Doing the Business: Sophie Worthington and Lucy Enfield of Ilovegorgeous talk sell-out sales and stocking in Selfridges
Words Helen Baron
- Starting a business is tough – especially with kids to take care of. What gave you the impetus to start I Love Gorgeous? What made you think you could make it work?
SW: When we started ilovegorgeous in 2006 we had no ambition beyond the first collection. We were keen to have a creative outlet and to make the kind of clothes for our children that we loved but we absolutely didn’t envision then how big it would become. Between us we have six children so we could involve them in all aspects of the business from brainstorming ideas to modelling the early collections. Our driving force was our passion for fashion rather than a conviction that we could make it work; that only came with time and a proven track record. We were lucky enough to have our first wholesale collection snapped up by Selfridges and from there our business has grown organically every year.
- What were the early years like?
SW: The early years were fun and stressful in equal measure. We are enormously proud of what we have achieved not least because neither of us were businesswomen, we just loved what we were doing and kept on doing it. In a way naivety is an asset. We were so punchy in the early days, jumping on planes to source manufactures in hidden parts of Europe, buying fabrics on Goldhawk Road, visiting fairs in Paris, working from home juggling children and work and long-suffering husbands. But the rewards were rapid and significant. Sell-out home sales and early entry in department stores such as Selfridges and Barneys in New York meant that we kept on going. Starting a business is like pushing a boulder up hill – you have to be very determined and dogged and above all ignore anyone who tells you not to do it!
- What was your vision for the brand? Is there something that makes I Love Gorgeous different to other labels?
LE: We wanted to make clothes that we loved. We took the production values and attention to detail of adult fashion and applied them to the childrenswear market. We were not (and are not) afraid to use unusual fabrics, prints details and trims. We wanted children to fall in love with our clothes and to feel special in them. The aim of an ilovegorgeous outfit is to transform the wearer and make them stand out from the crowd. We want our clothes to be loved, remembered and handed on from generation to generation.
- How did/do the founders divide the work? And are there ever arguments over direction etc?
SW: Partnerships are notoriously difficult but we see it as an asset. The plus side off a partnership is that you always have a sounding board and a second opinion. You never operate alone and we think that women are particularly good at working collaboratively. We both work on the designs but as the business has grown Lucy has assumed the role of Creative Director while I am Managing Director. We confer on most things but also trust each other to make the right decisions in their own right. We are fortunate in that we both have a similar aesthetic and tend to agree on strategic approach and ten years on there have been no fights or fall outs…
- Was there a moment or event that tipped things and helped I Love Gorgeous to feel more ‘established’ as a business?
LE: Absolutely! There have been several significant moments that have kept us going especially in those precarious early days – when our first collection sold out, when Selfridges bought our first wholesale collection and we took on an agent. The day we raised our first round of equity funding to open the Notting Hill shop and launch our first ecommerce site. Those were heady days with turnover doubling annually as we scrabbled to keep up and create an infrastructure to support the rapid success.
- What’s the biggest change the business has witnessed/undergone during the first ten years of its existence and the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
LE: The biggest challenge was probably learning to run a multi-million pound business, to manage our finances effectively and to build the infrastructure and supporting team of people that is so crucial to the smooth running and survival of a business like ours. The transformation from a small kitchen table business to a limited company employing 24 people carries with it hard lessons, but many a triumph too.
- Tell us about the new crowdfunding initiative…
SW: After 10 years of making beautiful clothes for gorgeous girls we are now ready to start making them for boys too! When we initially started thinking about the next phase of growth of our business, the first thing we did was ask our customers if it was something they would want. The answer was a resounding yes! We are confident that there is a huge gap in the market for a boyswear collection with the same design aesthetic as our girls range. We have always placed huge importance on listening to our customers, making sure they are involved and considered in all of our strategic decisions as a business.
We thought about the traditional ways of raising finance to support the launch of the boys’ collection, such as approaching venture capitalists, something we have done successfully before, but were excited at the possibility of giving our customers the opportunity to have a slice of the action and decided to crowdfund instead. We have chosen to work with leading platform CrowdCube to host our campaign which launches in early April and allows “the crowd” to invest as little as £10 for an equity share in the business.
- What about the greatest lesson running a business has taught you?
SW: Never take your eye off the end goal, to keep on going even when the going gets tough, to trust yourself but above all, to trust other people and to build an infrastructure of experienced people to support your vision. You need vision; tenacity and a great team; if you have all of three then the rest will fall into place.