#LearningCurve: Rising star making it on her own

Kelly Dillon will showcase her outfits in Denmark
Kelly Dillon will showcase her outfits in Denmark
Image: Brian Witbooi

Creativity, hard work and acquiring business skills has seen award-winning designer establish her business

She found her love for fashion when she dressed up in her mother’s clothes as a little girl, but Kelly Dillon has come a long way since then.

The owner of the KMD brand and designer of wedding dresses and occasional outfits is set to showcase her talents on a global scale at a trade show in Copenhagen.

Can you give some background on yourself and how the company started?

I was born in East London and moved to Port Elizabeth when I was six years old. We then moved back to East London and I matriculated at Clarendon High in 2007.

My mom knew I had a passion for fashion when she found me dressed up in her clothes and shoes almost every day as a little girl.

I went on to study fashion design at NMU and in my fourth year in 2011 I entered and won the Elle Magazine Rising Star awards with my merino wool/mohair knitwear and leather range.

This gave me the boost I needed to start my own business.

What is your core service?

It is made up of bespoke [made to order] occasional dresses or garments, as well as a small knitwear collection that is sold online and in various boutiques.

I define success in knowing that my clients are satisfied with my work and service.
Kelly Dillon 

Where was the idea born?

When I won the Elle awards it gave me the headstart I needed. I won prize money to start my own business and I designed a limited fashion range for Mr Price, which got my name out there.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

They would need a degree in fashion design and entrepreneurial skills.

They must be able to juggle a million things at once, have a lot of patience and be willing to put in the hard work and not just from 8-5.

What were the biggest inhibitors you faced getting your business off the ground?

I needed to believe in myself and what I was offering to clients. Finance is also always difficult in the beginning, but a faithful mind, a patient heart and hard working hands can get you to where you want to be.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?

Our biggest challenges have been reliable suppliers and staff.

Learning general business skills also took time and was a challenge at the start – and realising you will work harder and longer as an entrepreneur than as someone’s employee.

How do you measure success in your business?

I define success in knowing that my clients are satisfied with my work and service.

What kind of advertising do you do?

We have websites for both sides of our business, as well as Facebook and Instagram accounts.

How important is social media for your business?

Social media is of absolute importance in the world we live in today. We are a visual generation and social media creates a visual representation of your business – and it’s free!

What is your target market?

Our target market is women aged between 17 and 70 years, in need of occasional wear, made to fit them to perfection.

What are some of your highlights in running your business?

The highlights have been winning the Elle rising designer of the year title, [as well as] the most creative emerging creative at the Design Indaba. Seeing a happy customer is always a highlight for us and we look forward to attending our first trade show in Copenhagen with our knitwear range.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I started by myself financially and with a bit of help from the competition prize money I won.

Three years into my business, the Propella incubator approached me to become part of their programme, which I have been a part of for almost two years. They have assisted me with a space, some machinery and a business coach, which has been a huge help.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?

The biggest lesson I have learned is that the business lecturer was right: you will work harder and longer as an entrepreneur, but you get to understand each aspect of a business and the importance thereof.

I wouldn’t change my journey at all and I have grown immensely as a person and as a business owner over the last five years.

I’m very excited about what is to come in the future.