Queen’s Awards Winner 2022 for International Trade
No tall tales here but quite a yarn!
Anne-Marie Holdsworth , founder of Brodie Cashmere
It seems that many of the decisions that have made Brodie Cashmere a fashion powerhouse over the last 12 years were taken round the kitchen table - all the way from the initial set up to overcoming Covid’s impact in the last couple of years.
Anne-Marie Holdsworth set up her luxury apparel and accessories company when she was looking for more than just “playing tennis with the girls”, after she had brought up her family.
She had always loved fashion and design, especially knitwear, and encouraged by her daughter to marry her business idea with the connections she and her husband had picked up travelling in Asia, Brodie Cashmere was born.
“I thought that maybe I could do it for three days a week and still play tennis, but it’s been all consuming”, said Anne-Marie. “We took a small stand at trade show Pure Olympia in London with six styles and 12 different colours and the reaction gave me the confidence to realise that we had something.”
In the process Anne-Marie has proved that it’s never too late to start a business. The company designs premium quality knitwear made predominantly from cashmere and more recently from cashmere, cotton and silk-based blends.
It sells products on a wholesale basis globally and its internationally recognised customers include Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales and Saks. Additionally, it sells in 1,600 customers independent speciality stores, many of which are based in the USA. In 2020 the spread its top five markets also included Belgium, Germany, Italy and France.
Over the six years to the end of 2020, overseas sales have grown by a phenomenal 3,057 per cent and now make up 70 per cent of all sales for which it has won a Queen’s Award for international trade. Originally Anne-Marie designed the clothes herself, but now employs a team of six in her staff of 40 based at Yeadon near Leeds.
She said: “From the beginning I wanted to inject more fun into cashmere jumpers with a strong supporting ethical story. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we have tried to add a twist - maybe in the colour – introducing neon in 2016 was a gamechanger - or the print, and these elements have definitely made us become a brand that’s different from others in the market place.”
Having established a stronghold here and in Europe, she ventured over the pond in 2016 and America welcomed Brodie Cashmere with open arms. She said: “I remember walking round my first trade show and realising that if we could get Brodie over here then we could grow because we have something really different.”
Now they attend dozens of trade shows from LA to Miami, Las Vegas to Dallas and have risen from the darkest corners downstairs to the main floor at the front of the show and have one of the busiest stands at New York City’s premier Coterie trade event.
Not even a worldwide pandemic could blow Anne-Marie off course. She said: “In January 2020, we’d just returned from our most successful New York show and Covid-19 hit, so we called a kitchen table meeting. Instead of bringing down the shutters, we decided to invest heavily in our marketing, and we created our own photography studio.
“We did catwalk videos to show off our garments, while I created a video series talking through our collections for our agents to send out to the stores. We kept it rolling because standing still wasn’t an option and it meant our sales team could reach out to their customers virtually. The feedback was exceptional. Even though the world has opened up they still love to view our collections videos.”
For Anne-Marie having a sustainable and ethical brand is of premium importance. Brodie Cashmere is partnered with Mongolia’s Sustainable Fibre Alliance; tracks all the cashmere supply; and ensures that herdsmen and goats, factory workers and communities are looked after.
The Queen’s Award is as much for them as it is for the Yorkshire team. She said: “It’s fantastic recognition for the team especially having coped with Covid, but it’s for everyone in the whole supply chain, from the herdsmen in Mongolia to the sales teams and agents around the world. Not of course forgetting our amazing customers, who represent the finest speciality stores in the world. It’s an honour that will certainly help with our future expansion plans.”