After working my way up the corporate ladder to head my own finance team at aerospace giant BAE Systems and then lead the CFO advisory practice at Deloitte, I set up online retailer Pinstripe & Pearls in 2011.
Aimed at businesswomen, it’s a specialist department store offering work wear and accessories.
As a senior female manager, I had found that women in my teams would often ask me what would be appropriate to wear for particular corporate meetings and events.
Female clients would also confide in me, saying how hard it was to find decent corporate clothing that reflected their ambitions and the fact that they were women. That’s really how the idea for the business came about.
Many women in business feel under pressure to look the part but don’t have any time to spend on finding the perfect outfit. Pinstripe & Pearls provides a practical solution to this problem.
In launching the business I knew we were doing something that would make a difference for women in the workplace. My plan was always to offer unique UK brands with an accent on quality, rather than importing garments from countries such as China.
Before launching the firm with my own capital, we surveyed 500 businesswomen in London to find out what they really wanted from their outfits.
I initially encountered the problem of finding “work-appropriate” designers. That gradually changed as more companies approached us directly, wanting to showcase their collections to our audience.
The company really took off as more and more businesswomen discovered us, tending to browse the website (www.pinstripeandpearls.com) on their mobile devices first thing in the morning during their commute, or late at night after a busy day at work.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was to ensure that we had a technically robust online platform up and running with real-time analytics in place.
Now that we are well established, we have more than 20,000 unique users a month, with half of our sales revenue coming from the US.
Our business model centres on bringing businesswomen and work-appropriate brands together in one place. We charge a commission to the brands on each sale made through our platform – they benefit from their exposure to the site’s growing audience.
For our customers it is exciting, too, because they get to choose from a unique selection of brands that, when brought together, help them to create a complete business look.
We have diversified into accessories and will look at travel, beauty and, possibly, occasion wear soon.
The site also has a growing community aspect, as its blog section, “The ambition files”, offers style and career tips.
At the moment four members of staff are working in the firm in addition to a core technical team.
Outsourced teams covering finance, public relations and digital marketing also work for us.
The CIMA qualification has given me the extra confidence that women often need to in order to push themselves forward for challenging roles, but I never dreamed that this enterprise would be as successful as it has been so far.
Photo: Brit-Stitch Ltd © 2013
Launching an online fashion store for female executives
Name: Emma Blake, ACMA, CGMA
Start date: 2011
End date: Ongoing
Location: Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK
Organisation: Pinstripe & Pearls
Industry: Online retail
CIMA qualified: 2002
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