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The Drapers Interview: Vashikeh Miller and Lydia Colasurdo, Mila Grace

Vashikeh Miller is co-founder of premium womenswear boutique Milla Grace, on Dukes Lane in Brighton’s Lanes area.

Opened with business partner and friend Lydia Colasurdo in March 2013, the store mixes high-end international brands with items sourced locally in Sussex.

How is trading?
January is always slow because it is out of the summer tourist season and our customers don’t have much money at the start of the year. We do, however, offer promotions like 20% off online and in store.

We launched our website in October 2013 and on average we’ve seen 20% more online than in store. Online sales doubled in January year on year.
What are the advantages or challenges of your location? In the summer, different festivals and events attract tourists who want to take something home from an independent shop in Brighton. This is where we come in. It is, however, very expensive to have a shop in the Lanes. We have to consider our rent and also the cost of parking for customers.

What is your customer demographic?
It’s not specific - we appeal to all shapes, sizes and ages. We get 16-year-olds buying our skinny Dr Denim jeans and older ladies wanting a one-off piece from brands such as [Danish contemporary label] Custommade.

Which are the key brands selling in store?
We have five dedicated fashion brands, online and in store: Almost Famous, Bombshell by Katya Wildman, Custommade, Pyrus London and Dr Denim jeans. Our most popular labels are Custommade and Bombshell. Customers love Custommade’s easy-to-wear style. Its classic-shaped silk blouses are well structured, with a touch of standout detail. Blouses and jackets range from £100 to £300 (retail).

Bombshell is by the far the most flattering brand we stock. Repeat customers come in just to buy the dresses from £220 to £300. Jeans also sell well, such as Dr Denim’s at £45.

Have you introduced any new brands for spring 15?
We look for brands all year round and buy as we go. If we see something we can’t resist, we invest in it. In March we’ll introduce Blank online and in store. Blank is a family-run, London-based clothing line of embellished vintage silk dresses and jackets, retailing from £80 to £150. We found our customers coming into store for evening dresses, so Blank fits perfectly.

Did you get involved in Black Friday and Christmas discounts?
For Black Friday we offered 20% off in store and online on all clothing. We gave free delivery for the whole of December and a Boxing Day Sale online and in store. More chain shops are emerging around the Lanes, making it harder for us to delay going into Sale.

Who is your local competition and what sets you apart?
There are so many lovely boutiques around Brighton and a real sense of community with the other shop owners. Even though we’re in competition we all help each other out.

There is a personal touch that we try to express online and in store, whether it’s an honest opinion or going that extra mile with customer service. We allow customers to pre-order clothing before it’s in store and if a customer wants us to come to their home if they cannot make it in store, we will.

What is your visual merchandising strategy?
It changes, but it’s important window displays are arty and handmade. Black in the window doesn’t create interest. Customers prefer it when we place key pieces on mannequins, such as new collection Custommade jackets and Bombshell dresses. We have a cherry blossom theme now, incorporating bright pinks and silver, twigs and pompoms.

How do you use social media to connect with customers?
We mainly use Facebook and Twitter. We tend to make our buying appointments over social media and find that sharing pictures of potential new buys gives us great feedback.

What are your plans for 2015?
For our second birthday on March 2 we will hold an event with champagne and sweet treats for customers. We offered a 20% discount for our first anniversary, which really attracted customers. This year, we will up it to 30% or 40% to make it a big event.

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