One year ago, All Together connected Joanna Davies, the CEO of Black White Denim, with Volunteer Advisor and ex-CEO of Rotary Watches LTD, Peter Mckenna. Many months, several lockdowns, and a new store later, we caught up with them both to discuss the impact of their relationship on Joanna’s sustainable fashion business.

Joanna Davies applied to All Together as the Managing Director of bourgeoning clothing retailer, Black White Denim. Launched in 2010, the business saw year-on-year growth, and quickly established itself as a profitable, well-known regional independent. Their mission was to reduce clothing’s impact on the environment, a goal they hoped to achieve by selling durable, responsibly-manufactured clothes, and encouraging shoppers to consider the environmental effects of their clothing choices.

Changing Channel

Covid-19 was a colossal shock to the system for many businesses, and for Black White Denim, it was no different. “It was the time I felt most alone in the business world,” Joanna explains, “I had rent, wages, and a shop full of stock to pay for.” The issue was that the company’s revenue was predicated on a pre-pandemic world, where 90% of its revenue had come from bricks and mortar retail. That revenue was lost with the introduction of lockdown regulations, which put an almighty emphasis on the company’s ability to sell its products online.

The need to develop Black White Denim’s online presence was a starting point; the website needed to be refined and, although there was social media presence, it was not being utilised to its maximum. However, this was new territory for Jo, and the lockdown-induced solitude she was experiencing made decisions tough to make. After reaching out to All Together, she was provided with a choice of three Volunteer Advisors, of whom she opted for E-commerce expert, Peter Mckenna. “I chose Peter because of his background in transforming businesses from mainly bricks and mortar, to E-tail.” This marked the beginning of a correspondence that would have a lasting effect on Joanna’s business.

Black White Denim //

Managing Director // Joanna Davies

Industry // Sustainable fashion

Mission statement // Shrink your wardrobe

Applied // November 2020

Volunteer advisor // Peter Mckenna

Number of employees // 8

Peter Mckenna //

Peter Mckenna is an expert in digital retail and is heavily involved in E-Commerce consultancy, here are some highlights of his career:

2007-2008: Owner E-Commerce Edge Consulting

2008-2010: Director of E-Commerce and Direct Sales – The White Company

2017-2020: CEO – Rotary Watches Ltd

2020-Present: Volunteer Advisor – All Together and CEO – WSI Digital Advisors

Personality Wins

To improve Black White Denim’s online presence, Jo and Peter pinpointed three areas of focus. The first was to improve the personality of the brand across online channels: “In terms of the website,” says Peter, “if you were a customer of the shop, you got it, but if you weren’t, the brand itself was a bit of a mystery.” To remedy this, he suggested that more clarity about the brand’s purpose needed to be provided to online customers. By doing so, they would understand what Black White Denim stood for, and would be able to engage with the business on a similar level to in-store customers.

Although the company had a presence on social media before the pandemic, its potential was not being reached. The team were using Instagram TV to good effect, with Jo getting in front of the camera to display new products and add her voice to the brand, however, whilst Peter lauded this as good marketing, he wondered why it was not being broadcasted to a wider audience. “The Instagram content was excellent,” Peter explains, “but it needed to be shared via multiple channels to make it work as hard as it possibly could.”

The team heeded this advice and began sharing their content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. By consistently being present in that content, Jo and her team projected the image that real people were behind the Black White Denim brand, which she says has proved to be astronomical in affecting the business’ fortunes. “Keeping the personality of the brand front and centre is what made a difference to us thriving rather than just surviving; I still have customers telling me how much they enjoy our videos!”

To improve Black White Denim’s online presence, Jo and Peter pinpointed three areas of focus. The first was to improve the personality of the brand across online channels: “In terms of the website,” says Peter, “if you were a customer of the shop, you got it, but if you weren’t, the brand itself was a bit of a mystery.” To remedy this, he suggested that more clarity about the brand’s purpose needed to be provided to online customers. By doing so, they would understand what Black White Denim stood for, and would be able to engage with the business on a similar level to in-store customers.

Although the company had a presence on social media before the pandemic, its potential was not being reached. The team were using Instagram TV to good effect, with Jo getting in front of the camera to display new products and add her voice to the brand, however, whilst Peter lauded this as good marketing, he wondered why it was not being broadcasted to a wider audience. “The Instagram content was excellent,” Peter explains, “but it needed to be shared via multiple channels to make it work as hard as it possibly could.”

The team heeded this advice and began sharing their content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. By consistently being present in that content, Jo and her team projected the image that real people were behind the Black White Denim brand, which she says has proved to be astronomical in affecting the business’ fortunes. “Keeping the personality of the brand front and centre is what made a difference to us thriving rather than just surviving; I still have customers telling me how much they enjoy our videos!”

The Need to Relate

The next area to look at was brand relatability, which is still a hot topic, particularly in the world of fashion. Peter realised that Black White Denim’s target audience would be unlikely to identify with a lot of the photography on the website. The solution to this issue was to take their own photographs, particularly for items that came with more extravagant stock imagery.

To compound this positive effect on relatability, Jo and her team actually hired their own model. “We now have an in-house model,” she explains, “and people have commented on the fact that they can relate to her. You know, she’s a size 10 or 12, she’s got shape, and our audience really enjoy seeing that.” Customers became more able to see themselves in the clothing that Black White Denim was selling, which made them more inclined to buy those items, and enhanced sales.

Help with SEO

The final aspect of Black White Denim’s online profile that Peter and Jo concentrated on improving was SEO rating, which, when their relationship began, was not something she had really considered. Given the complexity of SEO and how much specialist knowledge is required to understand it, this was the most difficult change to implement using the company’s existing resources.

Peter explained that, whilst it is possible for SMEs to create Google Ad campaigns, adjust their site, and such the like themselves, it is very difficult to achieve a noticeable, long-lasting improvement on their search rankings. Consequently, Peter recommends seeking external expertise, as many SMEs do with his current business, WSI Digital Advisors. “We listen to businesses, explore what they already do, and determine their appetite for possible strategies. We then create a plan to boost their visibility to Google and other search engines to create more revenue for their business online.”

Strength in Adversity

Although Joanna’s 121 sessions with Peter acted as the catalyst for change, Peter was keen to emphasise that she had identified many of those changes herself already. Perhaps what she was missing was simply the confidence to implement those ideas. “In terms of my involvement,” Peter explains, “it was primarily to help Jo talk through what she wanted to do and to validate her ideas.”

The last 14 months have been an epic journey for the Black White Denim brand, which is now on an exciting upwards trajectory. The fact that Jo and her team managed to turn a profit in a year plagued by the pandemic is testament to this and, perhaps most significantly, Black White Denim has taken the bold step to move to a new premises in the last few months, and this time, they own it.

Three Things We Learned 

number 1

Look for ways to validate your ideas.

As a leader, the hardest thing can be to believe in yourself, but there are plenty of affirming tools out there, be it advice from an expert, an article or your team.

number 2

Personality is key.

Personality is integral to the success of any business, but it is particularly important in the digital space. The internet is a vast expanse, so focus on what sets you apart from your competitors, and communicate that with your audience.

number 3

You don’t need to do it all.

You cannot expect yourself to have the answers to everything, and often, you don’t need to. There are significant advantages to outsourcing, and asking experts for help can save time and money – particularly with challenges such as SEO.