After applying to do an Art Foundation course on a whim during A Levels, Natalie Grogan found her calling in graphic design. She owns her own trend-forecasting company and won the Creative Enterprise Award for outstanding entrepreneurship across London College of Fashion in 2013.

How did you end up studying Graphic Design?

I didn’t really fit into Withington [Girls’ School] like everyone else, in the traditional academic sense. I wanted to branch out creatively, but I had no idea what options were available outside ‘conventional’ career paths. I had no idea what graphic design really involved until I started my Art Foundation which my art teacher encouraged me to apply for, and I’d also never heard of Central Saint Martins, but my mum had and refused to let me turn it down when I got accepted. When I got there, I was in a very traditional mind-set where you have to be a painter, or a fine artist, or a sculptor, but I discovered how relevant working in digital was. I specialised in graphic design then went onto study that for BA, I had to teach myself how to use all the Adobe programmes like Photoshop and InDesign, as we didn’t have any lessons on that, everything had to be self-taught.

You started your first business during your Masters, what prompted this bold move?

After I graduated from CSM in 2012, I went onto apply for an MA in Fashion Media Production whilst working at a creative agency, which was a brand-new course at the time and focused on creating new ways of communicating fashion media. You had to apply with an application proposal, and mine was to develop my company ‘SearchStyle’ (although named StyleScape at the time). SearchStyle is a social network for fashion where you can share what you wear and it will be automatically plotted on a map. This enables you to zoom into various cities across the world and see a snapshot of what people are wearing there. People seemed to really like StyleScape, it won a couple of awards at LCF and also some funding, so after that my tutor told me I just had to go for it. I had backing from my parents too, so it was a now or never type situation.

How did SearchStyle turn into AllEyes?

The plan was to build SearchStyle, which we [her and boyfriend Lucas Shorvon] did, and use all of the unique data to power our trend-forecasting platform, so no one else could take the data that we were creating for it. But obviously, no one told me that forming a social network is the hardest thing in the world, so we have put that idea on hold for now and gone straight for the trend-forecasting website, AllEyes.

So, AllEyes is your current venture?

Yes, we’ve been working on AllEyes for about a year alongside our freelance work, mainly doing loads of research, having brainstorms with designers, buyers, stylists, and we’ve partnered up with a few people on it. AllEyes is a trend-forecasting and consultancy company that creates trend reports by shooting street style outside of the fashion week shows and then selling it to brands and retailers in the industry. We feel that’s a much better representation of what people want to wear, rather than what’s happening on the catwalk and we are also building a new web platform using machine learning. This will monitor what’s happening on social media and pick out trends within that, so hopefully we will be able to know what, when and where.

“You’re going to have a stronger project or outcome if you work with more people”

Vinyl artwork designs for @attawalpa

How have you managed the tech side of your business without any formal training, have you taught yourself?

I’m really not very techy, and neither is Lucas, which is our downfall. I try and go to as many tech talks as I can because I am genuinely interested in all the algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence behind websites, but I don’t code. Lucas is learning, but it’s going to be a while until he can code what we want built, so we work with a development agency. They’re helping us build our programme and we’re looking to give them some equity, which will also mean they’re heavily invested in the project. Essentially, we have the tech base covered without having to touch it ourselves.

So, collaboration and building up a network is key for your business development?

Definitely. We have formed a kind of board of advisors for the areas we aren’t so knowledge in, so if we have a trend forecasting question we have a trend forecaster we can ask and if we have a tech question we’ve got someone we can go to for that etc. We’ve basically been hand picking people for our advisory board, so we’ve got every question covered should we have it.

Do you have any other employees on board yet?

We currently work with a lot of freelancers, and this is why we are looking to get funding so that we can start paying ourselves a small salary and begin to bring other people into the team, and get a work space somewhere. We collaborate with students from LCF, CSM and Ravensbourne universities to be our street style photographers for fashion weeks, and really believe that collaborating is the best thing in the world. Everyone needs help and you’re going to have a stronger project or outcome if you work with more people, it’s more brains hitting together and coming up with better ideas in my opinion!

Client-based illustration and print work, 2015

Lots of new business band together in collectives these days to provide essential support and guidance to one another, are you a member of a collective?

While SearchStyle is on the backburner at the moment, we’ve flipped it into the SearchStyle Collective which involves 30 or 35 of us now, all photographers, videographers, stylists, makeup artists, journalists, basically everyone we have worked with so far. We do collaborative shoots and all help each other out – no one gets paid or anything, but it’s there if you need advice, or even a place to shoot. It is only a very recent project but it’s been amazing and we are hoping to reach out to brands to pitch the collective, not just AllEyes. I can see it turning into a kind of internal, community run creative agency where people get paid freelance rates and we can collaborate with whoever we want. Next year we will be bringing out a website to showcase some of the work that we’ve done.

What is some advice you wish you had been given when starting out?

I’d say getting together a strong portfolio is key. I feel like at CSM I could have tried a lot harder on the projects I had been given, so when I left there I had a portfolio, but it wasn’t work that was true to me. Then because I didn’t find my style in uni, I have just been constantly working since, on freelance projects yes, but also on personal projects that I just want to do to build up a strong portfolio that actually shows off my style, instead of just random bits of work that I just shoved in to pad it out.