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The Big Interview: Fiona Fraser, Slow Luxury Co-Founder

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Anthony Akilade of the Herald Scotland meets Slow Luxury Co-founder, Fiona Fraser, as part of the Scottish Enterprise ‘Knowledge for Growth’ series…

Bling. A flash in the eye. You wanted it. You bought it. It was fast, often noisy. There may have been quality but it wasn’t essential. What mattered was that it stood out, that it shouted.

“That was then,” says brand development specialist Fiona Fraser, the world of high-end luxury is turning and buyers are now looking for a bit more substance in their purchases.

The trend is showing up in many different sectors. We have slow food where consumers take a deeper interest in where food comes from, how it is cooked and indeed how it is eaten. We also have slow travel, where the journey is as much a focus as the destination. In architecture, we have slow health with places such as Maggie’s Centres. Now we have slow luxury.

“The slow aspect recognises that the face of luxury has changed. Luxury consumers are far more educated today. They are really looking for meaning, value and connection in what they purchase. Their interest is in sustainability, they are interested in quality, heritage and in provenance. They are looking for products with a soul,” says Fraser who, along with co-founder Jade Dressler, has now established Slow Luxury.

Fraser and her New York-based business partner have both individually designed and developed luxury brands of their own. These have sold internationally to the top luxury retailers and it is this experience that informs Slow Luxury’s brand development work.

Luxury leaders such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Joyce in Hong Kong sold accessories Jade Dressler designed and she developed runway and stage pieces for Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and celebrities such as Cher.

“We’re not just saying let’s look at your marketing. We’re actually able to use our experience throughout the whole process to develop brands,” Fraser says.

“It all started when we worked with Scottish Enterprise’s textiles team to bring together a showcase roundtable conversation on the idea of slow luxury.

“We invited a number of non-competing Scottish brands, such Johnstons of Elgin and Hamilton & Inches, to come and take part so they had an opportunity to connect with American destination and events planners and tastemakers. These people included a planner who does the decorations for the White House in America, and writers for the New York Times, Forbes, About.com, Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. These were people with a lot of influence in the market either directly with the consumer or with buyers for high-end retailers,” says Fraser.

Fiona Fraser’s previous business, Fraser Balgowan, designed and developed bags and accessories that were made with sustainably-sourced red deer hides and sporting tweeds for the top end of the market.

“Within the first year of business we were selling to Saks 5th Avenue in New York and we were in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine. It was the depth of storytelling that really connected with the people we were marketing to. Every bag had a story. That story connected people to those who worked on the land, worked on the estates, it related to shepherding, weaving, deerstalking and to the history of the communities in the Highlands.”

Fraser took this thirst for detail a step further and invited tastemakers from the US to Scotland. These high-end fashionistas were treated to a full tweed and heather deerstalking adventure so they could understand the way of life. So successful was this Slow Luxury immersive sourcing event that they are now offered by the company as a key brand development service.

“It’s about touching on something very personal, dipping into the richness of the craftspeople and the components of the products. In Scotland we are well positioned to highlight our history of manufacturing, our years of excellence and to tell a really great story,” she says.

But for Fraser too many of Scotland’s manufacturers are failing to truly connect with potential markets and customers.

“Technology obviously gives us much more of an even playing field than we had before. We don’t need to spend £10 million on a marketing campaign in the way we would have had to five or ten years ago,” Fraser says.

“If we are really going to work across the digital opportunities which provide us with other routes to market, we really have to improve on the way we tell our stories. It’s absolutely not good enough to say here’s our lovely scarf and it’s made with the best materials and it’s Made in Scotland. There needs to be more depth to the storytelling.”

Fraser does praise Scottish producers for being able to sell into the wholesale market however she sees a downside to this success.

“When all we do is sell to wholesalers we don’t have direct contact with the end customer so we don’t know what they are connecting with. We are not getting the intelligence back that helps us innovate and create new products,” Fraser says.

“The ‘cash rich and time poor’ luxury consumer is increasingly looking for curated product, it’s that idea of connection and personal engagement. That means the consumer is often interested in the lifestyle. They want to know what is the Scottish lifestyle.”

Learning these lessons from their own forays into high-end retailing has enabled Slow Luxury to reach out to other sectors of the luxury market and the company now is in discussions to consult and develop product with top-end Scottish retailers in apparel, interiors, accessories, food and drink, and experiential travel.

The company’s online brand development strategy focuses on using technology to strengthen social engagement by providing rich personalised content to create a virtual cycle.

“You build your audience and you build your conversation, that then drives traffic, which in turn drives sales and influences the media and buyers,” Fraser says.

In all this Fraser has high praise for the assistance she gained from Scottish Enterprise and the Global Scot Network.

“Stewart Roxburgh and the textiles team really connected with what we were doing. He’s been a fantastic mentor and helped with the initial introduction to Saks. The Global Scot Network too, both in the UK and the US, were a tremendous help. The advice I got from them was advice I couldn’t get from the agencies,” Fraser says.

“The irony of the Slow Luxury story is just how fast the journey has been,” Fraser adds.

Read the full interview in the Herald Scotland here

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