected, safe, and enjoys their work. We create clothes that are well-made and designed to last, to reduce the impact on landfill and the climate.
We also understand our customer because it’s me (Lisa). As a business owner on a mission myself, it hugely helps to understand we’re designing for like-minded women who want to look and feel their best so they can take on the world.
We have to ask: what’s it like sharing both a business and a life with the same partner?
Haha - I think a lot of people wonder about this! I totally understand it’s not for everyone. We always ask any parents with a business how it compares to having children and they always tell us it’s exactly the same emotion. Hadrian and I are growing something that’s completely our DNA, extremely demanding, but so rewarding as well. Anyone who has a business will understand that you start a business to work for yourself but you enjoy it because of the person you become, and that’s absolutely the case for us. The business forces us to understand each other better than we would if we didn’t work together. We’re helping each other reach our goals and growing together. We wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.
What have been the biggest struggles you’ve come up against in your journey so far, and how have you overcome them?
Is it wrong to say everything?! Haha! Not having any contacts in the industry. Not having any marketing experience. Only having one pair of hands when you’re juggling 20 things a day... I’d say the biggest struggle is personal though. People who don’t have their own business often ask how we stay motivated, but when you’re your own boss the real question is how do you stop working! Especially when you live together. We’ve had conversations about tax at midnight and talking about garment care labels at 6am. So avoiding burnout and prioritising self-care is a big struggle for me.
Given the important conversation around saving the planet and sustainability at the moment, and with a particular lens on the fashion industry as the world’s second biggest polluter, what impact is URBAN GILT having on this? What are your personal views on this movement?
We couldn’t agree more about this. At first, we were conflicted and wondered if the world needed another fashion brand, but then we realised that the only way to drive industry change is from the inside. We believe in slow fashion, buying less but buying better, so we make clothes as investment pieces to last - not something to be thrown away at the end of a season. We only use the best materials we can find, like beautiful Italian fabrics and gold zips used by luxury catwalk designers, and we only work with factories where workers are looked after and paid a good living wage.
Is external investment on the cards for URBAN GILT, or will you remain independent?
If you want to grow your business, then of course investment is great. However, investors are in it for a return on their money, which means as soon as you have investment your goal becomes making as much profit as possible. But we started this business to make a difference in the world and profit was never part of our goals. Sure, your need to be profitable, but not at the cost of people or the planet. If we found an investor who shares the same values as us then we might consider it, but for now we’re looking to grow organically.
We all need someone to look up to - who inspires you in business?
There are so many inspiring people. For Hadrian, his all-time hero is Heston Blumenthal (the chef). Heston never had any formal training as a cook but he worked and worked, teaching himself everything - ultimately becoming the best chef in the world. If you’ve ever had triple-cooked chips, it’s because of Heston. He’s important because he shows that even normal people can change the world if they’re prepared to work for it. Tony Hsieh who created Zappos, because he’s so focused on making his customers happy and we love how every employee at Zappos, at any level, has the sign-off to wow their customers. Sophia Amoruso because she came from nothing and has used her success starting fashion brand Nasty Gal to build an incredible community of women at Girlboss Media. Community is so important if you want to build a customer-centric business, which is something we want to do.
What do you think are the most important character traits in order to be a successful entrepreneur today?
In some ways it’s the easiest time to become an entrepreneur because information is so readily available. However, there’s also an overwhelming amount of it! Including a lot of rubbish, or even false information. Being an entrepreneur is considered glamorous right now, so we’ve seen plenty of blogs or videos saying all you need to have a successful business is to put a post on Reddit, use influencer marketing, or run a pop-up shop. But the truth is it’s much much more complex if you want to build a company to last. So I believe one of the most important character traits is understanding there are LITERALLY no shortcuts. That building a business takes time, but if you have values bigger than just yourself, you’ll stay passionate and focused long enough to make it happen.
Top advice to any new or budding entrepreneurs out there:
When we started, we’d assumed that a successful fashion business is defined by how good your designs are. But that’s just your entry ticket to starting a business. What will make you truly successful, is defining who your customer is and adding value to them. Understand how to connect with them and improve their life - that’s the goal. It’s so important you could probably focus on that before even deciding what you’re going to produce or provide for them.
What’s next for URBAN GILT?
We’re working on new designs, which is really exciting, and we’re looking at how we can add jewellery to our line-up too, as I’m asked all the time where my jewellery and accessories come from. But beyond new designs, we want to help our woman achieve her mission and goals and we’ll do whatever we can to help her. We have big plans for the future, so watch this space!
Thank you Lisa & Hadrian, look forward to watching your exciting business bloom!
You can discover more about URBAN GILT online and follow them on social media below:
LinkedIn - Lisa Moore: www.linkedin.com/in/lisacmoore
LinkedIn - Hadrian Thomas: www.linkedin.com/in/hadrianthomas