The Apprentice runner-up is talking to potential backers about bringing Second Skin, her hosiery range for a spectrum of skin tones, to market.
The recent 10th series of The Apprentice showed London-born Bianca Miller to be a consistently impressive performer. Mature, polished and intelligent, over 11 weeks she beat 18 other contenders to end up in the final with Australian Mark Wright. After a narrow verdict, Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment went to her rival and his internet marketing plan. Miller, however, is determined to bring to market her hosiery range in skin tones designed to serve a wide range of complexions from “English Rose to sub-Saharan African”. This budding entrepreneur turned 26 on December 23, two days after the final was broadcast on BBC One. She gave one of her first interviews to Drapers’ Eric Musgrave, who was an adviser to Lord Sugar in the final head-to-head.
How did a young woman from Croydon end up being an entrepreneur?
I am an only child and both my parents worked for themselves, so I was always surrounded by that spirit. My mum, Bernadette, was a celebrity make-up artist and my dad, Darren, had his own business designing, selling and fitting upmarket Italian kitchens. From the age of 16 or 17, I was working in Dad’s business, opening up the showroom at the weekend, dealing with customers and so on. It always seemed likely that I would go into the family business, but I wanted to do my own thing. I also saw the real side of working for yourself - never being able to stop, having to miss holidays…
What formal education did you have?
After a state junior school in Thornton Heath, I went to a private secondary school, Sydenham High, and I did well academically. I obviously had to do a business degree, so I did Business and Economics at the University of Sussex. I graduated in 2010, right in the financial downturn. Totally by chance, I got a call from someone on my course inviting me to work at management consultancy Accenture in the City of London, looking after
350 of its 1,000 graduates. So about three months after graduating, I ended up in the HR department looking after other graduates!
You pretty soon ended up running a programme to improve their presentation skills, didn’t you?
I had to learn about HR quickly, but it also became clear that many of these very clever people Accenture hired needed help with the way they dressed, presented themselves and communicated internally and externally. I found that I liked standing up in front of people and facilitating training. I set up and ran a programme called Prepare Yourself For Promotion.
So that led to you forming your own personal branding company, The Be Group?
Accenture was a great place to work, but after a couple of years I needed something new so I tried working in recruitment for about five months. That world was not for me, but what it showed me was that lots of people, not just Accenture graduates, needed help with writing a CV, preparing for an interview, dressing appropriately for business and so on. I was on holiday with my then boyfriend, now fiancé, Byron, and on the beach - this sounds terrible, doesn’t it? - we worked out a business plan for a personal branding company. In 2012, I left recruitment and have been helping people ever since with personal development, employability, personal branding and image consultancy.
What specific experience of the fashion industry have you had?
I worked in the womenswear department of JD Sports in Croydon for about a year. I did that as well as charging for dance lessons, something Istarted doing at school. I have always been keen on fashion but, as I hit 6ft round about the age of 14 or 15 and ended up with size 8 or 9 feet, I did have problems finding things to fit. Trousers weren’t long enough, skirts weren’t the right proportion, jacket sleeves weren’t long enough. It is better than it was, but maybe the answer is to have everything made couture. I wish!
Where did the idea for Bianca Miller London Second Skin hosiery come from?
As a woman of colour, I have long been frustrated by not being able to find the right skin-tone tights, which meant I used to end up wearing black or going bare-legged, which is not appropriate for many corporate situations. It’s the same with things like nude nail varnish, lipstick and shoes for my skin colour. There is a frustratingly narrow selection of shades. When I learned Christian Louboutin had produced nude shoes in five shades, I knew my idea was a good one.
So what is the initial concept?
It is not just about ethnicity. Black women are not alone; English Rose types have very pale skin that is rarely catered for. I will be offering eight shades of tights, in 15 denier only, to retail at £7.99 a pair. Originally, I thought of selling these at a luxury price point of £20, but having heard from industry experts, I would rather build a brand initially that caters to more women. I am having them made in England and my target stockists are department stores and boutiques. I’ll also be selling them through my website, Biancamillerlondon.com. After tights will come stockings, fishnets, hold-ups, pop socks and different deniers. Then, down the line, I want to get into shapewear and lingerie.
How has The Apprentice experience helped?
It was an amazing experience and one that has led to an amazing level of support for the new brand. I hope the exposure will help me to get Second Skin into stores to service the customers who require it. The process itself was all very quick; Byron persuaded me to enter very late in February. I was accepted in March and filming began in April. Although the main part of the final was filmed in June, I didn’t get the result until December 18. It was a very long wait but in the meantime I have been working hard to ensure the brand is ready for manufacture, subject to me finding an investor who understands and believes in my proposition. Customers can register on the website for now, so we can get in touch as soon as the product is available.
Who has been your inspiration?
My parents, obviously, and lots of people who I meet doing my work. Oprah Winfrey is a real inspiration - she shows exactly how much one can achieve.