Laura Shannon Harding’s fashion label brings festival culture to the fashion runway. The 21-year-old Leeds Arts University fashion graduate “always knew I wanted to start my own business” and launched her slow fashion brand, Laura Shannon, in late 2019. Her colourful, handmade designs are embellished with sequins and beads and have been featured in The Times and Telegraph newspapers and at London Fashion Week SS20.

Named one of “Fashion’s Rising Stars” by Drapers magazine last year, Laura needed to buy a professional lockstitch sewing machine to turn her talent for fashion and design into a business. But the cost was nearly prohibitive – until Laura was introduced to Big Ideas Wales, the youth entrepreneurship service in Wales, and to Purple Shoots.

“I created my first collection in University,” says Laura, “and I was invited to show it at Graduate Fashion Week and then at shows all over the United Kingdom. The interest was phenomenal and made me realise the demand for original, handmade and colourful clothing.

But at University I’d been able to use all their equipment and machinery. To turn my collection into a brand and a business, I needed to buy my own industrial machinery. And professional equipment costs a lot of money. I didn’t know how I could get started.”

Big Ideas stepped in. The service found Laura a mentor, helped her draw up a business plan, and were able to offer a grant to cover some of the cost of the specialist sewing machine she needed – but she had to pay for it in full first. That’s where Purple Shoots came in: Laura borrowed £3600, which thanks to early sales she has already repaid early, to part-fund the machine so her business could take off.
“Purple Shoots and Big Ideas helped make my dream come true,” says Laura. Her festival-inspired collection includes the made-to-order “Sensory Overload Jacket” featuring huge three-dimensional flower sleeves created from 472 individually sewn panels, with hand sequinned flowers attached. Equally eye-catching is the aptly named “All Eyes On Me” faux-fur coat, “the sassiest coat out there” in hot pink with a zebra print satin lining.

These fun and playful pieces, along with a range of accessories, jewellery and other clothing, are now available from Laura’s e-commerce store. Two months in and the business is off to a great start, with customers loving her bold designs, unusual textures and UK-sourced fabrics. Next Laura plans to run pop-up stores at festivals all over the world. Should other want-to-be-entrepreneurs approach responsible finance providers like Purple Shoots? A resounding “yes” from Laura:

“Karen was so helpful and supportive. She made the process, which could have been quite daunting and stressful, easy to understand and flexible. Her help has been fantastic. I thought there was no chance I could get my own industrial sewing machine so soon.”