On her childhood:
I grew up in Rutland but all my childhood memories are of holidaying in the south of France. My older sister and I would fly out there every summer and spend four months living with my grandparents, while my parents stayed at home to run their pest-control business. Everyone needs a rat catcher, right? I loved being in France and it would always take me a while to adjust when I returned home; I’d be speaking Franglais! France is my emotional motherland. I even have a French passport.
On her early career:
My teachers didn’t have high hopes for me. I wasn’t particularly academic and I was a disruptive student, constantly challenging the rules. After my GCSEs, I was told in no uncertain terms not to come back to school. I went to college to do a BTEC in business and finance, skipped university and headed straight for London at 18. After working for fashion and advertising agencies, I landed a job as a sub-editor at The Times online. No-one else wanted that role; digital was viewed as the poor relative to print back then and we were shoved in the corner by the toilets. How things have changed.
I never stopped to think “Can I do this?” I just did it. I wasn’t blessed with great grades at school but I was blessed with an inner self-belief.
On starting her own business:
I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I used to watch my dad slaving away and think, “I’ll never run my own business.” But it must have been in my genes. When I was 30, I opened Powder, a fashion boutique in Crouch End. I had my son, Jake, four weeks after the launch – he spent most of his first year in changing rooms and being dragged to meetings. In 2006, I launched online fashion retailer My-Wardrobe.com. The aim was to be more upmarket than Asos but more affordable than Net-a-Porter. I invested everything – including money raised through the sale of my house – into that business. Originally it was going to be an offshoot of Powder but the website outperformed the store within six months so I knew it had a life of its own. I never stopped to think “Can I do this?” I just did it. I wasn’t blessed with great grades at school but I was blessed with an inner self-belief.
On her power suit:
My style is classic with a twist. I don’t feel powerful in a skirt or dress; I feel vulnerable. My “armour” is always trousers – usually black – and a tailored blazer with a blouse or vest. Normally I wear killer heels but they’ve taken their toll on my feet so it’s flats for now. When you have your own business, you need to step up every day and represent your brand. You need to take care in how you look. It helps with self-confidence and it helps others believe in you. That doesn’t mean you’re vain; it’s about presenting the best version of yourself.
On work culture:
The fashion industry is renowned for being extremely bitchy but there was absolutely no place for that kind of behaviour at My-Wardrobe.com. I would not tolerate it. I wanted an environment that was nurturing and fun. Women should be more supportive of each other.
On her style icon:
My French aunt was ridiculously glamorous. She’d be lying on the beach, slathered in oil, wearing huge sunglasses and dripping in diamonds and gold jewellery. As a child, I was in awe!
On staying sane:
Regular exercise, no alcohol and bed by 9pm. My vices are smoking and too much coffee.
When you have your own business, you need to step up every day and represent your brand. It helps with self-confidence and it helps others believe in you.
On her toughest life challenge:
The later days at My-Wardrobe.com nearly broke me. We appointed a new CEO in 2012 and I became chief creative officer. It was meant to be an exciting time but his vision was very different from mine. He wanted to elevate the brand and directly chase Net-a-Porter’s customers; I thought it was risky and would alienate our existing customer base, plus we lacked the marketing budget to do it. It became clear that I was no longer part of the decision-making process and, in 2013, I was asked to exit the business. I was completely crushed. I’d started My-Wardrobe.com from scratch and it had become part of my identity. I took two years out to lick my wounds, get therapy and take stock of what had gone wrong. I vowed I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes and become so emotionally attached to a business again.
On her next move:
I spent four years at Shop Direct, where I launched and headed up Very Exclusive, the home of more than 100 luxury fashion and beauty labels, including Marc by Marc Jacobs, McQ, Reiss and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania. I left last year and am currently a non-executive director at French Connection. I still have another fashion venture in me. Watch this space…
On her advice to other women:
You are good enough.
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