Most of us pop down to our local Marks & Spencer’s or John Lewis when in need of a new pair of PJs, but what if you are tired of the same run of the mill items that they all seem to stock? You don’t want something too plain or too racy, but you deserve a little bit more luxury that the average department store will allow without breaking the bank!  Helen White of Blue Marmalade was feeling exactly that and couldn’t find what she was looking for – so she took matters into her own hands and started her own sleep- and loungewear business.

Can you tell us about your business and what it offers?

Yeah sure. Blue Marmalade creates luxurious sleep- and loungewear that is delicious to wear and super stylish but still affordable.

It sounds like a very specific, and unique, product category

Yes. I have really struggled to find stylish sleep- and loungewear that isn’t cutesy, frumpy or overly sexy. Or to find things that aren’t made from cheap fabrics or that are so ridiculously expensive that I would never dare to wear it!

I focus therefore on beautiful fabrics to start with that feel delicious. And then create a range that is the kind of clothes that I can’t wait to get home to put on.

How long have you been working on this?

I’ve been thinking about it for more than 10 years, as I’ve been watching more brands try and tackle sleepwear and still not quite offering what I’m after. I left my previous job as Buying Director at Miss Selfridge nearly 2 years ago and launched the brand 9 months later.

What makes you so feel special about this venture and where did the idea originally come from to move in this direction?

I love beautiful fabrics, and I love creating inspiring ranges that women will fall in love with. It’s such a lovely thing when I see a customer fall in love with something in the range, and I know it’s going to become something she really treasures.

I knew that there was a gap in the market and I knew I had the experience to fill it. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time and I finally got the courage together to go for it.

And your background? How did you come from working in a 9 to 5 job to running your own business?

I’ve worked in the industry for 25 years and have been lucky enough to have had some great roles in a couple of fast-growing brands. I headed up the design and buying teams at Fat Face, during the time that they doubled in size. I then joined Sweaty Betty as the buying and design director, where I built the vision and the team to create the own brand range that has now gone on to become so successful. I loved my time at Sweaty as the business had already created a really strong brand, which I loved and it was a privilege to be able to go in and create an own brand range almost from scratch. It really inspired me and reinforced the idea that I wanted to have a go at creating a brand myself.  I felt like I had the right idea, I just needed the courage to do it!

What about your childhood background? Growing up did you have any entrepreneurs in the family who inspired you to follow your own path?

My Dad is eternally curious and fascinated by business. He was giving me tutorials on Google analytics 5 years ago at the age of 80! That curiosity has definitely rubbed off on me and I’ve always been fascinated by brands and why some of them connect with people and others don’t. But I also have a feeling that lingerie is in my blood as my great great grand father had a renowned corsetry business over 150 years ago!

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Do you have a business partner?

I don’t have a business partner but I am looking for one. I would love to find someone from a strong marketing background who is really inspired by what Blue Marmalade is all about and would love to be part of creating something wonderful.

Tell us about what you would consider the most exciting or inspirational moment that you have had to date – be it in business or life in general?

The moment that I realised I had to bite the bullet and actually go for it was as I was approaching my 45th birthday! I realised that the next big one was going to be 50 and I didn’t want to get to that age and still be talking about the thing I’ve always dreamed of doing. I had to stop talking about it and just do it.

What was the toughest moment to date?

Early last December when we had been trading for 7 months and had very little traction.  I had tried a number of things that I was convinced would drive some sales and they had hardly worked at all. I spent a tough weekend really wondering if I’d got it completely wrong, if there wasn’t a gap in the market at all and if my idea was a complete failure.

Then on the Sunday morning when I was looking at my emails I got a Google alert for Blue Marmalade which clicked through to an Alice Fisher article in the Observer. She was writing about how important it is to have nice loungewear and Blue Marmalade was the first brand she mentioned!

It was a bit of a turning point for both me and the brand, not just because it drove some sales but because it encouraged me that Blue Marmalade is worth fighting for!

What about any weird moments in your life that made you think that yes, you are destined to do this?

I keep having moments that feel like that, and that Sunday morning last December was certainly one of those. But one of the other things that makes me feel that Blue Marmalade is destined to become a significant brand is the incredible support that I get from really amazing people. I have been blown away by people that I really admire wanting to get involved just because they love what the brand is about.

And where would you like to see your business in the next few years?

In 3 years time I want the business to have achieved a position where it’s making some significant growth from a strong platform. I am learning so much at the moment about the customer, the range and where we can get scalable sales growth from. In 3 years I want to have real clarity about those things to enable us to grow much faster so that in 10 years time we are the obvious destination for women who want to treat themselves, or for those who want to treat them.

And finally, what is the one bit of advice that you would offer to someone considering going on their own?

Don’t wait until everything is perfect to make a start. Make a start in a low risk way as soon as you can and start learning as quickly as possible!

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