Sarah Curran, Founder, My-Wardrobe: My 5 Tips for Fashion Entrepreneurs

Sarah Curran, launched online retailer my-wardrobe.com in April 2006, which has become the UK’s premier destination for ‘everyday luxury’ designer womenswear and menswear fashion.  

With a 100-strong team and international offices in Sydney, Dubai and Norway, my-wardrobe.com offers beautifully edited collections from over 180 leading womenswear and menswear designers including Marc by Marc Jacobs, Anya Hindmarch, 3.1 Philip Lim, Camilla Skovgaard, Paul Smith, Burberry and Acne. 

my-wardrobe.com was recently awarded Best Online Retailer at the Grazia Middle East Style Awards 2012 in Dubai and Best Customer Experience at the WGSN Global Fashion Awards 2011 in New York, as well as Best Customer Experience at the Drapers Etail Awards 2010, which followed Gold: Overall Winner and Best Innovation at the 2009 Drapers E-Tail Awards. 

Prior to launching my-wardrobe.com Sarah started her career at News International as a sub-editor for The Times Online.  It was here that Sarah developed an understanding and passion for internet publishing, which would take her to launch her business in the online space.    

In August 2003 Sarah opened Powder, a designer fashion boutique in Crouch End, North London, which offered ‘everyday luxury’ womenswear designers such as By Malene Birger, Paul & Joe and Marc by Marc Jacobs.   

After a move to the South of France and the birth of her first child, Sarah decided to explore and expand the business online. Anticipating the rapid growth of the online fashion industry, Sarah launched my-wardrobe.com in April 2006, offering ‘everyday luxury’ designer womenswear brands and most recently menswear with the January 2009 launch of the menswear site. The rapid growth of the business brought Sarah back to the UK, where she set up the base of my-wardrobe.com in Nottingham and the HQ in central London.  

After appointing a Global CEO to drive the international expansion of the business, Sarah now acts as Founder of my-wardrobe.com attending fashion shows around the world and regularly comments on trends and designers for leading print and broadcast media, as well as speaking at key events including the British Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference, the Drapers Fashion Summit, Fashion Business Club and the 2010 L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. 

In recognition of Sarah’s entrepreneurial skills and expertise in the fashion sector, she has been made a fellow of the RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce).

We spoke to Sarah about stepping down as CEO of her business; the upcoming brands she most admires; and her top five tips for fashion entrepreneurs.

TNW: Tell us a little about life post my-wardrobe. What are you currently working on?

Since appointing David Worby as CEO, it’s given me the opportunity to focus on getting the work/life balance back and spending more time with my son Jake.  I’m still very much a part of overseeing the direction of the brand and business but it was time to bring someone in with David’s expertise to propel the global growth of the business.  I have given a lot of focus to working on charity projects as I’m involved in the Prince’s Trust and I work on a number of mentoring schemes.   This month sees the air date of a special Channel 4 TV project called the Intern, which gave three young adults the chance to win a three month internship with my-wardrobe. It’s going to be really exciting to finally watch it.

TNW: What was the hardest aspect of stepping down as CEO of your business, and what did you most enjoy about the transition?

my-wardrobe has been my life 24/7 for almost 7 years and that’s hard to step away from. 

You have to readjust your priorities and refocus your energy, releasing control and not wanting to immediately jump in when decisions are being made.  You have to have absolute trust in your team and allow them to do their job.  The best thing has been having more time to spend with my son Jake.   Jake has grown up with me focusing my energies on growing the business and I always knew a time would come when I could make that change.

TNW: How did your experience as a sub-editor for The Times Online help you to launch and lead an online business?

My time at the Times Online gave me an insight into internet publishing all those years ago when the print team would look at us thinking what are they doing in their corner tucked away in the New International office.  It allowed me to gain an understanding of the brand consistency and tone and also the power of the internet when it came to editorial.   

I knew the future was in the internet and it wasn’t just about publishing; our lives would be focused around this medium.

TNW: my-wardrobe owes some of its huge success to the high level of customer service, which aims to give customers the same emotional experience as shopping in the real world. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs with online businesses looking to give their customers a ‘real world’ experience when shopping online?

Every retailer should focus on the customer.  The customer should be at the heart of everything that you do and it’s something we have always placed a huge importance on and it’s runs through our brand DNA.  

Entrepreneurs should focus on looking at their target customer, their lifestyle, their behavior, the media they consume and what they expect from a retailer and how to apply your own brand to it.  

The customer has huge expectations and more so than ever and you can’t do things by half.  In what is now a very competitive market, you have to go the extra mile and you have to deliver something quite unique.

TNW: What challenges did you encounter as my-wardrobe expanded internationally and how did you overcome these?

The biggest challenge for us was creating a local yet global business and experience retaining that personal touch which we have always been known for.   Our approach was to find a local expert to lead and run the business.  It’s enabled us to have a local understanding of our markets, an insight into the customer, the media landscape, the marketing calendar and a local, relevant voice for our editorial and social media.

TNW: my-wardrobe has raised several million pounds in investment over the years. What are your tips for female founders looking to raise funds for their business?

Have an absolute understanding of your business, your market and your sales plan.   

It’s not enough to go into a boardroom with a big smile and knowledge of your industry and product;you need to know your numbers and the opportunity for your investors. 

Also make sure you are in front of people who understand your business and industry.

TNW: Which upcoming fashion entrepreneurs do you most admire?

There have been some amazing businesses launching. One of the most inspirational has to be the Cambridge Satchel Company. The story of the mother and daughter founders and their passion for the business is incredible.

TNW: At one of our recent pitch events, a very high proportion of the pitching companies were fashion brands. What kinds of fashion startup do you think will flourish in the coming years, and which will fall by the wayside?

It’s those businesses which bring something new or innovative to the market, which is going to add to the consumer’s lives.   If it’s another fashion etailer, it needs to offer a different edit or a new innovation in shopping. 

It’s such a crowded market place now, so you need something very unique to cut through.

TNW: What five tips would you give to someone considering becoming a fashion entrepreneur?

  • Understand your market, your product and your customer
  • Understand the potential market share and opportunity
  • Hire the best.  You need experts in every area as you can’t do it all.
  • Control your cash flow.  Fashion businesses are often very cash dependent.
  • Put the customer first and focus on creating an exceptional experience.

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