Women's suits 2.0 - Taking on Savile Row
This week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble. Phoebe is launching her first company in women's tailoring, I'm sure many women can relate to the limited choice when purchasing suits so there is certainly a need. She was a breath of fresh air with her boundless enthusiasm and big vision!
Hi Phoebe, lovely to meet you. Let’s start by talking about your journey. Did you always know you wanted to own your own business?
Well growing up under my Dad’s wing taught me the a lot about being an entrepreneur, mainly, be brave and take the leap. He has been a great role model for me in so many ways, from a young age he asked for my opinions on things from marketing ideas, to wine names. He believes in me, and my childhood with him was entrepreneur training in itself, I’ll always be grateful to him for sharing that with me.
I went to university and did costume design and making, yes that is a real degree, which taught me a lot, but towards the end of it I was only studying for 1 or 2 hours a week. I thought there were probably more fulfilling things I could be doing with my time as there’s nothing I like less than being bored. My summers had been spent working on Jermyn Street where I met a man called Gary Kingham, who has been one of the biggest inspirations to me. I consider him one of my best friends now and he has taught me the majority of what I know, always had time for me and introduced me to endless people on Savile Row. So the combination of 3 factors lead me to being an entrepreneur; University not being enough, loving working in tailoring under Gary’s guidance, and my dad as a great entrepreneurial role model.
So you left University to pursue Gormley and Gamble, how did your parents react?
They were very supportive as it wasn’t the first time I had mentioned it. My dad sat me down and said ‘In an ideal world, what would you like to do?’ I knew I wanted to start Gormley and Gamble as that had been my dream since I was a teenager on Jermyn Street. My dad, being a risk-endorsing entrepreneur, said ‘if the business plan is good, then you can leave university. We will give it a year and if by the end of the year, it’s not going so well, then you have to get a job, or go back to university.’
It is an incredible option to have been given and I will be forever grateful. If I hadn’t had that option I would be preparing to go back to university next week, dreading it. Society seems to have a conveyor belt of education where kids just go from school to University without considering their other options, everyone just plays the safe route, but I think there is a lot more out there.
Gormley & Gamble - The Story
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I had to wear a suit in my final year of school and I’m quite tall. Our suit skirts had to be ‘two inches above the center of the knee’ and I was constantly sent back to to go and change. You just can’t get skirts long enough for tall girls. How hard can it be to get a decent length skirt that matches the jacket? I thought. Pretty hard apparently.
Added to this, the Jermyn Street store I worked in only sold men’s suits. For a man, you can get a size 38, short length, skinny fit jackets whereas for a woman you would just get size 38 (equivalent of a size 10). Men don’t even have breasts to deal with and they’ve got two more fit options than a women. This seems completely unjustified.
Women are achieving more and more, getting higher up in management roles, into opportunities where they are wearing suits yet the tailoring market is still focused on men. For men you can get something for every style, size, and price. For women, you’ve got high street and a couple of designers but above that, if you want something that really fits you’re out of luck. G&G is here to change that.
You’ve mentioned high street and a couple of designers in women’s tailoring. How competitive is your market?
Our main competition is ready to wear high street and a couple of high street designers such as Hobbs, Ted Baker, Reiss. The way we deal with that competition is by offering a much better fit and any of those places can do. Our suits are made to measure, they are guaranteed to fit you. But more than just great fit, we’ve realized that most made-to-measure suits have an eight week turnaround. If a woman has an important event in the next month or in a couple of weeks they have to rule out made-to measure due to the turnaround. But with Gormley and Gamble, rather than waiting eight weeks, you wait eight days. So that’s how we beat our competition, with better fit, convenience and quality, you won’t find any polyester here.
So, you had your idea, had your business plan, what happened then?
My parents said ‘We like the business plan, you can take a year out’. So I finished University on a Friday, packed my bags up on a Saturday, moved straight to London on the Sunday and started my office on Monday. I didn’t have my four month summer holiday that every other University student has been having but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I know that if I had decided to take a holiday and start in September then I would have just been twiddling my thumbs and waiting for September to come around.
Tailoring seems like a massive operation, how do you manage everything?
My manufacturers are really fantastic, and they take great care of the supply side of the business. Considering tailoring is such a traditional industry, like me, they are intent to keep it up to date, so on the website, I can track the suits as they are being made, from the cutting room, to the sewing room, to the steam room. It’s an incredible set up. They work with the majority of Savile Row and city tailors, they are ready for any level of detail, they can even etch your name around the edge of a mother of pearl button.
So that takes a lot of pressure off me, knowing they are so established. After that it has been a case of building the website, which I taught myself to build, and then getting the word out there, branding, PR, advertising, marketing, social media, you know the drill.
Who do you think your main clients are?
We do visits to offices, but also to homes and ladies can, of course, book to come to our office in Bank or on Savile Row by appointment only on the website. I think the majority of our bookings will be in big firms where I will set up in meeting rooms and run back-to-back fittings for whoever is interested. Although the majority of G&G clients are city women, we think a really well tailored jacket is an essential for every woman, so we’ve made our suits mix-and-matchable with more casual items. We’ve also had a few male clients, who are interested in buying a suit for their other halves. I think it makes a great present, letting her be the designer for the afternoon on Savile Row, getting something totally unique to her.
Have you raised investment, or are you looking to raise?
Our first round of investment was from angel investors but as it is made to measure there is no stock risk for the company. There is no real need to get big investment. Plus, we’re not planning to move out into our own offices yet, I’m happy working out of Bathtub to Boardroom, a charity-run organisation enabling entrepreneurs.
How are your suits priced?
I feel that every woman working in a job wants to make a really good impression. So every woman has a right to a really well cut suit that makes her feel in control and empowered. Although, it is exclusive because appointments are only available by waiting list, I didn’t want to make the price point exclusive because I feel all women deserve to enjoy the confidence boost of well cut suit, for this reason the suits start at £300 for a made to measure jacket and skirt, including delivery, express turnaround and tax.
Marketing & PR
How are you building your brand?
Gormley & Gamble as a brand is supportive of young women going into business. As we grow we want to be holding Women in Business events, talks and seminars. That’s a great way for us to expand and give back, creating a full circle of empowerment.
In terms of advertising, we have a system where if someone buys a suit, they get given a unique priority code, any of their friends or family can use that code to skip the waiting list. If 10 people use your code, we’ll do your dry cleaning for a month. If 20 people use it, we’ll send you a case of champagne. If 50 people use it, we’ll send you an extra pair of trousers.
When is the launch?
Launch is in mid-October, exact date to be confirmed. The master jackets are coming back from the manufacturers at the moment, that is what the client will try on, to get a real feel of what they are going to be wearing, see what they like about it and what they want to customise. After those arrive, it’s a case of making sure all other aspects are to the same standard.
After you launch are you looking at bringing on more people to your team?
I would really like to have a few tailors based in the office but travelling around London. Then I would like someone in charge of Press and Public Relations, similar to an events manager, who can be setting up our Women in Business events. Ideally that’s how I see the team but I never want it to become impersonal.
Gormley & Gamble is a place to receive great customer service where you have a one-on-one with the tailor/style consultant and it’s all about you. I think that is something men can easily get anywhere on Savile Row but for women, not only are you buying ready-to-wear off of the peg, but you’ve got no kind of inclination of how it could be tailored or improved. I always wanted G&G to be at a level where each customer has a very personal relationship with their tailor.
Do you ever think in the future you may open a shop?
The overheads would be huge to have it anywhere worthwhile, so I would have to increase the price of the suits. Not having a shop means the price can stay more affordable, but it also means you have a much better level of customer service with a tailor visiting you. It’s a win-win so I’m not planning to change anything soon. Our fabric suppliers have fitting rooms on Savile Row which we can use anytime, and we have a fitting room in our office, that’s enough for now.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge so far was most definitely finding a really good manufacturer. I had to find one that valued quality as much as I did. I had spoken to one person who said they could do the suits for a certain price. I surrounded my whole business plan around how reasonable that was, that price made the whole business plan valid.
But when I moved to London, and went to go see them to confirm the price and it had gone up by £400, which was more than what I was selling the suits at. That was a major blow. I then had to find another manufacturer but to be really honest, I was so nervous of being shot down again that I was hesitant of sticking my neck out. Eventually it was through some advice from my dad. He said ‘Phoebs, you’ve just got to knuckle down and go through every connection that you ever spoken to, get googling even, and just badger each one until you get a quote.’ In the end, it was a friend of mine, Zoe, a great tailor and childhood friend who introduced me to some tailors in the city and they highly recommended this manufacturer.
In the next year what will be your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge will be sharing my baby with someone. I did my first bout of work experience in tailoring at the tender age of 16 and have been growing it ever since so it will be strange to bring someone else in. I know I need to get more people in and that is the best way for it to expand but sharing my dream will be a challenge. As with any challenge, I am ready for it.
Who are the role models that inspired you?
My dad is a huge role model to me, particularly for his entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking, but also for customer service. Naked Wines is really applauded for its level of customer service so I try to hone that into Gormley & Gamble. Him and my mum help me to be the best that I possibly can be. It is so hard to put into words how grateful I am to, and for, them. I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am if I didn’t have them by my side, which is a lot of the time as they live in America. I miss them, but it’s a challenge I have to face to stand my ground on the other of the Atlantic.
A big role model to me is a woman called Sarah Curran, who started mywardrobe.com when she was just a teenager. When I was 17 she did a talk at my school about starting her own company. That talk really stuck with me and now I meet up with her as a mentor and she is a fantastic role model.
Women in Business
What can we do to encourage more women into business?
I went to a really interesting talk in Canary Wharf, at Level 39, it was all about raising investment as a woman. They said ‘If a man comes in and he wants £100,000 for his company, he’ll ask for £100,000. If a woman comes in, she wants £100,000, she will ask for £60,000. And she’ll think that she will get by.’
I think a lot of women naturally worry that it might all go wrong and not be worth the risk. Yet it’s been proven women make better investors than men, and instead of letting worry hold you back, women should use it to their advantage to make even better decisions.
You’re in a very male-dominated industry, how do you find that?
I don’t really let it bother me, as Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. I thought rather than be scared I’m just going to do it myself. As it turns out, all the male tailors I come across are exceptionally kind and because they rarely do women’s tailoring, and I am so young, they all seem to be happy to offer up endless advice. So, I never saw it as intimidating. I embraced it.
Tools & Book Recommendations
Phoebe what tools and books can you recommend to people in fashion or starting their own business?
Advice & Final Thoughts
What advice do you have for anyone looking to start their own business?
Firstly, do it when you’re young. I have found my youth has made people so kind to me. Also, being young, you have so much less to lose if it all goes wrong, I haven’t got kids or a mortgage to worry about, so I can take the risks, and risk taking is a key part to being a successful start-up.
Secondly, try to find a co-working space which offers mentors, Bathtub to Boardroom, where I work has put me in touch with endless mentors who give great advice and have amazing connections. As it is only for start-ups, it’s a great place to share ideas, someone will have gone through the same struggle as you, and can help you, everyone is so friendly and willing to help.
Thirdly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people get so protective of their ideas they resist sharing them, when actually, every person you tell can offer a fresh perspective, even if you don’t act upon their opinion - which is fine, not all should be acted upon - you should always listen. Even if it is criticism at least you know they are being honest. Fourthly, I would just encourage people not to be afraid of breaking away. Not just in terms of starting a company, but like I said, these days there is such a natural social norm of going to uni. I am an opportunist, and firmly believe that, if you are not happy somewhere, you shouldn’t sit around forever waiting for opportunities to find you, sometimes you have to create them yourself.
My flat-mate Chloe at this moment is thinking of starting a business and I keep saying to her ‘the worst-case scenario is that you quit your job and it might be embarrassing a year down the line if you have to go back and ask for your job back, but you won’t know until you’ve tried’ Tory Burch said "I think you can have it all. You just have to know it's going to work." I couldn’t agree with her more, if you’re passionate enough about something, nothing should stop you. Sorry to have another quote, but these this one and Tory’s really keep me going ‘I can forgive myself for failing, because I know I did my best, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not trying’.
What is the big vision for you?
The vision for me… well I’m 21 in six months. I would really like to get my 100th customer before my 21st birthday and have 21st/Gormley & Gamble 100th customer party! My vision for G&G in the long term is to get lots more tailors in, train some girls up and get them really knowledgeable, until G&G ambassadors are masters in our field.
I think confidence is the most attractive thing a woman can have so my big vision for women out there is to give each one a little confidence boost by putting an end to badly cut, poor quality women’s tailoring. There was an article in Vogue saying women should "Consider tailored pieces a wardrobe investment - beautifully-cut separates will never be merely a trend". Let’s say goodbye to crumpled, hello to chic sophistication. Let’s stop the boardroom being boring. If you’re dressing the part, nothing should stop you taking centre stage, and that’s where women should be. Thats the big dream.