Many of the women I’ve met on my journey in the fashion industry have gone on to do exciting projects or start their own brands. There are so many of them now that I’m starting to wonder if there’s something about the fashion industry that attracts entrepreneurial women? The industry has always been a place for creative and driven people, surely two of the biggest factors in starting your own business?
It’s really encouraging and inspiring to hear their stories and how they’ve made their own path. Pippa Cooke is one of the women that has inspired me since the start of my career; we were both at Topshop together and she took me under her wing when I started on the same department as her.
As part of my Fashion Insiders series I caught up with her as she is now the designer and founder of Bon Bride, a London based luxury, yet affordable, bespoke design studio for trend led brides.
She told me about how her struggle to find her own wedding dress and how designing dresses for her friends set her on a mission to build a bridge between the wedding dress and fashion industries. If you’re currently looking for a wedding dress then she has useful tips on where to start, including in your own wardrobe.
I’m always interested in how other women manage their life/work balance and especially those that work for themselves. Pippa has found that she no longer works traditional hours and has seen these changes benefit her and her family. She also has encouraging words for those that are taking the plunge themselves and starting their own business.
Hey Pippa, congratulations on starting your fab new brand. How much preparation did you do before starting Bon Bride?
In all honesty not very much. I’ve been in the fashion industry for well over 10 years and it was clear to me there were limited options out there for wedding dresses. It was all lace, tulle and bulky dresses. [when I was shopping for my own dress] I just wanted a really simple, beautifully cut, cool white dress with a bit of a train but I couldn’t find it. So, I decided to have one made! And it was this experience that led me to create Bon Bride.
I wanted to create an option that allowed the bride to maintain her own unique style and show a bit of her personality through her dress. Bon Bride is clean, understated and for modern women who still want to have style on their wedding day. It’s definitely not traditional and is inspired by designers like Celine, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent. We use simple silhouettes, fine details and modern fabrics (and less lace). My customer definitely knows her own style and what suits her, she has a certain edge whether that be simplicity or bold statements and I immediately know her tastes and fashion sense straight away!
How did it feel to finally take the plunge and start your brand?
It was about time. I had designed 2 wedding dresses for my friend Kate back in December 2015 and this was my kickstart, however, I fell pregnant and dedicated that following year to my daughter. I had also been offered a job at Harrods as womenswear Buyer which I couldn’t refuse. But it was my maternity leave which gave me the time and space to think about my own career and work/ life balance and to be in charge so I went for it. Through the amazing world of social media, I had a couple of enquiries through friends of friends who had seen Kates dress and from there I picked up 3 new clients. Since then one of the brides was on the “Love My Dress” blog and from here I have had an influx of enquiries all of which are now orders.
I have just loved meeting the brides, each one so unique and so understanding of what Bon bride is trying to achieve. It’s so reassuring knowing that my vision isn’t just in my own head.
My biggest challenge so far has been juggling the life/work balance. Sometimes I work best late at night (to my husband’s dismay) but if I have an idea it fills me with energy which I can only burn through getting that idea onto paper. My daughter is in nursery twice a week so I use those full days to really knuckle down and get everything done that needs doing. I also have an incredible husband who comes home from work and gets stuck in with all things Bon Bride, from steaming wedding dresses to creating the most complex (yet amazing) spreadsheets going! He is very business savvy and can convert all of his knowledge and skills into anything, even wedding dresses. Business is business so it all applies!
Tell me a bit about your career in fashion before Bon Bride
I did a fashion design degree at Leeds and stepped into my first job at Topshop at 21. I actually couldn’t believe my luck as Topshop was such a difficult company to get your foot through the door but I managed to secure my first role on Knitwear as BAA and stayed there for 5 years until my husband and I decided to travel the world. I was then fortunately offered a role at House of Hackney 1 year after they launched. This taught me a huge amount about branding, sales, business strategy and wholesale. All of which I then took with me to my last role which was womenswear buyer for Harrods private label “Harrods of London” This is where I really learnt about high-end fashion.
I learnt a huge amount in my previous role and that was purely down to my manager who believed in me and my ideas. I was thrown in at the deep end, negotiating between supplier and our own financial teams but learnt so much from both parties which helps me in the day to day running of Bon Bride.
What skills do you use in this role that you learnt when you were a buyer?
Gosh so many! I would say the most important one being people skills. You absolutely have to be able to adapt to the person and surroundings you are in. Understanding what your client wants is so important and guiding them through the process is your responsibility. Translating this to pattern cutters/seamstresses is equally important so you have to have that understanding on all levels.
Do you feel more pressure now that you have your own business and how do you deal with it?
I definitely feel pressure and lots of it, but that’s what keeps me going. I have huge responsibility to create and develop each brides dream dress no matter what the budget. I’m a bit of a perfectionist too so even the slightest niggle gets stripped back, re looked at and started again.
Having worked in buying for the last 10 years you could afford to test your decisions and trial new ideas, gauging the market’s reaction but with bridal wear it has to be more than perfect, you only get that one chance but that’s what makes it so special. Absolutely everything I have goes into each dress and if I wouldn’t wear it myself then it doesn’t make the cut!
Do you have any tips for someone wanting to start their own brand?
Absolutely, go for it! Don’t listen or seek opinions from people you don’t 100% trust. People who don’t believe in you or your idea will only leave doubt and uncertainty in your mind which leads to negativity. Surround yourself in like-minded people, there’s lots of us out there, all in the same boat wanting to push a new idea, be self-employed and have that life/work balance so just do it. The sooner the better!
Do you use freelancers/outsource any roles to help with your business?
I have pattern cutters and seamstresses all of whom I trust completely. They have experience in both bridalwear and high-end fashion from Caroline Castigiliano to Victoria Beckham, Tom ford and Mulberry. They are super talented and completely understand what Bon Bride is all about.
Do you have any operating issues that you didn’t face in your previous roles in fashion?
Fabric minimums can be quite difficult but we are using relatively expensive fabrics so usually you find the minimums are much smaller. I have built up such great relationships with the fabric shops in London that they are my go to. They always help find alternatives or fabrics within budgets. The relationships you have with your suppliers are so important. Sometimes negotiating over a few quid here and there really isn’t worth it. I also really want to support small independent businesses too.
I sometimes find it hard when I’m working by myself a lot, like you I’m so used to the hustle and bustle of a buying office. Do you feel like this and if so how do you deal with it?
Sometimes it’s hard working alone but hustle and bustle can lead to distraction. I get so much done when I’m alone that my working days are 4/5 hours long. I’m so much more productive when I’m alone. It then frees up my time to spend with my daughter or out with friends etc.
I do like to mix it up so I’ll be in town at least once or twice a week sourcing new fabrics, meeting new brides and looking at fabrics together. Or just picking a local café and heading there for the morning whilst I do some sketching! I just love how you can manage your own time and for some reason I do it better now than I ever did before. I’m all for flexi working and flexi hours and I hope that as our brand and team expands this will be reflected.
What can we look forward to from Bon bride in the future?
I’m super excited about the next few months and the future, I have so many new brides who are all absolutely stunning inside and out and together we are creating some really unique styles. I love how open minded they are and how involved they are too with every detail.
We are also working on our new collection for 2018 where you will see some super cool shapes in modern/ technical fabrics, in not just silks and the crepes but also neoprene, textured combined wools with frayed unfinished hems and clean lines.
Ultimately, I want to shape and modernise the bridal wear industry. Its lost in its own world of crazy money and minimal taste. More fashion designers are delving into bridalwear because they know what women want, what they buy and what suits them. There is no need for this current divide between the two industries so really, I want to build the bridge.
What are your top tips for buying a wedding dress?
My first tip is to look through your wardrobe! Not for the dress but for shape and detail of what you're drawn to. What necklines do you usually wear, what sleeves do you like, do you love a long sleeve or do you love to show off your arms? What parts of your body do you want to show off or keep covered, this is so visible in our daily wardrobe!
My second tip is try on as many evening gowns as you can. Visit Harrods, Liberty, Browns and Selfridges etc. It’s not very often we get to wear a long gown so starting here is a great way to see something on you and get familiar with your body in these types of dresses. This way you then have more of an idea when you go to bridal boutiques, although be prepared for that persistent sales exec who will insist on seeing you in the doily lace, princess cut blancmange! Also, note the price tag as it will no doubt be over budget!
Bon Bride work with clients on bespoke orders and have a collection coming in 2018.