Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Label takes off with celebrity help

TWO women who started their own clothing label have watched it grow rapidly after attracting a number of celebrity clients.

TWO women who started their own clothing label have watched it grow rapidly after attracting a number of celebrity clients.

Michelle Kneafsey and Anjelica Poole, who met in 2012 while working at Hybrid Fashion in Peppard, unveiled their first Eden Row collection in the autumn.

Their profile enjoyed a major boost when television presenter Susanna Reid wore one of their creations during a live interview with David Cameron in March. Reid, 44, questioned the Prime Minister on ITV’s Good Morning Britain while sporting the £140 knee–length Lourdes dress in mint blue.

Eden Row’s fans also include entrepreneur Karren Brady, who has ordered a Lourdes dress and several others for her appearances on the latest series of The Apprentice. Actress Liz Hurley posted a photograph of herself on Twitter wearing the label’s pink short–sleeved Cambridge dress to promote her campaign to raise money for breast cancer research.

ITV newsreaders Natasha Kaplinsky and Sally Biddulph have also worn the brand on air and Kaplinsky sent the women a thank–you card.

Mrs Kneafsey, 29, lives in The Warren, Caversham, with her husband Finbarr and children Sienna, five, and Fallon, two. She grew up in the area and attended Rupert House School in Henley and the Abbey School in Reading before taking a four–year fashion degree at Istituto Marangoni, a specialist university in London.

She then worked in sales and buying for London department store Liberty. She left two years later when she became pregnant with her daughter but became Hybrid’s wholesale manager a couple of years after giving birth.

Here she met Mrs Poole, a 46–year–old designer who grew up in Russia but now lives in Camberley. She worked as a paediatrician in her home country then moved to England in 1992 to retrain for a career in fashion.

Mrs Kneafsey left Hybrid to have her second child but stayed in touch with her former colleague and when they met for drinks in late 2013 Mrs Poole told her she was keen to start a clothing brand, a dream they shared.

Mrs Kneafsey said: “I told my husband afterwards and he said, ‘Why don’t you do that together? You’re always talking about it’. It’s something I’d always wanted but I kept telling myself I needed more experience. After that conversation with Fin, though, I realised I should just crack on with it.

“The hardest part was coming up with the name. We wanted something that sounded British, classic and sophisticated. We knew our main thing would be dresses but it had to be suitable for all kinds of womenswear. It had to be short, memorable and unique on internet searches. I heard there used to be a street in London called Eden Row so in the end we went with that.”

The pair registered the company and then set about preparing five dresses for a low–profile launch late last year. They designed the garments on paper then hired a seamstress to make samples, which they tested on models before making minor adjustments. They then took photos and designed their own promotional literature.

Mrs Kneafsey, who is responsible for the company’s sales and marketing, began pitching to potential sellers. She spent a week in March driving around Ireland, where there are a large number of independent clothing stores, and persuaded several to place orders. A few shops in the UK, including Landmark in Marlow, also agreed to stock the line.

Mrs Kneafsey and Mrs Poole chose to have their dresses made by a factory in Romania, which also produces clothes for LK Bennett, Sonia Rykiel and Kenzo. They ordered 300 of each of their five dresses, which arrived in time for them to package and post them to their stockists for sale in September.

Mrs Kneafsey recalled: “Our first delivery came on a truck from Romania that was carrying lots of things for other businesses so it was a huge vehicle and couldn’t drive down The Warren. My mother–in–law and I had to do shuttle runs in our cars. We had to get about 30 boxes from the end of the road to our house, which is more than a mile away.

“That first collection was very safe with lots of classic styles and not particularly design–led. We tried to appeal to as many people as possible. The feedback from sellers was good — they said there were some minor issues with sizing but the quality was perfect.”

By that time the women had already designed their second collection for the spring of this year. It included 15 items, mostly dresses but also two jackets, a skirt and two tops in various prints and colours. Dresses ranged in price from £105 to £140 while the jackets cost £65 and £145.

Mrs Kneafsey began pitching Eden Row to celebrity stylists, agents and publicists and received a lot of orders but was not told which famous people would be wearing their clothes.

She and Mrs Poole only found out about Reid wearing the Lourdes on the day of her interview with Mr Cameron when Good Morning Britain’s stylist Debbie Harper wrote about it on Twitter.

Mrs Kneafsey said: “I knew straight away because my Twitter account is linked to my mobile phone and it was going off all day with notifications that people had retweeted it or left comments. It was unbelievable. Our website wasn’t even live at the time, so we pushed our web designer to launch it as soon as possible. It was ready a few days later and within a few hours we had eight orders, mostly for that dress. It was all over the newspapers the next day, which helped.

“A few newsreaders and television personalities like the brand because the dresses they’ve bought are both comfortable and conservative. Natasha Kaplinsky has sent us a thank–you card, as has Karren Brady.

“We’re really pleased with how well we’ve done but my favourite thing is to see my friends and family enjoying something we’ve designed. My mother–in–law wears them and my sister is a big fan.

“It’s always a bit nerve–wracking to start a business but I have complete confidence in Anjelica. She is so brilliant at what she does.”

Mrs Kneafsey and Mrs Poole have already designed this autumn’s collection, which will have 25 items, and hope to include 35 in their offering for next spring.

Eden Row is now sold in 50 shops, most of which are in Ireland with the rest in the UK apart from three in Russia. Buyers can also order direct from the website.

Mrs Kneafsey said: “It’s more difficult in the UK to convince people to try something new whereas in Ireland they really love to dress up. However, we’ve just got an agent in England and are hoping to get into 100 stores by the autumn.

“Because of the television appearances we’re getting a lot more enquiries from new stockists and re–orders from existing ones. The whole thing was hard work initially but it was worth it as it has really taken off.

“We want to expand and go international but we want to do it organically. We want people to know and love us and trust us for quality. We’re working with more fabrics and looking at other factories in Europe because we’re now ordering too much for one factory to produce.

“Now we’ve got a bigger collection we can also offer a wider variety of products that will appeal to different people. We look at what’s currently on trend on the catwalk, then we adapt it. We have to think about what our ladies want to wear — if they’re going to spend that amount of money they want something they can wear again and again, though it still has to be interesting.”

The pair don’t plan to take on any staff or find an office until the business has grown further.

“We work well together because our skills complement each other,” said Mrs Kneafsey. “It’s just us two doing everything at the moment, which is crazy. We edit our promotional photographs, put our own look books together and design the brochures.

“It’s good for the business because you understand every aspect of the process and can supervise it better. We’re based out of our homes, which is still manageable at the moment, although it’s chaos for a couple of weeks when an order comes in.

“People think it’s easy to do something like this because you just design clothes and order them but you have to be on top of so many things. There are times when I’ll be working really late.

“We’re very excited about the future. I can’t wait to get a nice office where we can work in peace, away from my crazy home!

“Overall it’s very rewarding to run your own business and to see people loving what you make. We’ve made a few mistakes but we’ve learned from them and have also received a lot of compliments. It has been great fun.”

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