Business Focus: Goff Courtney

Yvonne Goff Courtrney
Yvonne Goff Courtrney Credit Barbour

Amelia Braddick sat down with Yvonne Goff Courtney to discuss her label Goff Courtney and its home in the Royal Exchange.

Q. Tell us about yourself and your business.

A. I live and work in the City. For over 20 years, I had a design and publishing PR company, but I always felt that would have an expiration date and I would pivot to something different. Several years ago, I started to go back through my wardrobe and look at what I could tweak and amend – this was something that I’d been doing back when I was a teenager, so it’s always been a passion of mine.

Just before the pandemic, I made a few pieces and showed them to colleagues and friends in fashion and design, and was encouraged to pursue it more seriously. Then when Covid struck, the City of London launched the Imagine Fund, where you were given funding and mentoring: this helped me set up my website.

Goff Courtney is essentially about giving new life to existing garments. The label’s mission is to ‘tease tradition into something fresh, contemporary and desirable’. Taking tailoring, shirting, outerwear and knitwear and distilling into 21st century sartorial solutions, for changing lifestyles, climates and waistlines. All the clothes are one-off pieces and conceived or deconstructed in the City and stitched by seamsters in Spitalfields.

Q. Talk us through the challenges you face as a City business and how do you overcome them.

A. I would say it’s probably introducing the concept to people because the other tenants here are very established. This has made me realise how we live in such a branded world, that if people look at the store’s glass front, and if they don’t recognise the brand, they’re a bit unsure about it. We’ve played around a few times with the wording on the windows to try and explain the concept or to entice people in.

There are the more obvious challenges post-Covid. Mondays and Fridays are really quiet and I can tell that there aren’t many City workers – it’s mostly visitors. But it could be 5pm on a Friday and suddenly someone will come in and buy some pieces, so you never know!

Q. You are situated in the Royal Exchange, a place with a rich history spanning over 450 years. Why did you choose to open a location for your business here?

A. I love the history of the Royal Exchange. About five or six years ago, there was a fantastic outdoor exhibition that the City organised down Cheapside, all about the 18th-century women craft-makers that had businesses in the area – the whole area was like a hub of creativity and I feel connected to that.

I also have a sentimental relationship with the City, as my grandfather ran his outerwear business just up the road. I like to think I’m following in his footsteps.

I like the fact that the City has got this fantastic mix of the old and the new, and in a way that sort of echoes my label. I’m taking traditional tailoring and outerwear and giving it a contemporary boost.

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Image credit Goff Courtrney

Q. Tell us about your designs and the inspiration behind it?

A. What takes up the most time is sourcing pieces that I can re-imagine. Each piece gives me inspiration.

The climate is playing around at the moment, so layers are essential. I have made these textile necklaces that you can wear over a cosy sweater. Sometimes you just want to add something a little extra. I call the pieces ‘softwear’ because they are easy to throw on and zhuzh your daily attire. They are all size, age and gender free as well, for anyone who wants to make their mark. I think if you just add one thing that just gives you a bit of joy, it really helps shape the day.

Q. How do you apply your experience from your previous jobs in design and publishing PR to running your fashion business?

A. In PR you are selling an idea to a journalist or an editor. I loved that; it was more subtle than advertising. The difference is that it’s behind the scenes, now it’s on the shop floor.

I started work with a fashion PR agency for a year but then I left and set up my own company, which was more unusual back then. I helped launch various magazines and worked with designers. I would do what I call 3D PR, where to garner press attention, I’d put on an event or an installation. My partner and I are hosting some events upstairs later this month.

I know a lot of creatives aren’t good at selling because they’re a bit too close to it, that’s why they get agents and PRs, but I actually do enjoy that.

Q. What’s been your biggest accomplishment since setting up the business?

A. I’m really proud of the Vogue competition with Barbour. They wanted you to reimagine their classic Barbour jacket and that was right up my alley because the concept behind Goff Courtney is about distilling existing pieces into more flexible wear. The jacket designs were exhibited in Selfridges for a month, which was amazing, and I was featured in Vogue with the four other finalists.

But the biggest accomplishment is when someone puts on one of my designs. Seeing them on real people and seeing how they’re wearing them with their own clothes, I mean, that is just gold.

Q. What advice do you have for other businesses in the City?

A. I would definitely say, to persevere with agents or people that are involved with the retail units – it took me a long time to find this space.

Also, you’ve just got to keep believing in yourself and your business. The universe out there needs to know you’re serious, so you’ve just got to keep on that path.

Q. What’s in the pipeline for 2024?

A. I really want to build on developing the products. I hope that we can stay at The Royal Exchange and have our programme events upstairs and become part of the community here.

I’ve got some pieces on display and for sale in the Barbican Foyer Shop vitrine and in gallery shop until the 25 May. Also, we’ve now confirmed the dates for the trunk show (25 April – 25 May) which also coincides with London Craft Week (13 – 19 May).

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