On a passion for pre-loved fashion, her community relationships and why she adores the county
As well as running marketing agency House Creative, you are the founder of a pre-loved designer fashion boutique, Dress Cheshire…
I love fashion. I love brands and luxury brands. I can’t say that I’m a rooter, but I did really love finding some nice purchases in charity shops. Occasionally, I would root out what I would call a dress agency, but they were all a bit tired and run down and not very glamorous. So, in 2018, I actually saw an opportunity, having lived in Prestbury village for over 25 years, I just saw the opportunity of second-hand fashion in a high net worth, upmarket area in Cheshire.
I set up the business. I didn’t intend for it to be a digital online business, just the shop with the pink door, as we are famously known as. It really was great because I thought that I could get maybe 50 good quality local sellers in the Cheshire area. We’ve got around 1,800 sellers now and growing.
We were brought to a halt by the pandemic. We were only 15 months old in March 2020, so, very quickly, and this is because I am a marketer, I switched on an ecommerce engine and did social media selling just to get us over that lockdown period.
How exactly does the process of buying and selling work?
Without my sellers, I don’t have inventory, so I rely on them to engage with us and choose us to sell their items for them. We deliver all over the UK from the Highlands of Scotland to the Channel Islands. We have literally got customers North, South, East and West. Also, through that supply chain, we’ve got some charity shop partners and we’ve raised thousands and thousands of pounds for the likes of Caudwell Children, East Cheshire Hospice, Samaritans, Windyway Trust, Seashell Trust and My CWA. We have raised a huge amount of money through the donation of designer clothes and handbags and a lot of the charity shops actually have a little corner in the shops that’s all of our things. It’s a big deal for them to say that they’ve had a drop from Dress Cheshire and they say that things go really quickly because they will sell them at an incredible price.
We’ve given people the opportunity to not only try on brands, but to be able to afford brands that they wouldn’t even have contemplated before because some people just don’t feel confident, and I get that as well. We’ve got customers now that only shop with us. We’ve had ladies that come in and they leave us their clothes and go out in a whole new outfit. That happens a lot. We get a lot of storytelling around items, people get very attached to clothing items and handbags. They might be giving away a skirt, a jacket, or a dress where they went to a very special occasion or something nice happened around that time, so we get so many stories, it’s so lovely. There’s an emotional attachment, especially to bags.
Dress has great reviews online, what’s the key to having such a good relationship with the community and your customers?
I think we’re trusted. I think that’s where a lot of big organisations and some independent stores might not be confident enough. But people have built up a relationship with me as the business owner and when they come in the shop, if they’ve seen me for the first time because they’ve been watching me on Facebook or Instagram for the last few years, they say ‘I feel like I know you’. Authenticity is what it is. I haven’t gone out of my way to create that, it just comes very naturally. Authenticity, trust and relationships are the holy grail of what retail brands are trying to achieve.
It’s hard because we work on commission only, so, if we don’t sell an item, we don’t get paid. We pay out up to 80%, depending on what the item is, but with most items that we sell up to the value of about £1,200, we will take 50%. But, it is hard work. We only sell one of everything, so we have to put in as much effort, time and consideration. We photograph it, list it, showcase it, pack it, wrap it. There’s a vast amount of labour that goes into selling one item and when that item is gone, it’s gone. We have a tagline of ‘buy now or cry later’.
Why do you think investing in pre-loved fashion is so important?
Value. You save so much money. You look good for a lot less. Today, I’m in Gucci, Chanel and Louboutin and it’s all pre-owned, so it’ll cost me less for all the items than for one on its own. But, in more recent times, sustainability, recycling and reusing is definitely a close number two. You just feel good if you’re reusing something. My first second-hand outfit I bought was a little black dress from Vivienne Westwood and I bought it in a second-hand shop in Notting Hill. It cost me about £80 at the time and it felt like a lot of money for a second-hand dress back then. I’ve still got it and it still looks fabulous today. In fact, I did a photoshoot with me wearing it and it’s amazing. I’ve never let it go out of my wardrobe because it will never not look in style.
I think the other thing, as well, is investing in a piece of clothing that will last the test of time. I do believe that with using quality fabrics, you’re going to get an item that will look better for longer and just be timeless. We can’t have wardrobes only full of timeless clothes because styles come in and out and shapes come in and out, but I know the things in my wardrobe that are just going to be there forever and they look great every time I bring them out.
What’s your favourite thing about Cheshire?
Cheshire just feels like home. I’m so ingrained with Cheshire. I’m a Chester girl originally but, for me, Cheshire ticks all the boxes. It’s contemporary. You’ve got the whole countryside scene which is amazing, and some lovely people. You’ve got some amazing city life in Cheshire. I think people are grounded up here. People have got time for you. You can be as glamorous as you like or you can just be the girl next door and I’m both of those things within the same 24 hours. Everyone knows me in Prestbury village and they will either see me walking out of the shop in Chanel or walking my poodles with my hair scraped back and no makeup on. It makes no difference. I don’t feel the need to make myself look like a Cheshire lass.
Finally, what comes next for Dress?
I’ve got an appetite to open another store in due course, which I would like to be in London. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t find another affluent area within Cheshire. I think the growth of the business very much aligns with the ecommerce space, but still retaining that authenticity and realism. That’s what I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of and I won’t, as the brand owner, allow that to happen.