My Big Idea: Building menswear line with a little help from Instagram
Brendan Ennis (27) and Simon Bastable (28) are the founders of Bloq, a Dun Laoghaire-based menswear line. Ennis reveals why today's nascent lifestyle brands live and die by social media.
"We launched last October and are now on our third collection. Our style is minimalistic - the colour palette is black, white and greys. The line is heavily inspired by street wear and athletic wear, with a 1990s feel. It is limited to T-shirts and hoodies for now, a 16-piece collection, but they are very much on the luxury end of the scale - exceptionally well made.
We are targeting young professionals with disposable incomes. Our products are affordable but high quality. We bridge the gap between BT2 and Zara or H&M. Hoodies of equivalent quality normally retail for about €90; our price is about €60.
We have been friends since school. We both left good jobs to launch the business. I was worked in financial services and Simon was worked in insurance. But I couldn't shake my passion for design. My spare time was spent designing and creating streetwear-style tees for friends. They became so popular that I soon had referral orders flowing in. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to launch a collection.
We are both glad we took unorthodox routes to where we are now - it gave us experience in a lot of different things.
We started the business at my family home and eventually moved into a friend's studio, a barber shop in Dun Laoghaire. It is a very creative space with a steady stream of clients. Since then the brand has spread in Dublin by word-of-mouth.
The plan is to move into a standalone city centre location though rents are prohibitively high. That is an ambition for next year.
We are also looking for pop-up opportunities and in talks with a potential stockists.
From day one we have controlled every aspect of the business, from design to illustration to choosing the right manufacturers and the final marketing of the pieces.
Our website is our key shop floor. Getting our online presentation right was very important. We took the time to build a sophisticated website ourselves; we wanted to do it right from the beginning. Everything you see on the site was created by us in-house. We styled the shoots and took all the photographs, and one of our girlfriends was responsible for the website's design.
The biggest challenge to building Bloq is competing for attention with big brands. Our small budget has forced us to be innovative when it comes to marketing.
The result of that is we are really strong on social media. Instagram is very important to us.
It is a perfect way to show what we are about and to reach potential customers and like-minded designers.
We have gotten our name in front of some big stars thanks to Instagram - the head menswear buyer for Asos, James Welsh, for example.
We later sent him some of our products and he then blogged about Bloq. The DJ Hot Since '92 has also worn Bloq on tour. That was a huge win for us. It is a different way of marketing - it's about relationships, audience interaction, building identity through social media, in many ways ignoring traditional marketing channels.
This is the future for lean young lifestyle brands, this is how the social media generation learns about brands today.
We called the line 'Bloq' because it is a play on block, the idea of a collective, a grouping of like-minded people. We are a community as well as a company.
Nobody in Ireland is doing what we are doing. There are lots of companies like ours in bigger European cities - London, Paris and Amsterdam. But we see no reason for Dublin to be three or four years behind as it is often accused of.
We have mostly funded the business ourselves, investing our own income at the beginning.
We have a small business loan from Bank of Ireland too who have been fantastic. We run a lean model but we are making it work. We knew it wouldn't be easy."