Posted on April 06 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is the inspirational Phoebe Gormley who became the first women-only tailor on Savile Row, London ~ Savile Row is a street in Mayfair, Central London which is famous for its age-long tradition of bespoke tailoring for men. Not any more... Here's Phoebes story:
Newnham: Phoebe, can you tell us what you were like growing up and when you you first fell in love with fashion?
Gormley: I think I was probably super high-energy and very assertive (middle child syndrome). I’d always steal my dad's old suits and alter them to fit me - which was quite a lot of alterations as you can imagine. I’ve also always been very inspired by the glamour and history of Savile Row, and started interning there aged 15. Although I make clothes, I wouldn't necessarily say that I work in fashion though. Being a tailor is more about quality, fit and heritage than the latest trends. I am really interested in style, but in long-term investment pieces, rather than off-the-peg fast fashion.
Newnham: What gave you the idea to set up your tailoring business and how did you make that dream a reality?
Gormley: At university, I started asking where I could find made-to-measure womenswear but was told there were none, partly because most didn't like making clothes for women as they were "too hard to please." So, I wrote a business plan and gave it to my parents, proposing I quit university, and put my final year's tuition fees towards starting my own business.
That was on a Friday and by Monday, I was down in London making it a reality!
Newnham: Setting up and running a business is tough - What has been your biggest challenges so far and how did you overcome them?
Gormley: The responsibly of having five other people depending on you can be pretty crushing at times. I think our biggest challenge moving forward will be distancing me from the business. I do everything from maintain our website to take every single fitting. Anyone we deal with - supplier, journalist or customer, all go through me, but for the business to keep growing this isn't really going to continue to be possible. It’s just too much! We’re tackling this issue at the moment - training up junior members of staff and so on.
Newnham: Tailoring is considered a traditionally male dominated industry - how have you found being the first tailor exclusively for women in Savile Row?
Gormley: People ask this question a lot; all the male tailors on the Row have been so supportive and great. As we are doing womenswear, we operate in very different fields, so I’m able to ask for advice and mentorship without stepping on anyone’s toes.
Having said that, obviously being a female in a pretty male-dominated environment does make me stand out. Its been hard as there’s no real precedent set, so I’ve had to find my myself. But I’m always up for challenge!
Newnham: What advice would you give other budding female business owners?Gormley: Be brave. Take some chances. Surround yourself with amazing people and don’t be afraid to ask for help. At the beginning I always felt like I was in it alone, and felt like reaching out was somehow a sign of weakness, but it’s built to a better business.
One final thing I’m also learning is to take time off. Because my clients are some of the busiest women in the City, they work all hours, and it's my job to work around them, which it is an honour to do. However, it also means I work all sorts of hours, weekends included, and I almost got to the point of burning out. Its a bit a cliché, but I’ve started trying to keep weekends to myself which has helped immensely with my sanity.
Newnham: Who / what inspires you?
Gormley: All my customers! I get to work with some of the most amazing women. CEO, housewife, partner at a law firm, or recent graduate getting her first work suit ~ they all inspire me and have shaped my business in some way. Some of my best clients have even hosted private shopping events for me at their homes, and several of them now sit on my board of advisers.
Newnham: Finally, what advice would you give a younger Phoebe, just starting out?
Gormley: The universe has got your back - it’s gonna be fine.
Thanks to Emma Sinclair for intro and to Hannah Langley for helping to coordinate.