Interweaving courage into the fabric of their business

Unperturbed by these financially uncertain times, British expat Michael Thompson and his Danish wife’s fabric workshop is flourishing against all the odds

Starting any business in a time of economic turmoil is risky, and some might say starting a business that is ancillary to fashion – a luxury in times of crisis – is just plain stupid. However, this didn’t put the Danish fashionista Charlotte Thompson and her British husband Michael off, who did just that when they started TøjProduktionsLab in November 2010 in the centre of Copenhagen in picturesque Nyhavn.

After 15 years working in the fashion industry in London, where she was part of a small group of garment construction specialists used by labels including Betty Jackson and Clements Ribeiro (from 2007–2010 she worked as a technician for MA Women’s Fashion at the Royal College of Art), Charlotte felt it was time to return home, and it didn’t take long for her and Michael to spy a gap in the market.

TøjProduktionsLab is a fabric workshop (systue) that offers technical assistance, smaller production runs, and sampling and bespoke orders. Its services include pattern cutting, pattern grading, first sample consultation, fabric consultation, fabric sourcing, limited production runs, design brain storming, centrally-located showroom facilities, technical training and education.
It has already been a great success, and Charlotte, who also teaches at the Danish Design School, ?nds her skills and experience in constant demand. “I really want to share my collective experiences with design and technical fashion students in Denmark now that I am back home,” she said.

Michael, meanwhile, has extensive experience in the newspaper industry. In London he worked for Associated Newspapers – the publishers of The Daily Mail, The Metro, and The Independent – for 15 years, and he has utilised his skills to drive the business forwards. 

“We have a Danish friend called Karl Friis in Bali, and before we came to Denmark and after we left London in July 2010 we went for a long tour of Hong Kong, Bali and Malaysia,” reveals Michael. “Sitting on a plastic-covered sofa outside the home of the leader of a remote village on Java, Indonesia, I asked Karl his secret to business.”

It was simple but effective advice. “‘Don’t be afraid to take a risk; you cannot do everything yourself; don’t be afraid to ask for help.’ This was good for someone like me to hear and I have tried to follow these three simple points.”

Initially it was tough. Charlotte worked at Magasin and Michael at the airport as a cashier in a food shop to pay bills and keep food on the table. And in their spare time, they started to grow the business. 

“This is my first attempt at running a business, and I have chosen to do it in Denmark – a country in which I am not fluent in the language … yet,” Michael continues with a rueful smile. “However, I definitely think that doing business here is a lot easier. Organisational structures are much flatter and the whole six degrees of separation really resonates with me. That also fits quite nicely with all the social media and consumer collaborative technologies that are becoming more important.”

Contacts, Michael says, are key. “It is important to realise that if you have any contacts at all in Denmark you already have a network. You just might be one or two people away from the people you need to have business conversations with.”

Michael recommends taking advantage of an extensive support network that encourages new businesses. “By being a member of, for example, the Copenhagen Erhverv Centre, you can gain access to lawyers, accountants, tax specialists etc for free. And there are also business start-up and basic accounting courses run every month run on Islands Brygge.”

And the business is thriving. TøjProduktionsLabs’s current clients include Astrid Andersen, Chrisitina Lundsteen, Stasia, Tabernacle Twins and ITA Textiles, while they act as agents for Basinghall, Biddle Sawyer Silks, Carrington Fleet and John Kaldor.

The future outlook of many businesses may look bleak, but Michael and Charlotte are proving that a combination of courage, and a little advice from the state and help from their friends, can take a business a long way.