Cecile Reinaud: Founder, Séraphine Maternity Wear: Dressing the Bumps of Angelina Jolie & Halle Berry
Cecile has always had a passion for creating clothes and founded Séraphine in 2002 after several pregnant friends approached her to tailor clothes to suit their bumps. Spotting a business opportunity, Cecile's first creation for Séraphine was a pioneering pair of maternity jeans, the first of their kind, which she made simply by adding a jersey panel along the waistband. The now award-winning range of comfortable and versatile denim was an immediate success and soon had a two month waiting list.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Cecile and her team have ensured that Séraphine has grown from an independent maternity boutique based in London to one of the leading online specialist maternity fashion brands, with a range of over 200 styles including wardrobe basics, underwear, tailored work and party wear and accessories.
Séraphine recently won the 2011 Drapers award for Best Specialist Etailer and counts A-list celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Claudia Schiffer, Jennifer Garner, Alyson Hannigan, Jessica Alba & Kate Hudson as fans.
New for 2012 is the exclusive Luxe collection - a range of wedding dresses and red-carpet-worthy evening gowns designed to be wearable post-maternity.
It was during Cecile’s second pregnancy that she conceived the idea for ShoeTherapy. Suffering from backache, Cecile learned of a special pair of corrective inner soles to relieve pressure and correct spinal injuries, created by renowned French orthopedist Doctor Jean Douhaire. Cecile approached Dohaire and together, over the course of two years, they produced unique technology in the form of a comfortable, yet stylish range of patented ballet pumps. Shoe Therapy was launched in 2011.
All ShoeTherapy styles contain raised elements to massage certain pressure points whilst a tailored heel height helps promote the ideal body posture and support the foot by optimising balance and blood circulation along with minimising muscle strain. Not just for pregnancy, Shoe Therapy shoes provide a solution for all women suffering from back and joint aches, swollen ankles or poor blood circulation.
Originally from Paris where she studied business, Cecile relocated to the UK at the start of her career to work at high profile advertising agencies including JWT, where she was appointed as the youngest Account Director in the company’s history.
We spoke to Cecile about her global expansion plans; her tips for balancing motherhood with a career; and her new shoe venture.
TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?
CR: Seraphine’s offering is unique in that the quality of our clothes is outstanding whilst maintaining a very reasonable price point. Our competitors are mass market brands such as Topshop, River Island or H&M offering prices on average 20 % to 30% lower than us (as we only use fabrics of the highest quality) and niche premium brands like Isabella Oliver who retail at a premium.
Because we are solely focused on maternity wear, unlike most brands on the market we are able to offer the latest fashion that really works for pregnancy. Our stylist and product development team are experts at understanding the evolving pregnant shape throughout the nine months and this results in superior fitting clothes. Our jeans range has a great reputation for being worn by Hollywood celebs but also for being loved by customers because they adore the exceptional fit and comfort of our denim range. As a true specialist brand we are also able to offer clothes for every occasion and this year we have scooped 3 awards out of 5 from the leading specialist magazine Pregnancy and Birth for best jeans , best office wear and best party wear - a good reflection of the breadth of our range.
TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?
Enthusiasm about what we do is in my view the most important factor for team work to be productive. I always recruit with this in mind and often favour positive attitude over skills, as I believe anything can be learned if you have the required drive.
I have many star employees who have risen fast within the company thanks to their positive attitude and now form the cornerstones of my team.
TNW: What is next for your company?
CR: We have just launched a luxe range of special event dresses called The Luxe Collection which will be a major growth driver for our business over the next 18 months. Whilst there is a recession in the UK and many customers are becoming more price sensitive, there are many parts of the world with customers craving high end maternity clothes and as we are a global brand we plan to tap into this clientele.
TNW: Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?
CR: There is a great online start up called www.Dressipi.com that has just launched which offers customers the possibility to create their fashion profile with their favourite brands, type of clothes, budget and then offers an edit of the best clothes available online according to their preference, it even takes in account your specific body shape - a genius idea to save time browsing online for the right dress!
TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
CR: Expect to work harder than you ever will as an employee and make sure you dedicate enough time to network amongst other entrepreneurs to pick up business advice and share your preoccupations.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely in the early stages before you can build a strong team around you, so having mentors and other entrepreneurs within your social circle is vital to keep your spirits up
TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a career?
CR: Do not succumb to the guilt factor of not being able to be there all the time for your children. Us women can easily fall in the trap of spending an awful lot of negative energy worrying about not being the perfect mother. I always try to remember that quality time with my children is more important than quantity.
TNW: Do you have any pet projects as an entrepreneur?
CR: I have launched a new business called ShoeTherapy – a line of stylish ballerina shoes that relieve back pain and improve your posture. At first I worked on these shoes for my personal need as I was suffering back pain following my second pregnancy and now it's a start up that's getting a lot of press attention and rave reviews by customers, visit wwww.shoetherapy.com
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?
CR: Winning the Drapers award for best specialist e-tailer in 2011. This gave my team a great sense of achievement and motivation to stay at the top of our game despite a not so rosy economic context.
TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?
CR: We have recently opened a dedicated American website and we are working hard at making our mark on this huge territory.
For the moment further expansion into Europe is not on the cards due to the recession but we are looking at a franchise model for Russia and China, which are fast growing economies and very interested by our fashion line
TNW: What do you believe are the key pros and cons of venture capital vs angel investment?
CR: Business angels usually have less involvement in the day to day running of business, so they intervene far less than venture capitalist. They also have more realistic growth expectations than VCs and tend to be less greedy when it comes to taking the lion share of the business. For start-ups I would always recommend to go the business angel route, particularly because in the UK there is a great scheme called EIS that saves tax to the business angel and therefore is a great incentive to investment. This is the scheme I used for early investment in my company
TNW: How have you found angel investors’/venture capitalists’ attitudes towards you as a female entrepreneur?
CR: My business investors have always shown an extremely positive attitude towards the fact that I am female. Obviously working within the maternity fashion industry makes a woman particularly well equipped to understand the customers’ wants and needs. But I think there is a recognition that women are very good multi-taskers and when you set up a business from scratch it is essential to have those skills, so in that sense it's well recognised that women are very well equipped to be entrepreneurs.
Also women are known to be more risk averse and whilst when you set up a business you have, at times, to take some risks - I think that investors feel that their money will be at a lower risk within the hands of women.
TNW: Do you think that attitudes towards female entrepreneurs are changing?
CR: Yes definitely, in the past decade there has been a great deal of top female entrepreneurs who are inspiring and have earned the highest respect within the business world. I'm thinking in the fashion world of the likes of Nathalie Massanet, Tamara Melon or Chrissie Rucker, who have built empires from scratch. In today’s world, marketing and communication has become instrumental to launch any kind of new business and often women are very good at it which explains why they have a high success rate when setting up new businesses.
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