Interview: Gregor Lawson, Fraser Smeaton and Ali Smeaton; creators of Morphsuits

The firm has sold over 700,000 morphsuits
The firm has sold over 700,000 morphsuits
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Social media helps Creators/owners of Morphsuits and Foul Fashion Morph into a fancy dress phenomenon

HAVING sold 700,000 skin-tight bodysuits that all but the most shapely ought to spurn, Gregor Lawson and his business partners have now put together a range of randomly assembled clothing for those who would rebuff prevailing style.

Fraser and Ali Smeaton, and Gregor Lawson in their usual guise

Fraser and Ali Smeaton, and Gregor Lawson in their usual guise

Though no two garments are exactly the same, clashing colours and discordant patterns are the unmistakable hallmarks of the Foul Fashion line. Originally targeted at men who can’t be bothered keeping up with the latest trends, Foul Fashion’s offerings have already captured a broader range of followers than anticipated.

“The feedback we have had so far has been really strong – even the girls are wanting to get in on the action,” says Lawson, head of marketing at AFG Media, best-known for the Lycra Morphsuits loved by extrovert party-goers.

The company is now putting together a womenswear line, with the aim of launching within the next two months. Meanwhile, men’s Foul Fashion has landed 6,000 Facebook fans just five weeks after posting its first entry on the site.

Lawson and his partners hope Foul Fashion will emulate the rapid growth of Morphsuits, the skintight fancy dress costumes that are set to generate sales of about £11 million for AFG in the year to the end of May.

Sales have soared on the back of a marketing campaign that has been driven by social media since the company’s inception in 2009. With nearly one million Facebook fans, managing the dialogue around Morphsuits has become a time-consuming yet integral part of running the business.

“I probably spend three or four hours on Facebook every day,” Lawson says. “I’ll check it at least six times a day – probably more than that.

“We feel that we need to respond to anything within 30 minutes, if at all possible, because after that whoever has posted the message has gone off and is doing something else.”

Lawson is among the speakers at tomorrow’s Think Digital conference in Glasgow, which aims to help smaller business in particular capitalise on rapid advancements in technology. Infrastructure secretary Alex Neil will open with the keynote address, to be followed by representatives from companies such as Dell, Google, Microsoft and Vodafone.

Lawson says: “It is an honour for my little company to be on the same list of speakers with giants like Google and Microsoft, but we do have a lot that we can share.”

Failing to respond quickly is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make when deploying social media, as is the tendency to delete negative comments. If someone complains that their Morphsuit has started coming apart at the seams, Lawson prefers to “take it all on the chin”.

“When you respond, you respond quickly, you apologise, you give the reasons for what has happened, say how you’re going to fix it, and apologise again,” he says. “More often than not that person who was complaining about you then becomes one of you biggest fans.

“Too many brands are deleters of posts. It doesn’t work … it is not real if everything is all positive.”

Lawson, a graduate of Edinburgh University, was working in marketing for Procter & Gamble when he and his business partners, brothers Fraser and Ali Smeaton, decided to set up the business from the front room of their flat.

The university pals continued with their day jobs for the first year, selling £1.2m worth of Morphsuits before it became clear they would have to commit full-time to their venture. The timing was awkward for Lawson, who had just landed his “dream job” within the Pringles division of Procter & Gamble in Geneva.

“But we were starting to miss out on opportunities,” he says. “It was a real tipping point for us.”

They received a major boost last year when US retail chain Party City placed an initial order for 100,000 Morphsuits during the run-up to Halloween. The trio secured a £600,000 loan from Barclays which allowed them to pay their manufacturers in China to get started on the massive order.

With manufacturing, distribution and call centre activities all outsourced, AFG is still run from Fraser Smeaton’s flat in London and the Edinburgh flat shared by Lawson and Ali Smeaton. However, the business is on the brink of opening its first bricks-and-mortar centre – dubbed the “Morph-ice” – within the next few weeks in Edinburgh’s North Bridge.

The company is also considering bringing in additional investors whose money would, among other things, ease cashflow constraints when major orders like the Party City deal come through.

“Barclays have been incredibly supportive to date, but we are looking for some investment,” Lawson says.

Further new offerings such as the Foul Fashion line are also in development, with the next launch expected in June.

“We have one million fancy-dress fans on our Facebook page, so we want to bring new products to them,” Lawson says. “Now we have the framework to apply new ideas to, and we can launch them quickly and effectively. We are really keen to try more out.”