Emily is the Founder of Bluebella, a lingerie, nightwear and swimwear brand. She founded the brand in 2005 believing that lingerie should be a fashion crossover style and personal self-indulgence. In this interview she talks about the journey to achieving that mission, the pivots she undertook and the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur.
Current Job CEO, Bluebella
First Job I had lots of ‘businesses’ on the go from quite a young age but I was first formally employed as a Saturday girl in a clothing store aged 16
Education Graduate - PPE, Oxford
Go to meeting spot Charlotte Street Hotel’s lounge & library
Necessary extravagance Far too expensive skincare products
Favourite productivity tool It might sound odd – but the snipping tool! When I discovered it really made a different because I am constantly explaining by mail things about product or images etc and it allowed me a much faster way to show what I meant than sending full images.
Recent inspiration We have just finalised our SS19 collection which was inspired by the meeting of strength and soft. This idea emerged from female leaders that have inspired us and from some of my favourite designers such as McQueen who have executed this so perfectly. We have combined strong design details such as strapping with the most beautiful whimsical fabrics – the idea is that femininity and strength go beautifully together and neither need be compromised to achieve the other.
What do you believe that most around you disbelieve That there is always a way to make something happen, without sounding too cheesy ‘anything is possible!’
What do you wish you could change in the world of fashion and business The driving of price downwards by far too much discounting and the corresponding lack of appreciation of what goes into a beautiful product
You began your career in law, so tell us what was the inspiration behind launching Bluebella?
I have always loved lingerie but couldn’t find what myself and my friends wanted. I felt that lingerie had evolved beyond the traditional ‘sexy or functional’ categories and wanted something contemporary, fashion led and also affordable. So I decided to give it a go!
What is the best piece of advice that you have received and by whom?
My father told me that the definition of an entrepreneur is someone that has the ability to constantly fall over and get up again. The advice is that it doesn’t matter if things go wrong, just get up and sort it and get on with it. This helped me understand that problems are not a problem but a lack of creativity in solving them is.
For those that do not know, can you tell us in your own words, what Bluebella is and what is different about the company compared to other lingerie brands?
Bluebella is a fashion lingerie brand with a very contemporary and independent design aesthetic and ethos. Our customer’s attitude to lingerie is very different to how the traditional brands understand the market – lingerie for the Bluebella girl is a self-expression, a self-purchase and a fashion crossover purchase.
Bluebella is also very well known because of the collaboration you did with Fifty Shades of Grey - can you tell us the story of how that came about?
We pitched our creative concepts to the author, Erica, who is a London lady and very supportive of women in business. We felt well placed to create product that reflected the story of a billionaire lifestyle with the affordability to suit the mass market appeal of the book. Happily she agreed!
Tell us about the journey that you have gone on since founding the company and the highs and lows and major milestones?
The business has had a few iterations as the market developed – we started in direct home selling and worked in licensing before structuring the business in its current form with ecommerce and wholesale. There have been many highs and lows as transitioning the business from the original sales channel was not easy. I had to evolve the team and also take our investors on the journey too.
Tell us about how you approached investment and what your thinking was when accepting capital from Lovehoney and Addidi?
We were growing quickly and needed to invest in infrastructure and stock. I wanted supportive investors that understood what I was trying to do and add value beyond cash.
More and more brands begin online, however, Bluebella intentionally focused on offline direct selling for quite some time in the beginning. What did this teach you and what advice do you have for businesses thinking about this channel?
Direct selling gave us invaluable direct contact with our sales agents and end customer and that direct feedback – both good and bad - really helped shape the brand and gave us a strong competitive edge. The direct selling channel now is more challenging than it was – direct selling used to be the way women shopped from the comfort of the home with a glass of wine in hand – but the rise of ecommerce means they can now do this any night of the week so direct selling as a channel has taken a hit.
Tell us about expanding into wholesale and what prompted that decision?
In today’s retail environment I believe you need to make your product accessible to customers in a multitude of ways. Some customers will come to us direct but some want to buy in a few clicks at their regular retailer where they already have an account.
What is your vision for the company?
I want Bluebella to be the go-to brand globally for modern, spirited, confident woman that love lingerie – and I want to bring everyone’s view of lingerie round to match ours – that lingerie is a personal self-indulgence that should reflect the wearer’s style and personality and is not something to be dressed up in for someone else.
Women in Business
In your opinion, and it is of course multivariate, but what do women need to do more of to push themselves forward in the workplace?
The same as what men need to do – work hard, be smart, have a good attitude, always strive to progress, and take opportunities.
What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture?
If you can, test the concept as fully as you can before you give up too much. I researched the business whilst still in my previous job and then ‘road tested’ the idea before fully committing to it and this gave me the confidence to really throw myself in.
What advice would you give to those seeking investment?
Taking investment is like a marriage – and you would not marry someone that didn’t share the same hopes and dreams as you, that understood you. I would caution against taking on investment from anyone you had reservations about. Do your homework and trust your instincts.
What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?
Tenacity. I am probably a good overall general manager and enjoy both the creative and business side of my role - but the main thing is that I have stuck with it!