Having started out in the industry as a fashion agency sales executive, Sarah Curran spent seven years as a sub-editor at media group News International before opening London boutique Powder. She moved to the south of France three years later and launched my-wardrobe.com in April 2006, stocking brands from Betty Jackson, Cacharel and Paul & Joe to Manoush, 18th Amendment and Orla Kiely. Its success brought Curran back to the UK and she runs the firm from Nottingham.
Celebrating its 1st birthday she talks to Drapers about the past twelve months.
- Now that you have an online business, would you consider opening another boutique?
No - we're selling Powder. The growth of the online store has so much more potential than a shop because normal limitations, such as being tied to one area, no longer apply. Driving the online business is the priority.
- How is my-wardrobe.com different from other online fashion boutiques?
I try very hard to make the site accessible - I don't want it to seem too much like a boutique. I strike a balance between easy day-to-day pieces and some occasionwear. People shouldn't have to save up for three months to be able to place an order. There are pieces like that, but there are also a lot of less pricier options. I think it's that mix that sets us apart.
- What are the differences between running an online store and a bricks-and-mortar shop?
We buy very differently. At Powder, we kept particular customers in mind when we placed our orders and as a result there was very much a local feel to the shop. Online, we make an effort to identify key pieces and trends that the press is likely to pick up on. The pieces we buy differ. In a store, there are assistants to help customers, which is great for some of the more complicated designs that might otherwise be left on the rail. I have to think about these when buying for my-wardrobe.com - you often see what's not working for web customers by looking at the type of returns.
- What new challenges have you faced with my-wardrobe.com?
The idea that there are lower overheads in running an online business is a myth. We have to consider packaging and distribution, as well as PR investment. These aren't really necessary for a store. It's also harder to monitor things such as fraud, and the business as a whole has a very different focus - operating via email and over the phone, we have to work harder to build an identity and a loyal customer base.
- How does running a web business affect your work-life balance?
For a start, it's 24/7. People are shopping across time zones. The first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed at night is check the sales figures - you can't just close the door.
- What challenges does online retail face in the future?
The only way to keep ahead is to try to be as innovative as possible - there's always a mountain to climb when it comes to new technology. We're looking into revolving mannequins and close-ups of fabric swatches.
- What will be the key trends for the coming season?
I've seen a lot of polished looks dominating the autumn collections. The 1960s will still be around and embellished neck and hemlines will remain key. A futuristic element is coming through with lots of Perspex - it's not the most commercial look, but it's refreshing to see something new. This will sit alongside high shine fabrics, with wet-look and patent finishes taking the lead.
- Which markets have surprised you the most?
I think the Scandinavian markets have been surprising, especially Denmark. There's real spending power over there and their collections are well made and have good price points. I'm a huge fan of By Malene Birger.
- What's your five-year plan?
Year on year, I think we'll aim to match the 100% growth achieved last year. Building the brand through target audiences will be key. We aim to increase press coverage and introduce blogs.
THIS FASHION LIFE
- What is your biggest fashion weakness?
Handbags - I've got far too many for my husband to be happy about. Jane Davidson and Anya Hindmarch are real favourites.
- What was your best fashion moment?
My wedding - I loved my dress, which was made in New York by Reem Acra. It was a timeless design.
- Who is your industry icon and why?
Joan Burstein, the owner of boutique Browns. She's done so much - I think she's amazing.
- What would you be doing if not fashion?
I'd still be working at News International in a sub-editor role. Being involved in breaking news was really exciting.
- Where do you shop?
If I'm not shopping online, I generally head to Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. On the high street, it's got to be Zara.
- What are you reading?
Coleen McLoughlin's autobiography, Welcome to my World; and Piers Morgan's book The Insider - it's hilarious.
- Who is your style icon?
I love Bianca Jagger and Lauren Hutton.
- Who is on your iPod?
Amy Winehouse, Snow Patrol and Avril Lavigne.
- Who is on your mobile's speed dial?
My hairdresser Cobella and my personal trainer, who I usually call to cancel.