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Sophie Bainbridge – International Women’s Day

We caught up with Sophie, from Stanley Biggs Clothiers. We asked her how Stanley Biggs came about and what advice she would give to others in starting out in the industry.

How did you start out in this industry?

I started in this industry when I founded Stanley Biggs Clothiers in 2019. Prior to that, I had originally worked in various sales roles. My interest in vintage and period clothing has been life long though. I read History at University and from the age of 15 began collecting collectibles and vintage clothing from the 1940s. My mother was big into Antiques too and so I have always had a healthy appreciation for ‘vintage’. But yes, I had no formal background in fashion – or even retail

My first job at Uni was in a bar which was a good introduction to meeting and getting along with all types of people. One of the key lessons I picked up early on was to be curious. Don’t judge, but have a healthy curiosity about anyone who walked through the door. I learnt a lot from just listening and talking to people.

Through university, I had full intentions of joining the RAF. I went through the recruitment process and eventually, I received a very succinct and constructive character assassination! Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, I was turned down. So, I carried on in sales; from working for a charity, to selling library management systems to eventually ending up selling business data.

I was brought up on the belief that you can do anything yourself, but you can’t be spectacular at everything. You find your niche and then you surround yourself with people who can help you and support you, ensuring it is mutually beneficial to all involved.

It was 2018 and I had a fantastic job; I was doing very well. My husband had gone self-employed a year or so before  and we were working on establishing his business when we had an epiphany – if he could do it, why couldn’t I? I handed in my notice, and I started Stanley Biggs Clothiers in 2019!

I had no idea what I was going to do, except that it would be something for myself. I put my time into helping my husband’s business. Through that, we discovered that there were products and directions that we wanted to go in but would dilute the message of his company. So, we set about creating a new brand; Stanley Biggs Clothiers.

So, yeah. If what you want to do doesn’t exist; create the opportunity for yourself.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The key is to make sure you have a structure to your day and work with other people! The lockdowns really allowed me to tap into other people’s talent and find who I could work with and where they could fill in for the things I couldn’t do myself. Once you start having those conversations, there’s so much to glean and so much you can learn from others and that really excites me. It might not be business related at all, it might be someone recommending a film but then you go down that wonderful new path and find something to fall in love with and that all adds to fueling your inspiration and your creativity.

Having an arena for me to be creative which my past jobs never allowed me, is also something I am so grateful for. I get to write, research history (cos I am a geek at heart), design garments, create style campaigns, create marketing content, dress the shop, design the website… you name it, it is nearly endless! I get to do so much more now and though it is hard and demanding, it is one of my favourite aspects of what I do.

Are there any particular challenges of being a woman in your industry?

For me personally, one of the major challenges I thought I would face is that the clothing store is predominantly focused on gentlemen customers. Being a woman selling mens clothing, I thought I would need more convincing. But, and this is perhaps quite telling, those issues are something I have imagined myself, as I haven’t really found it to be negative at all. As my confidence and knowledge has grown, I have become more front facing. Reading about others who have done similar before has really helped me to embrace it more of a strength, and honestly, I look back and think I was silly to be so worried by it. But it genuinely worried me for a time.

The other challenge as a woman in this industry has been with trying to approach established manufacturers, in the behind-the-scenes areas. The only thing that held it all together in the beginning was me, and I didn’t really have anything to show for it! I didn’t have any prior experience and some of these manufacturers were less prepared to have that conversation with me.

A lot of the conversations I’ve had have happened to be with men who are experts in their field. There were a few discussions where I thought the way I was being spoken to wasn’t right, and wondered if it was because I happened to be young, and female. Or one of the other

But by and large, the circumstances are far more equal, and as a business owner, you are able to create our own situations and work environments.

If you could give one piece of advice to women starting out in this industry, what would it be? 

Whatever it is, whoever you are, you have to completely and wholeheartedly believe in yourself. When you first start out, tell yourself “ I am really amazing”, “ I’m doing so well”, “ You’re doing a fantastic job”! And Keep going. Don’t be a busy fool but be sure to do something everyday – get a routine in place, and treat yourself as the professional you are.

Don’t forget that you have done the hardest part; deciding to start your own business and  leaving the security of your job. To do the jump is the scariest part.

Once you have taken the jump, don’t expect it to be easy and to slowly build up to it – There is no shallow water and you will be overwhelmed, so don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself.

Start small, absolutely, but start and keep moving – you’ll eventually reach a little island, or maybe a new shore.

But, and this was a huge lesson I learnt after struggling… Do not think you can be amazing at every aspect of starting and running a business. You won’t, and some aspects you will utterly despise, others you will love too much. But be honest with yourself, are you the best person for that job? If the answer is no, then that is absolutely fine – see if you can improve, or if you don’t have the bandwidth, look for someone else who can do an amazing job for you. To delegate is one of the hardest things to do as a business owner, but with the right people, you will be enriched from working with others.

When first starting, consider every opportunity that comes your way. I don’t mean, through money at everything, but try to say yes to everything. Even if it’s for fact finding. You will learn something that will help there and then or sometime in the future. At the very least, you are building your own network, and talking about your business to others.

Finally, on a practical level, when you’re designing your logo/brand think, ‘what it will look like in 5 years’ time?’ Will you outgrow this branding? If the answer is yes, then keep working on it until you can see it fitting what you imagine your business to look like in 5 years time.

What do you love about British wool?

The longevity of it. Wool stands the test of time and I have proof of that in the historic items I collect which can be dated to the 1920s, 30s, etc. and yet can still be worn today!

Wool is so versatile. There are so many ways it can be woven or knitted. It’s been reinvented for thousands of years and will continue to be reinvented. To be part of that story is something incredibly special.