IWD 2021: Luxury British fabric exporter finds success in Japan and the USA

Zoe Bagnall
Content and PR Executive | Business West
24th February 2021

Alice Caroline was founded by Alice Garrett after a life-long passion for Liberty fabrics led to her creating handbags for student fairs, before selling the fabric on Etsy, and then eventually setting up her own business from her home. 

The company sells curated packs of fabric, quilting kits, and patterns, with its two biggest markets being the USA and Japan. In the 12 months to January 2021, it achieved a turnover of almost £1.4 million of which 51% were export sales.

The company has seen sales rise by 26% over the coronavirus pandemic, which it attributes to people taking up more ‘stay at home’ hobbies. 

It provides bespoke fabric colours to suit the tastes of different markets which Alice says are very successful, especially in Japan where consumers are looking for unique, collectible, and high-quality products. 

According to recent research, e-Commerce in the UK now accounts for more than one quarter of retail sales. This number is expected to steadily increase in the years ahead, reaching nearly one-third of all retail sales by 2024.

Commenting on the support the company has received from the Department for International Trade (DIT), Alice Garrett the company’s founder said:

“Sue Tisdall, our DIT International Trade Adviser has been amazing. She sends relevant seminars our way, and through her we received a bursary last year to help us internationalise our website to optimise sales in the USA.

“The advice we’ve received has been really great. As Sue has run a sportswear brand herself, she knows how to run an eCommerce business inside and out and is ready to answer any questions we have.”

In terms of exporting to Japan, Alice says that she knew there was a market for high-quality, British fabrics out there and she had contacts in the market who could support her to launch over there. 

The company also attended a webinar through DIT on how to sell on Rakuten, Japan’s largest online Marketplace. 

Establishing relationships in Japan is crucial for export success, as well as adapting your product range and marketing tactics to suit the audience. Read our blog on launching in Japan and adapting your digital strategy here. 

According to Alice, the USA has a huge quilting market, and the business received funding from DIT to help attend a trade show in Texas, to network and learn more about how to successfully market and sell to the country. The trip inspired the business to start a block of the month club which they sell in both in the UK and the rest of the world. 

Alice also travelled to New York to speak with DIT advisers based there to support her with her business growth and strategy.

When asked about the advice she would give to companies looking to expand overseas she said: 

“Get in touch with DIT, find out what support is available and ask questions. 

“Quite often you don’t know what questions you’ll need to ask until you start and having that go-to person is so valuable.” 

DIT hosted a Women in Global e-Commerce conference on 2 March with successful e-Commerce exporters giving advice and tips on how to boost international sales. Watch the video recording here. 

For further information on DIT’s export support and services, visit www.great.gov.uk/advice or email ditsw@mobile.trade.gov.uk

At Business West, we can help you develop your digital marketing strategy with one-to-one sessions and digital marketing masterclasses. Find out more here. 

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