5 Minutes With: Zoe Karssen

zoe karssen

Zoe Karssen is a brand that really needs no introduction. In under four years the label has become the everyday attire go to for everyone from Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne to Beyonce and Rihanna… and your’s truly, at least whenever I can afford to. Fash casual slogan tees may be the company’s calling card, but recent seasons have seen the addition of knitwear, denim and accessories. With stockists ranging from Net-a-Porter, Selfridges and Harrods to AVN Group in Russia, Zoe Karssen is the epitome of the 21st century sartorial success story. I caught up with Zoe herself to talk inspirations, in house arguments and top quality tees…

LPA: Tell me a little about yourselves…

ZK: I grew up in Winchester in Hampshire, an hour south of London. I studied at Winchester school of art and then onto Bournemouth arts school. I didn’t complete my studies. I already started my first job, so dropped out of education, in hindsight I really wished I finished. Quince grew up in a small city in holland called, Veenendaal. He also studied here and once he had completed his studies, he then moved to the UK to search for better job opportunities.

LPA: What prompted you to launch your label in 2010? Had this always been the plan or did something specific inspire you to do it at that point in time?

ZK: Quince and I met in London, but we moved to the Netherlands when Quince started working for Tommy Hilfiger. I went to work at a Dutch denim brand called, Blue Blood. That’s where a stylist saw me wearing a loose tee, which I had drawn a quote on with a permanent marker the night before (a T-shirt should always be loose fit. I hate tight shirts). The stylist used the shirt in a shoot for the fashion magazine, Glamour. The response was overwhelming and Quince and I saw an opportunity for a private label. It seemed to be at a time when retailers were looking for innovation in the store without any huge investments. Our T-shirts answered that need, we were completely naive and inexperienced but frankly, I think that actually really helped. We completely went for it, no holding back. Quince was full time and I myself in the evenings and weekends, alongside my full-time job (we needed to pay the bills)!

LPA: In just four years, Zoe Karssen has landed many of the world’s top stockists, more celebrity fans than I can even list and generally become one of the most coveted casual wear brands around. Did you have a set strategy to get yourselves there when you launched? And what do you think it is about your designs that people, myself included, find so irresistible?

ZK: We think that quality is super important for a simple item like a T-shirt. Both being trained as graphic designers in fashion, we’ve been obsessed with tees for fifteen years and have become specialists in mixing materials and treatments. The quality of our tees is better than that of many other suppliers. That I would say is a key unique selling point for us.

LPA: Having started out with a collection of easy to wear tops and bottoms featuring quirky prints, Zoe Karssen has grown to encompass knitwear, high end denim, basics and even a few accessories. How have you managed to balance expansion with retaining your strong brand identity?

ZK: We are always trying our best! There isn’t really a manual on how to do this .. its a lot of guess work for us and following our gut feeling! Plus, we have great sales teams behind us that bring a lot of experience and good advise each season on whats working and whats difficult. Then we have to filter this information to what we believe is best for the brand. We try to handle the growth slowly and surely! That’s our motto, don’t rush things too much. For example, when we added the knitwear, we spent several seasons trying to perfect it and get it right before we added another product group.

LPA: Despite how quickly Zoe Karssen has grown, you still manage and create everything in house including shoots. Why is this so important to you?

ZK: First of all, we are control freaks! Secondly, It’s far better to keep everything in house right now, as we keep 100% control and it keeps our costs low. We started this way and I feel like this is crucial to our brand message, it’s really all developed from our gut feeling on what’s cool. We have had such a great response to the brand image, that we don’t try to change it. But, of course it can always improve. It’s a dream, if it just gets stronger every season!

LPA: I always find it fascinating to learn about design processes and the different sources ways and places designers find inspiration. How do you take your collections from initial ideas to finished product? Do you have go to references or is it different each season?

ZK: We are constantly on the blogs and internet, pretty much every day, I have a folder on my desktop and every time I see something inspiring, I save it. By the time, we approach the design periods again, I have a folder ready to go with new inspiration. We also have a solid basis in all of our collections, our best fits don’t change, so it’s more about colour cards and cool new graphics than designing complete new collections every season, that way we can spend more time on the few new styles being perfect rather than having too many and not enough focus in the collection.

LPA: I can imagine that running a label together has both advantages and challenges. How do you balance the responsibilities and decisions between you? What’s the biggest argument you’ve had since launching the brand?

ZK: We are lucky because it’s very clear for us, we have strengths in different fields. Quince runs the business on a day to day basis, finance, logistics, production etc. He also takes care of all the graphics every season. I focus on marketing and the brand image and Quince and I share the design input. So long, as we don’t stray to far from this it seems to work perfectly.

LPA: Could we see further Zoe Karssen lines added in the future? Interiors or childrenswear maybe…

ZK: Never say never! I would love to expand into interiors, but right now we are still young and need to focus. Our main focus this year is on quality, delivering on time to our retailers, basically perfecting what we already have. I have a small project in the pipeline that should be launched at Christmas, but I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t divulge just yet.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone planning to launch their own business?

ZK: First of all, DREAM BIG! DREAMS CAN COME TRUE! Make sure, you have some start up funds, you do need some money to get going. Thirdly, ensure you have a good and reliable manufacturer.. go visit them to check it out (if you plan to manufacture clothing). Equally, it is very important is to have a great brand story with clear brand messaging and imagery, you have to stand out from your competition.

Visit and shop Zoe Karssen online (especially the palm prints, I’m obsessed) here

Love Ella. x

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment

5 Minutes With: Matthew Murphy, OTHER Shop Co-Founder

matthew murphy OTHER Shop

The mini introductions I include in my 5 Minutes With features are usually completely superfluous but on this occasion, it might not be. Still I’ll keep things brief so you can crack on with the interesting part of the post, Matthew’s answers. OTHER Shop is an extremely interesting concept and possibly one of the few niche, independent, under-the-radar operations to have remained relatively so. Launched in 2012, the shop – or rather the fashion, art and design space – opened its doors in 2012 as the brainchild of Matthew Murphy and Kirk Beattie, the fellows behind cult hit label, b Store. Now even if you’re not super familiar with OTHER Shop, you’ll definitely have heard of bStore. Launched in 2001 as a footwear label and stockist/support of emerging labels. In the bat of an eyelid the brand was collaborating with the likes Liberty of London, ASOS and Mr Porter, growing at a rate of knots and gaining fashionable fans all over the globe by the bucketload. But, in 2012, Matthew and Kirke decided to close down bStore’s retail operation and set up a new venture that stayed truer to their original vision. A seriously, bloody, ballsy move I’m sure you’ll agree but judging by OTHER Shop’s ever expanding fan base and status as the coolest thing on Kingly Street, it was one that appears to be paying off big time. I caught up with Matthew to talk emerging designers, collaborations and plans for the future…

LPA: Talk me through a typical day in OTHER Shop HQ…

MM: We start the day, as everyone should with a good coffee! Then discuss content and calendar for the website, OTHER/man and woman production, store events and new exciting deliveries that have arrived from brands that week. We are a small team, which has adopted a family relationship, so there is plenty of banter between ‘work discussions’. There are always many meetings with new and established creative partners, regarding collaborations, projects and working with new designers. Creating features for our social networks is also an essential part of our day, I feel that communication of the life behind the scene’s of OTHER, is important to build our community, increase awareness and show that there are ‘real’ people making the decisions, with passion not spreadsheets

LPA: Your previous venture, bStore, swiftly became a cult hit and during the following decade grew to the extent that by your own account, it ended up far from the original vision. How have you taken the core aspects of bStore and translated them into OTHER Shop without risking history repeating itself?

Without question there are similarities between the businesses but fundamentally b store was always based around a flagship store to launch a wholesale brand. With OTHER/shop the focus is exploring new ways to present creative talent, whether through our own brand projects or supporting young emerging talents. OTHER brand is a key foundation for the business and a tool to enable us to venture into wholesale projects, through collaborations, pop ups and corners. We have just secured a small corner in Dover Street Market in London to launch our OTHER/man, through this type of initiative we can control the creative presentation and distribution of the brand and gives us the opportunity to increase awareness for both the brand and store. The fundamental aspect at the core of both businesses is that we strive to take risks and continue to move forward, we ensure that this continues to be part of the OTHER/shop vision

LPA: One of the things that’s so inspiring about OTHER Shop is the fact that you seek out, stock and support new design talent. Why is this so important to you? And how do you select creative’s to champion?

MM: We are always overwhelmed by the amount of talent there is and unfortunately due to the size of our business cannot support as many as we would love to. To continue to be a platform to launch new design talent, is key to both the success of our store and the element that continues to keep us inspired. Our physical store is based in central London amongst some of the best multi brand stores in the world, which results in their being many outlets for established brands, so as a small independent, we have to create an individual identity and reason’s to shop with us, working with small emerging brands not readily available through established stores, stands us apart. It is also key that we have a friendly, approachable and knowledgeable team that can convey the story behind these brands, which I am proud to say we are lucky enough to have. The selection is always difficult but we try to find a brand that adds something new to the offer, we try not to duplicate brands and select each one for their individuality, whether the designer has the seasonal trends within their collections is definitely not a factor in the selection.

LPA: Besides stocking a range of independent brands, OTHER also produces its own clothing and footwear line with a focus on locally sourced fabrics, quality and wardrobe staples as opposed to seasonal trend led collections. In terms of design and production, how does this work in comparison to other brands?

MM: Currently we produce the brand as and when we need it through the season, it helps to keep newness coming into the store and often works as a tool to add categories that we could not find from the brands we work with. It is important for us to manufacture in the UK for two reason’s, one being the desire to support UK manufacturing but also being a small team it enables us to be more reactionary to our customers needs producing key seasonal product, when the consumer actually needs it. This said because of the success of our own brand and the interest in collaborative projects, we need to bring the collection inline with seasons and expand the category offer, particularly the shoes. This will put us in a position to create relevant season awareness tools such us, collaborative film and look book projects with artists and to have a sample collection.

LPA: Who do you see as being the OTHER Shop customer?

MM: A true individual spirit in search of a new experience.

LPA: Collaborations seem to be central to the OTHER Shop ethos and during 2013 you worked with brands such as Lee and Grenson. How did these come about and why did you feel these labels were the right fit?

MM: For us collaborations only make sense when each party can bring something new to each other’s offer. We don’t have a denim offer in our collection and LEE have been producing denim for 125 years, so what better brand to work with? With Grenson the handmade British craftsmanship also meant a lot to us. With both brands we took signature elements and created what we felt was a new way of presenting the brand. A Collaboration has to talk to new audiences for both brands involved and that’s why we approached established brands, which meant we were able reach consumers that did not know of OTHER and the same for the brands.

LPA: What up-and-coming brands are you particularly excited about right now?

MM: New one’s that have or will become part of the OTHER/family are London based women’s designer REJINA PYO, her modern clean aesthetic has been a big success for SS14 and Priority of 10 FROM New York, who have created a sports influenced cool collection for women, Munich based men’s brand A KIND OF GUISE, has been welcomed by the OTHER/shop customers, accessory brands FAUX/real (jewellery) and LEVIT02 (unisex sandals) are both exciting additions. For next season we continue to support London based talent and have added AGI&SAM to our menswear offer, whose AW14 collection felt very sophisticated.

LPA: As well as being a retailer, OTHER Shop also showcases contemporary art and design. Tell me a little about the role of those aspects within the overall OTHER Shop brand…

MM: It has always been key that we are an outlet for creative talent not just fashion but design and art. Generally this stems from our community, the people we meet through the store that become friends and then we host an exhibition or friends who we admire their work, such as DARKROOM the interior and lifestyle brand/store who we partnered with on a pop Christmas store. All these projects and elements keep our business interesting and current.

LPA: Do you have any upcoming collaborations or expansion plans for OTHER Shop that you can share (even very vaguely) at this point?

MM: We have secured and planned to launch the dover street market OTHER/man corner this month in London and Tokyo, are in talks with LEE to be part of their 125 year anniversary celebrations and we are planning a very exciting project with one of our long standing brands, STEPHAN SCHNEIDER.

LPA: What advice would you give to an independent designer hoping to work with or be stocked by OTHER Shop?

MM: They don’t need advice from us, just to be true to their vision.

You can find OTHER Shop at 21 Kingly Street, Soho, London W1B 5QA or visit them online here.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Heidi Klein

Regardless of whether your a fashion fanatic or swimwear stalker, I suspect you’ve heard of Heidi Klein. Since launching in 2002, the label has become something of a one-stop-shop for chic holiday essentials for women, men and children with stockists the world over and famously fabulous fans including Olivia Palermo as well as legions of non famous but no doubt equally fabulous wearers. When Co-Founders, Heidi Gosman and Penny Klein decided to set up their first boutique the frustration of trying put together a great holiday wardrobe outside of the usual summer months, they clearly tapped into an angst shared by many. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend an intimate presentation of their SS14 and exclusive Jumby Bay collection (available here now) at the divine London Rosewood hotel, and of course, have a good old chat with the designers. So, without further ado, here’s my interview with one half of the duo behind the brand and fellow Breton stripe aficionado, Heidi Gosman.

Heidi Klein

LPA: In just over a decade, you’ve built one of the most coveted and successful beachwear brands in the world. Of course, there’s no such thing as a “secret to success”, but what do you feel it is about the heidi klein brand that appeals to such a wide range of consumers?

HG: We are constantly working with our customers to find out what works for them, what doesn’t, what’s missing in the range, etc. Having the two stores in London allows us to talk directly to our customers and feedback with a collection that’s in direct accordance to demand.

LPA: Today, heidi klein has standalone boutiques in two of the most prestigious areas of London, as well as a vast array of high profile stockists all over the world. Tell me a little bit about your professional journey to get to this point…

HG: We wanted our first boutique to open in an up-and-coming area, which was Notting Hill at the time. Then our clients told us they wanted a boutique closer to Chelsea, so we opened another there. The stockists started to approach us first. Barneys in NYC 2 years after we first launched the line, then the other majors followed. We are delighted to be in such great high profile stockists.

LPA: I’ve interviewed many different clothing designers and am always fascinated to hear about the creative process and methods that go into dreaming up their seasonal collections and then translating those ideas into saleable products. Is the process very different with beachwear do you think? How do you get your take your collections from mood board to store?

HG: I think the process is probably the same, you start with your inspiration, which is a print, colour, shape … it’s then a long, long process from there. Lots of deadlines, fittings, factory visits and late nights!

LPA: Besides heidi klein swimwear for women, you also stock a selection of other brands catering to men and children. What prompted this decision? And could you ever see yourselves either stocking other women’s swimwear brands or starting to design men’s and children’s swimwear?

HG: We actually started the business only selling other swimwear brands and accessories. The heidi klein brand started when we couldn’t find what customers were asking for, and that was chic, high end swimwear available all year round. We therefore noticed a gap in the market and went from there. We are also planning to launch a children’s swimwear line in 2015.

LPA: Tell me a little about your collaboration with Jumby Bay. How did it come about? And in what ways does the nine piece collection reflect your experiences of the island?

HG: We were thrilled that Jumby Bay approached us to host our photo shoot for this year’s collection. Jumby Bay is a stunning private island surrounded by the most beautiful blue water, which I tried to capture in the print. You go everywhere by bike or golf cart, it’s a very laid back place and so I wanted to reflect this in the styles I designed. Easy – yet super chic pieces.

LPA: What are your ultimate holiday destinations and are there particular pieces you would wear there?

HG: Some of my ideal holiday destinations are Portofino, Ibiza and Mustique. I always pack an easy, oversized shirt, great versatile sandals, a few maxi dresses for the evening, a floppy hat and lots of mix and match bikinis.

LPA: Aside from creating gorgeous beachwear, you are both fundamentally savvy businesswomen who have built up a global brand. Do you come from a business background? And what advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their own business?

HG: Yes I came from a business background, but have always loved being creative. Best advise to launch business:
- Research, research and research!
- Great business partner
- Always seek out and recruit brilliant people

LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the heidi klein office…

HG: There is no typical day, that’s what makes my job so much fun. I’m either visiting a factory, in the showroom for meetings, at a press event or in the studio. My days are constantly changing.

LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the heidi klein the brand?

HG: To gift customers with a renewed brand of confidence that allows them to look and feel gorgeous on holiday.

Shop the Heidi Klein Jumby Bay collection here

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment

5 Minutes With: Raquel Allegra

raquel allegra

I’ve recently realised that I usually start my posts with the same phrases. One of which is “remember my post aaaages ago on x” and I’m afraid to say that tried, tested and done to death opening line applies today. But you’ll have to forgive me. One of the most wonderful things about blogging has been writing a feature on a particular person, brand or designer I find inspiring and later getting the chance to actually work with them. When the inimitable creations of LA based designer, Raquel Allegra launched on Matches and I thought both her work, and the backstory behind it were so fascinating I just had to share them with you. Almost exactly a year later, I’ve had the chance to interview Raquel so without further ado, here’s what she had to say about her fashion journey so far and the unconventional approach to design that have made her label an international hit…

LPA: I love the story of how you made your first pieces from recycled prison shirts which led you to develop the unique fabric construction techniques for which you become renowned. Do you feel those initial experiments still inform your design process today?

RA: I began all of this curious business when I first moved to Los Angeles from Berkeley about 11 years ago. At that time I was collecting soft vintage tees from the Goodwill thrift store and others like it, and just experimenting to have fun. So much has happened between then and now… it really blows my mind. Honestly, one of my most motivating factors was that I was flat broke! I used vintage tees because they were soft, cheap, and I could ‘destroy’ them without feeling too wasteful. I still gravitate towards soft, affordable, casual fabrics and through the hand deconstruction process, elevate the feeling and value of each piece.

LPA: It sounds like your brand had an incredibly organic start, no ten year plan just timing and talent. Is this really the case or am I being incredibly naïve? Do you think you would approach it differently if you were setting up your label now?

RA: You couldn’t be more right! I still pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming… BUT, had I known what I was getting myself into I’m sure I would have tucked my tail and ran for the hills! Thank goodness I was so green and naive. I have never worked so hard in my LIFE. I tried a semester of sewing, draping, and pattern drafting in college and absolutely hated it. I’m pretty sure I dropped out of drafting after the first week and I remember my mom sewing my final project for my sewing class. The traditional school approach was NOT for me. All this to say I really made my way into this business through the back door. The main ingredients for me were simply playing, having a good time, and going with the flow.

LPA: Your one of a surprisingly large group of designers who had no formal training yet went on to have hugely successful careers in the industry. Do you feel your background means you approach design in a different way?

RA: I can’t really compare how I approach design to others because I don’t know any other way. For me it’s constant exploration, testing ideas, and problem solving. I visualize what I want to see, and I work with my team to manifest it. There are pieces that never make it into the line because they don’t feel ready yet. Others branch off into stronger ideas. I’ve always been open to learning new ways to doing things though, maybe not formally, but through the support of others.

LPA: According to your bio, 2009 “marked a maturation for the Raquel Allegra brand.” Tell me a little about this…

RA: This fashion adventure of mine started while I was working retail and deconstructing old t-shirts on the side purely to express my own personal style, and my clients at Barneys New York started asking to buy what I was wearing. One thing led to another… my little hobby turned into a little business, and through friends I met my business partner in 2009. It was then that the brand matured from selling one-off pieces to clients and a handful of local shops, to developing our signature jersey fabric, and selling to some of the most beautiful stores across the country and around the world.

LPA: How do you begin your design process each season? Are there certain rituals you always undertake or places you look for inspiration?

RA: I almost always begin with fabrics… the soft hand-feel is paramount. Some of what I create each season spills over from the previous season and ideas that need more time to develop are then the foundation for a new season… what I like about this is that there is a natural flow from one season to the next, an organic evolution. I think that our customers feel that continuity too. There are few radical departures for me.

LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Raquel Allegra studio…

My typical days are scheduled now – months in advance – with design meetings, production fittings, business meetings, and so forth. On an untypical day, where my schedule has opened up, I might order in from Urth Café with my team, talk about the things we’re into at the moment over lunch, catch up personally, indulge in browsing art prints and antique furniture on, maybe sit at the sewing machine which I keep in my studio to work out bubbling ideas… put some red lipstick on and play dress up…

LPA: The phrase “style icon” is one we hear a lot these days. Who, if anyone, do you feel truly deserves to be called “iconic”?

Besides the obvious list who are so influential that I can refer to them by one name; Marilyn, Audrey, Bowie, Madonna… there are some that are personal style icons… women I have in mind when I’m designing; Patti Smith, Kate Moss, Jane Birkin, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. Style for style’s sake is boring to me. Style paired with personal integrity is interesting and can be incredibly inspiring.

LPA: Your brand has developed pretty much alongside the rise and digital media and the past few years have seen its adoption by virtually all luxury fashion companies. How has this affected your work and the way you run your business?

RA: I love sharing the way I see the world and what’s important to me so I’m a big fan of Instagram. Seeing all the different people tagging my brand is exciting to watch. As for everything else out there, it’s fun to use but I try not to let it get in the way of what I do with the brand or the company.

LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the Raquel Allegra brand?

RA: It’s all still very personal to me and mimics what I like to wear, what I find comfort in, and what feels sexy to me. The collections have always evolved and grown in parallel with my own discoveries about myself, and I don’t see that ever changing. It’s always felt important for me to give back, so as the business grows I plan to work more to see that transpire.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their own fashion label?

Explore new technology more than we do now. Recycle more, waste less. And ‘be the change’ you want to see in the world.

Inspiring stuff right! Check out these incredible looks from the Raquel Allegra Resort 2014 collection…

Raquel Allegra

Raquel Allegra

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment

5 Minutes With: Austique Founder, Katie Canvin


If you live in the UK or have plans to be here any time soon, I insist you visit Austique. Or to be specific, one of the two equally delectable Austique boutiques in London. Today’s interviewee, Katie Canvin opened her first store on the Kings Road back in 2004. Over the next few years she honed her carefully curated stock of contemporary designers from around the world to include the likes of Markus Lupfer, Alice + Olivia, Mara Hoffman and Rebecca Minkoff, developing Austique’s reputation as the fashion lover’s go-to for gorgeous, eclectic and exquisitely presented pieces. Now Katie owns and runs two Austique boutiques, one in Chelsea and the other in Notting Hill, not to mention a booming online store and her own underwear brand, Cheek Frills. As you can probably imagine, she’s a pretty busy lady but still managed to spare a few minutes to answer my questions…


LPA: Tell me a little about your background. Where did you grow up and what were you doing before you launched Austique?

KC: I am a country girl and grew up in Devon with no interest in clothes, a total tomboy. The only real fashion memory I have is never wearing shoes in summer and not liking jeans as they made a funny noise when you walk! Makes no sense now that I own over 30 pairs… (my husband counted them recently!).

LPA: What prompted your decision to set up Austique in 2004? Was that always what you hoped or planned to do?

KC: My sister and I are half Australian and the idea of opening a store that offered amazing service but in the laid back Australian way inspired us. Also selling brands and labels from all over the world which we hadn’t seen in the UK. That was 10 year ago. We actually only ever planned one shop and thought online was the way forward by selling gifts. I sound like such a dinosaur but this was the days when Net-a-Porter was widely reported as putting in huge investment but hadn’t yet taken off – Natalie Massenet was amazing in her vision and she really proved everyone wrong as the feeling from everyone was that clothes would never sell online. I cannot understate how much I admire her for sticking to her guns and proving all the doubters wrong. We wanted our site to be a gift site rather than fashion. Now we have two successful shops – one in Chelsea and one in Notting Hill plus our online business. We also have a range of underwear called Cheek Frills – this was never the plan but they are our best selling product – Selfridges approached us about stocking them so we launched them in 2012 and are now stocked in stores such as Liberty, Bloomingdales and on Shopbop, very exciting! Sometimes you just have to follow what is working rather than sticking religiously to your business plan.

LPA: I think it’s fair to say that Austique is one of the most in demand independent boutiques in the country but I can imagine all has not been plain sailing along the way. What was the greatest challenge you faced building the business?

KC: Retail is SO hard – your overheads are huge so you need to constantly be driving the business, there is never a moment to rest! Everyday is a new day and you are starting from scratch. The only day I am not checking sales figures is Christmas day!! Actually now with online I am even checking them then!

When the credit crisis hit in 2008 we had to really reassess our business – it was a good discipline for us. The days of women with really unlimited budgets disappeared and everyone began to think about what they were spending. We used to have many more American customers but they moved back to the states. We changed our buying so we had a bigger selection in our best selling price range and that had a huge impact on our business – we actually have seen our turnover increase every year but we have had to work hard to get there so it definitely made us a better business. And people now spend longer thinking about their purchases which can only be a good thing, you never hear customers say oh I’ll put it on the credit card and worry about it later anymore! Which might be bad for business but is definitely better for them!

LPA: One of the things I adore about Austique is the highly curated selection of contemporary and often quite niche brands from all over the world that you stock. How do you source and select your labels?

KC: We ask ourselves questions when we look at EVERY product we buy:

1. Is it widely available elsewhere in the UK?
2. Is it worth the price tag? We don’t mind how expensive or cheap something is as long as it is worth it.
3. And on the same basis if you pulled out the brand label would you buy it anyway? Our customer is so savvy and confident she does not come to us for the brand put the product.
4. And the most important question – is it in in the Austique voice – we work so hard on our brand and everything we do is for the girl we all aspire to be – ‘Jessica’. We know what she reads, which films she likes, where she goes on holiday etc etc. We have committed our share of brand crimes in the past but now we are much more confident in our brand so these are a thing of the past.

LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Austique office…

KC: It is generally chaos and everyday is different – which is why I love running my own business. When you run your own company you are involved in every aspect from the accounts (I always put this off until last!) to the marketing to the selling which is my absolute favourite part of the business. I love dealing with customers – we have the same women who have been coming in for the full 10 years we have been open, I so rarely get the time on the shopfloor but I love it whenever I do.

LPA: While e-tail and social media were getting going back in 2004, there have been enormous developments in the digital landscape since then which have had a huge impact on the fashion industry. Do you feel this has changed the way you run Austique and communicate with your consumer?

KC: Touched on this above but yes – when we opened everyone knew the internet would change everything however we had no idea how it was going to happen. It is so exciting to have been a part of it all evolving and has opened up a new world of opportunity for businesses like Austique. We’re all totally obsessed by Instagram at the moment and this is a fantastic way to communicate with our customers and show them sneak previews of great new deliveries. It is amazing that now we can reach women anywhere in the world online and we don’t need to open more shops to do that. The sky is the limit for us online. It does make me worry about the high street but I think we will always have shops even if they are simply showrooms and people use websites to make the purchase.

LPA: Austique now has boutiques in Chelsea and Notting Hill. Do you try to keep the aesthetic and brand offering uniform across all three or adapt each one to a slightly different consumer? Could you ever see Austique opening a store in, say, Shoreditch?

KC: I think you have to really know your customer and stay true to your brand and for us we work well in affluent areas with a really international customer. I think we would do better in new capital cities rather than any more stores in London. We would love to open in say Hong Kong, Sydney or New York although that is a while away. The sky is the limit online so we are very focused here right now and growing Cheek Frills. So generally we have exactly the same offering, whenever we have moved away from this you end up not looking your best and compromising what you do.

LPA: Not that I’m asking you to play favourites, but which Austique brands are you particularly loving right now and why?

We produce our own range under the Austique label and of course I am majorly biased but I am completely obsessed with our cashmere and I wear it everyday! I also desperately want our brocade shorts which are coming in in the next couple of weeks. From our other designers I am obsessed by Zoe Chicco which is a new Jewellery label from LA exclusive to Austique in the UK. I was really indulgent and treated myself to a ring chain bracelet in gold with diamond v’s, it is so unusual and eye catching I love it, I have to have perfect nails to wear it – it is so amazing! Fashion-wise my pick is Parker, again almost exclusive to us it is from New York and is a fantastic brand, everything is silk and so well made in great shapes, colours and prints. There are lots of new brands I am excited about for Spring Summer – again mostly exclusive to Austique – such as LOVESHACKFANCY, Marisa Webb and Christophe Sauvant. It is going to be a great season we saw some amazing pieces. The other thing we and our customers are loving right now is a brand of stationery called Sugar Paper – the most beautiful stationery from LA. Everyone loves great stationery.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone thinking of launching their own retail business?

KC: Research research research. You can never look too much at your business plan and be so careful about the area you pick and the actual shop as this will make or break you – we got so lucky with our Kings Road store as the shop had a great feel from the word go. And stay true to your brand, don’t commit brand crimes, you have to love everything you sell – never compromise on this. Whenever we have we have got it wrong.

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment