Posted: Thu 4th May 2017
Inspired by his mother's love for Italian leather bags, William Scott Forshaw founded Maxwell Scott, a luxury leather goods e-commerce brand based in Yorkshire.
The company's designs are handcrafted in Tuscany and imported into its UK warehouse before being exported around the world.
The US is Maxwell Scott's third biggest market with New York the highest performing American city in terms of website sessions, new users and revenue.
Ahead of Enterprise Nation's fashion, beauty and accessories trade mission to New York, the entrepreneur shares his story and valuable insights into manufacturing overseas and exporting to the US.
Join the trade mission to New York in July to meet with customers, visit stores, discover how to do a successful pop-up, attend a fashion show, meet local partners, hear from trade experts and devise a plan to successfully enter the US market. Find out more here.
How did you come up with the idea for Maxwell Scott and turn the idea into an actual business?
After graduating in my early twenties, I moved from Harrogate in North Yorkshire to London to work for a big ad agency. At the time, this was my dream job; however I soon learned that my heart wasn't in it.
I was made redundant shortly after this realisation, which, in the end, turned out to be an extremely pivotal life event rather than a damaging one.
At that time, my mother and stepfather owned a house in Malta. They would take the time to drive down there in the summer so that my mother could take her beloved dogs, too.
They would always travel through Italy as part of their journey, and my mother became obsessed with picking up beautiful Italian leather bags at markets and factory shops.
When she returned home, she would sell them to her friends and over time, she started to organise handbag parties at her home in Yorkshire.
When an opportunity came up to sell some of these Italian leather bags at a friend's workplace in London, I decided to help her out, mainly as I was concerned about her carrying all the bags by herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and it wasn't until I noticed a smartly dressed businessman walk into the office clutching a plastic bag full of files that my 'light bulb' moment arose.
That evening, I designed the Paolo, Maxwell Scott's first briefcase. Thanks to my mother, the foundation of the business was already built, so I decided to name the business after my middle name, Maxwell, and my brother's middle name, Scott, to honour her initial involvement.
What start-up challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
As I had no previous knowledge of the fashion industry or the leather industry, I spent some time in Italy exploring the country's prestigious and traditional leather factories.
I soaked up Italy's passion for craftsmanship and artisanal methods and was truly impressed by their dedication to their craft. I discovered that their skills and knowledge had been passed down from generation to generation, and usually, if you were born into a leather craft family, it ran through your blood.
After this trip, I knew that I wanted to honour Italy's leather industry, even though I knew it wasn't going to be the easiest production route possible.
In fact, organising production initially in Italy was a steep learning curve for me. Persuading small, family-run factories in Tuscany to take me seriously was tough at first; not to mention the language barrier.
Also, as a start-up business, lack of finances initially meant I had no choice but to build the business organically and at a steady pace. Although it has felt like a tough slog at times, doing it the long way gave me time to think and prevented me from making any silly investments.
How did you find the artisans to make your products and how do you work with them to ensure quality?
This was a case of spending as much time in Italy as I could learning, researching and exploring the country's prestigious leather industry. Personally, I have to fully comprehend something to put my heart and soul into it.
The majority of my time was spent in Tuscany as nearly all traditional leather making communities are clustered, here.
In terms of securing quality, I only use factories that I one hundred percent trust and believe in; this is very important to me.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to create great relationships with a handful of factory owners. We have a mutual respect for each other and a shared understanding for producing a high quality product that represents their craft in the best possible light.
However, as business goes, things can't always run smoothly. I've experienced a few bumps in the road where some product hasn't met my standards and we have had to send it back.
This has only happened once or twice so far, but when it does happen, it's vitally important that you communicate with the factory to ensure they fully comprehend the issue. Then, you can resolve the problem quickly.
What are your tips for other entrepreneurs looking for overseas manufacturers?
As I have already stated, it's all about absorbing yourself in the industry and taking some time out to live in their country. Understanding their culture will be a huge benefit to you once you start doing business with them. It will also help you gain their respect. If you are mutually passionate about their craft, they're more likely to want to start a business relationship with you.
The Italian leather industry is a time-honoured business and you must treat it like one in order to succeed. This means accepting all the manufacturers' requirements and working positively together to move forward to achieve a fruitful production.
It's also really important to ensure that you set up all logistical channels carefully and be aware of tax barriers.
What have you done online to make your brand appeal to US customers?
Primarily, we built a specific US targeted website with an American domain and employed staff to manage the site.
Secondly, we increased our online marketing budget rather drastically in the US.
We are aware that although it is beneficial to improve online marketing, you must keep the brand fresh and up to date, too. Our US team have recently been researching into how the American audience react to design. This has resulted in our design team working on amendments to align ourselves more with the US audience's preferred aesthetics.
Why do you think your products are so popular with New York shoppers?
It's impossible to live in New York without experiencing a daily influx of different cultures and backgrounds. Living in America's main cultural melting pot is bound to influence how New Yorkers shop.
Arguably, they are more receptive to a wider international market than other Americans, as they are more open to discovery. They are less tuned into the mind set of sartorially representing themselves as a typical â€˜American'.
For decades, Wall Street bankers have replicated Britain's quintessential gentlemanly style with sharp tailoring, waistcoats and braces. They have a desire for the finer things in life. It makes sense, therefore, that they would appreciate the quality craftsmanship and understated design of our products.
Renowned as the city that never sleeps, New York is teeming with business individuals. Living in one of the world's fashion capitals requires you to keep up with the rat race and look polished at the same time.
I am positive our bags tick both boxes for New Yorkers as our pieces are both functional and finely designed.
What are your three top tips for understanding the American consumer and exporting a British fashion and accessories brand to the US?
Pay attention to the seasonal changes and events in America and use this information to market your product or service accordingly
To make your dent in the market, it's important to tell a unique story that consumers can emotively attach to. You have to have something interesting to shout about to be heard
In general, the US audience is patriotic. As a British brand exporting into America, you must gain their trust through impeccable customer service and efficient delivery
Join Enterprise Nation's trade mission to New York in July to meet with customers, visit stores, discover how to do a successful pop-up, attend a fashion show, meet local partners, hear from trade experts and devise a plan to successfully enter the US market. Find out more here.
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