Hope your week is going well so far. I recently did an interview with The Sunday Independent for their feature called ’60 second pitch’ about my business journey so far. I was only delighted to share my story! Here is a sneak peak of what you will see in the paper in the coming weeks.
How did you come up with the idea for Stylefish?
My idea came from my love of two things – fashion and teaching! I set Stylefish up as a fashion school for women. I really love seeing women become more confident in their style and I love that fashion is that universal ‘thing’ that brings women together. I have a Commerce Degree and so have always wanted to set up my own business. My Dad was self employed all his life so he really thought me to start small doing something you love and the growth will come from the passion.
When and why did you follow through with setting up Stylefish after initially coming up with the idea?
I was working as a trainee solicitor after my degree and just knew it wasn’t for me so I gave it up and moved to London to work as an event planner and get my styling qualifications. I would say when I left the world of secure employment, I didn’t have a clue what my business would be! I just knew staying in my job was never going to get me there. So for me my journey included living and working in London and getting various work experience in advertising, events, management & marketing. You name it I did it! It was only after I worked as a resource teacher in a secondary school that I had my light bulb moment to combine my love of fashion with my love of teaching.
How was your Dragons Den experience?
Dragons Den was an amazing experience for me. I see it as the time I really grew into my business and grew in confidence in believing in my idea. I was two years into my business when I went on the show. I got three offers (Norah Casey, Gavin Duffy & Sean Gallagher) and got amazing PR afterwards. Norah Casey was one of the Dragons I had an instant connection with & I cannot praise her enough in how she helped even though she was going through a really tough time in her own personal life. Dragons Den set me apart as a serious business and brand and proved to people my passion is not just for fashion but for the vision I had for my business and in how I was able to consult with brands to help them get more from their customer relationships through fashion events & training. Stylefish worked with House of Fraser for example on introducing their concept of fitting room stylists instore, which is now rolled out in the UK.
What do you feel you learnt from going on Dragons Den?
Sometimes you can feel as a small business everyone knows more than you do or there is some big secret to being successful. Dragons Den taught me that hard work, confidence and getting yourself and your business out there are the most important things in growing. It was also the time I understood the importance of understanding your numbers! It is so important to take the emotional ‘what if’s’ out of running your business. You have to set your goals, make your projections and this is what you are working towards everyday, this is what you make your decisions around not the ‘maybe’s’ and ‘what if’s’.
When you started Stylefish, what was your business about?
I started Stylefish as a fashion school teaching fashion classes (everything from 1 day to 8 weeks!) through department stores, shopping centres and hotels around the country. I have to date taught over 3,000 women around Ireland with over 600 being thought in House of Fraser in Dundrum. It was always important to me to keep that connection with my customers & I continue to keep in touch with them through regular newsletters to ensure they are connected with my brand and are kept up to date with what Stylefish is doing!
How has it evolved since then? Or is it the same idea you started with?
My business has changed so much! What hasn’t changed is our central goal, which is to bring women together through fashion and to build women’s confidence in creating a style they love. I have learnt so much from my customers and have leveraged this experience to allow me to grow my brand in different directions into franchising, retail training, retail consultancy and corporate fashion events and activities.
I have 9 teachers in different locations around Ireland who have a Stylefish licence to teach my classes in women’s homes. This not only spreads my brand reach through classes, while I am now able to concentrate on growing other areas of my business. This includes corporate & fashion events, training & brand partnerships. I have worked closely with The Zip Yard Franchise network around Ireland training their staff in being able to provide their customer with the best possible restyling service. I work with many corporate clients organizing fashion events as a way to bring women together and I am just starting to break into the UK with an event for 150 ladies with a solicitor firm in London later this year.
Having started your business during a fluctuating economic climate, how has the recession affected your business?
Let’s face it I started right at the start of the crash! Most people said I was crazy. I think I was! It has been tough but I think it’s going to be tough whenever you start! I believe I have been to the best business school there is over the last 5 years. I also think you learn to be resilient and adaptive in your business model when times are tougher. I don’t have a product or a shop front. I have a brand and that is why it is vital to have a vision for your brand and what it stands for because as change happens, you can remain true to your values and that one goal and reason you started your business no matter what direction the business takes you. For example for me in retail training, my passion is for women! For ensuring that shop is doing all that it can to make their customer experience the best it can be for the women who shop there.
As a woman in business, do you feel it has been more difficult?
No, I don’t. I guess I am surrounded by women doing great things in my industry. I also meet so many amazing women from the corporate world in the events I am involved in. I think there are so many amazing and inspiring women everywhere, it isn’t something I think about. I appreciate I am not in one of the more traditional industries and one of the issues that I feel is close to my heart is equal pay in bigger companies. That needs to happen. I also feel in being self employed I meet women running their own business who tend to undervalue themselves and their time in terms of charging! I think men are braver with pricing their time!
What funding and support did you need when you set up and did you receive it?
I was lucky to not have high set up costs but I did invest a lot into my brand, my collateral and my website before I started and it has been a continual changing process since then! I got a lot of support from my local enterprise board and my bank has also been very supportive. There is a lot of help out there, you just have to go looking for it!
What does the future hold for Stylefish?
I have just launched Stylefish.co.uk, which I am really excited about. I want Stylefish to become the ‘go to’ brand for companies and brands looking to connect with their female audience. Stylefish can add value in so many ways to companies whether in retail through training, through fashion events, classes and other activities. An emerging market for Stylefish has been the digital world. I have worked with Laya Healthcare for example to produce fun, informative short fashion videos, which they use to engage with their audience on social media. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing brands like Facebook, House of Fraser, Deloitte, The Zip Yard, IKEA, Kelloggs and that is where I see Stylefish going. Working with brands to help them connect with their female audience both in Ireland & the UK.