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Gemma Wiseman

The co-owner of award-winning premium womenswear indie Foundation tells Marie Davies why she feels positive about autumn 11

Congratulations on your Drapers Womenswear Retailer of the Year Award.

Thank you, it’s great having the support of Drapers and the award has been brilliant for business. It makes customers stop and think about what we are doing. It’s much appreciated as I love what I do, as does James [Wiseman, co-owner of Foundation].

Is it right that you started in fashion design?

Yes, I studied at Kingston University before graduating and taking a job at Mulberry. After that I took various freelance design roles in Paris, where I stayed for four years before coming back and gaining high street experience at Arcadia, with Topman.

What attracted you to retail?

I love designing but I always wanted to eventually move into retail. I like the direct interaction with the customer that being in retail offers.

You and your husband James started the business in 2003. What were your first brands?

Marilyn Moore, with whom we still have a strong relationship, and By Malene Birger, which we were one of the first in the UK to stock.

How did you build a relationship with these brands?

Consistent orders and paying on time. Cash flow is as important as the order in my opinion.

Which new brands are you stocking for spring 11?

We’ve had a brand overhaul and cut labels that weren’t performing or were overexposed. Contemporary British brand Laark is new to us - it’s stylish but wearable and has great everyday pieces.

Which brand are you most looking forward to seeing on the shopfloor for spring 11?

An Italian brand called Jucca and US brand S-Sung, which has great dresses and unusual colours and prints.

And what will be the key trends?

Our customer will be influenced by 1950s and 1960s silhouettes, neater on top with fuller skirts and wider-leg trousers in blush pink, soft greys and camel.

What are the biggest challenges facing womenswear indies?

Pricing first and foremost - we are nervous about getting people through the door between January and March because of the VAT increase. Last year was tougher than people expected. We’ve reviewed the budget and our visual merchandising has become even more key to give people a reason to come into the store.

Any other issues?

Over-distribution - many suppliers are taking the opportunity to sell to everybody and it’s not a good way to build relationships. Our orders aren’t small and we try to build long-term relationships with brands. People are getting greedy.

How are you feeling about the autumn 11 season?

The mood is unexpectedly positive. We always have customers in looking for new things early in the season, so we’ll be looking at pre-collections from Allegra Hicks, Issa and By Malene Birger. Luxury basics will still be key, and investment pieces.

What trade shows will you visit in 2011?

Pure London. It’s got much better with its variety of brands and the introduction of footwear and [young fashion section] Spirit.

What were your three best-selling brands in 2010?

By Malene Birger (pictured), Hoss Intropia and Marilyn Moore.

Whose style do you admire?

Our customers really relate to how Emmanuelle Alt [French Vogue editor] dresses. For me, it’s actress Emma Watson - I like to see people’s style grow.

What stores do you admire?

I admire Colette in Paris and, more locally, homewares store RE in Corbridge, Northumberland (pictured).

Gemma Wiseman is co-owner of premium womenswear indie Foundation in Cheltenham

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