Wedding dress designer Andrea Hawkes did not come from a family of entrepreneurs: her father was a teacher and her mother a civil servant. But as far as she can remember, she knew that one day she would run her own design business of her own.
Fast forward to 2013, and her parents were more than concerned when she told them she was launching her own brand. “They were concerned about how I was going to pay my mortgage,” Hawkes says. “But at some point, you have to make the leap.”
Hawkes, however, credits his mother and the other women in his family with passing down the creative gene. “They are all very good at sewing. I absorbed it from a young age.
At 16, she went to college to learn the basic skills of making something, from using a needle and thread to operating a sewing machine. After completing a fashion degree at university, she secured an internship at London Fashion Week. But she quickly eschewed mainstream fashion for something more tailored: wedding dresses.
“Bride is completely customer-centric and I didn’t necessarily sense that from fashion. Plus, it’s a friendly and happy industry because people are getting married. I realized pretty quickly that this was what I wanted to do.
Her first collection was a small one, six or seven dresses that she showed to clients in the corner of an architect’s studio, where she rented space. She was supported by her husband, Dan Ayres, who helped with the administrative and legal side of setting up a business, and her brother, Neil, who handled branding and graphic design. Within a year they had moved into a shop in Islington which seemed “far beyond our means”. A decade later and it’s still there that Andrea Hawkes Bridal calls home. The team now numbers 11, including Ayres as production manager.
Hawkes is known for her minimalist, contemporary designs using pongees, French lace, statement sleeves and delicate embellishments. She has dressed celebrities including American actress Elizabeth Lail (known for her role as Guinevere Beck in the Netflix thriller You) and British actress Louisa Lytton (who plays Ruby Allen in EastEnders). Much of her inspiration comes from seeing clients. “It’s really important for me to keep seeing brides so I don’t feel detached from work. I like being part of the setups. And I still do all the design specs for every single dress.
During Covid-19, with UK weddings suspended and retailers forced to close, Hawkes and team had to embrace technology more than ever before. Documents were signed remotely using Adobe Acrobat, adjustments were made over video calls, and Adobe Photoshop and design tools used to visualize designs and create specifications.
“It’s kick-started us working more efficiently as a company,” Hawkes says. “We used to print everything out and send it to be signed for, then sent back. It was hard to keep track of. With all the postponements during Covid we realized we needed everything in writing, and we needed it quickly – that’s where Acrobat came in.”
While the company’s audience is still predominantly UK-based, the ability to work remotely has opened the door to other parts of the world. “There are countries that like our aesthetic, like Denmark, Germany, Dubai and the United States,” he says. “After the pandemic, we have customers all over the world. We’ve learned that we can do something extremely effective remotely. And we’re continuing to learn new ways of doing things.”
In the future, she hopes to integrate technology more into in-person dating as well. “I want to use it as part of the experience of someone coming in and using the iPad to do some loose sketches together,” she says. “At the moment, I do all the drawings by hand. But being able to use digital images of fabrics, quickly change embellishments and design in front of customers would be great.”
After 10 years in his own business, Hawkes says his greatest lesson has been accepting when he needs help from others. “When we opened the shop it was immediately clear that I would need help with the commercial side. It’s not my strength. So Dan runs everything behind the scenes of the company.
His advice to other creative people with a business idea would be: “Don’t give up on your dream of doing something. Focus on what you are good at and ask for help with other things. You can’t do it all by yourself.
“It’s been really exciting to build a brand and team from scratch,” she says. “And see happy customers. I don’t take my eyes off that. This is the basis of everything”.
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