What happens when you can’t find what you want to wear? You start your own brand, of course. Stephanie Smith profiles the online retailers filling gaps in the market.
Complaints that the High Street is failing fashion shoppers have long been common, and the recent slumps in clothing sales by some of our largest retailers, including Marks & Spencer and Next, suggests that there is some truth in the accusations.
But in recent years, female entrepreneurs have been deciding to tackle the problem themselves by launching their own brands, offering exactly the sort of clothes that they – and UK fashion shoppers – have been searching for.
Founded last September by former Look magazine editor Ali Hall and Look and InStyle publishing director Julie Lavington, Sosandar aims to offer fashion-forward, wearable, grown-up clothing, using quality fabrics. Flattering dresses are the brand’s signature, alongside quality leather, luxurious knitwear and casual outfits to feel expensive in.
“I heard the same complaints from women again and again,” says Ali. “There are no great dresses with sleeves, hemlines are way too short … basically the same frustrations Julie and I had when we went shopping.”
Both originally from the North West, they gave up their jobs in London and relocated to base Sosandar in Wilmslow, Cheshire, where everything from design to photography is done in-house. Sosandar works with factories all over the world. The shoes and boots are made in a small factory in Spain from locally sourced A-grade leather and are leather lined.
A seasonal edit of between 20 and 30 pieces lands online every month, mixing key trends with timeless wardrobe staples. Prices range from £29 for jersey to £249, with professional women between 35-55 making up the core customer demographic. Ali and Julie knew they wanted to use their experience to fuse e-commerce with editorial, believing women don’t just want the clothes, they want advice on how, where and why to wear them. Daily style inspiration, topical fashion news and advice sits alongside the shopping.
The Fold is fast becoming a go-to favourite of high-flying, stylish businesswomen, and sells both online and through its Clerkenwell showroom. Fans include Samantha Cameron, Amanda Holden, Amber Le Bon, Davina McCall, Holly Willoughby, Annabel Croft and many top female executives. The brand profiles its customers on its website, and holds networking events and business breakfasts.
It was while working in the corporate world that Australian-born founder Polly McMaster, 34, noticed a gap in the market for chic women’s workwear. “Looking as smart as a man in his bespoke suit gives a woman the same level of confidence and gravitas at work. The idea for The Fold came out of that need,” she says.
With prices ranging up to £395, the brand aims to offer beautiful tailoring, and has a “build your own jacket” service, where customers choose their own fabric, lining, add monogramming and other design elements on three core styles. There are four collections a year, designed by an in-house team in London, and made in the UK and in the EU.
Australian-born Polly lives in Queen’s Park, London, with her husband James (CEO of new breakfast brand Up and Go).
“Our dream was to empower and inspire women to feel their best at work,” she Polly. “So when we receive feedback that a customer wore a dress to an important presentation or interview and felt amazing in it, that’s the most rewarding feeling.”
Winser London offers women clothes they really want to wear – modern but not overly on-trend, cleverly cut to flatter, simple without being too classic, made in high-quality fabrics and luxurious yarns, in colours that stand the test of time and are easy to co-ordinate.
It was founded in 2013 by Kim Winser. Born in Helensburgh, Scotland, she was the youngest and first female director of Marks & Spencer, chief executive of Pringle of Scotland, CEO of Aquascutum, chairman of Agent Provocateur and adviser to Natalie Massenet at Net-a-Porter.
A seasoned traveller, her ability to pack light while creating multiple outfit options from a few pieces has been core to the development of the Winser clothing collection. So too has the “touch of stretch” in every piece, which ensures clothes look good all day long.
Winser design teams work with mills around the world to create exclusive fabrics and yarns. Its English tweed is woven and sewn in England. Each style uses individual blocks for each size, rather than the “cookie-cutter” system used by the High Street.
“My mother advised me to always just be myself,” Kim says. “Those few words have stayed with me and have kept me on a solid path throughout my career.”
Founded in 2012, Baukjen aims to offer key pieces a woman needs in her wardrobe, from the perfect white tee and jeans to the jersey dress that does day to night.
“Women have many aspects to their life. I want Baukjen to be there for them,” says founder Baukjen De Swaan Arons, who was born in Amsterdam, but moved to London aged five. After the birth of her first child, she launched the maternity brand Isabella Oliver, and Baukjen followed five years ago.
“Although I had my favourite go-to brands for things like the weekly food shop, I didn’t have a clothing equivalent: a collection that I could rely upon to edit out faddy trends, put relevant looks together and afford me clothes that fit beautifully and stand the test of time. This dilemma inspired Baukjen. We aim to offer effortless outfits to women with a busy lifestyle.”
Everything is designed in-house and Baukjen runs the brand with her husband, Geoff van Sonsbeeck, who concentrates on the financial and operational side, while she focuses on the creative elements.