The founder of Pineapple Dance Studios reflects on the fruits of her labour and leading the way for female entrepreneurs
Born in Manchester in 1946, Debbie Moore was a model before setting up Pineapple Dance Studios in 1979 in London. She went on to create her own associated clothing brand, having helped to develop the first cotton/Lycra fabric, which changed sportswear fashion. Moore then became the first woman to float a company on the London Stock Exchange and received an OBE in 2010.
You originally started Pineapple as a dance studio. How did you make the jump into fashion?
I had been modelling through the 1960s and 1970s and took dance classes from [former Strictly Come Dancing judge] Arlene Phillips, which was when I saw how dancers deconstructed and layered their clothing. That was my inspiration for the brand.
You developed the first cotton/Lycra fabric with DuPont, the US chemical firm which created Lycra. How did this come about?
I went to DuPont because dancewear was dire. It was all made of nylon piqué and shiny nylon in school uniform colours with high necks, low-cut legs and baggy crotches. We needed a performance fabric that had a cool edge.
How did it change things?
It revolutionised the way women dress.
You made the first outer dress with cotton/Lycra, while others used it only for under layers. Where did your idea come from?
It always starts with the fabric. DuPont sent me yardage of this wonderful cotton/Lycra to make leotards and footless tights and I thought: “Why not a skirt? Why not a dress?”
What has been your fashion career highlight so far?
In 36 years there have been so many. Being asked to put on a 30-year retrospective exhibition at Zandra Rhodes’ Fashion and Textile Museum [in Bermondsey, south London]. Being invited by London’s V&A museum to present my journey through fashion. And the accolade of being awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University for the Creative Arts for pioneering fashion.
What has been the lowest point in your career?
I was running a public company, accountable to shareholders, when my young daughter, Lara, was desperately ill in hospital following a spinal haemorrhage. It was an impossible time. My fantastic team kept things going and helped us to get through it.
What are the biggest struggles now?
Since I founded Pineapple, we have seen huge changes both in manufacturing and retail. All our manufacturing used to be in the UK and much of it locally in London. Now our supply base is global. In retail, of course, the advent of ecommerce has changed the whole landscape. It’s tough, but exciting.
How did it feel when you got your OBE?
I’ve had conversations with all of the royal family on several visits to Buckingham Palace. The pinnacle was receiving my OBE from the Queen in 2010. Whenever we meet, she always asks: “Are you still busy at Pineapple?”
You were the first woman to float a company on the London Stock Exchange in 1982. How did this come about?
I wasn’t aware of the significance at the time; it was just another step in expanding my business. I didn’t realise I was making history and it would be front-page news. It amazes me that it took a model in the fashion business with no formal qualifications to achieve this first.
You then bought your own company back in 1988. Why?
I bought the company back to regain creative control.
What advice do you have for other women who are starting their own business?
You have to do something you love doing. You’ll be working 25/8 [as opposed to 24/7], so if you’re not happy then you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s not a rehearsal.
What other women do you admire?
There’s an endless list of women I admire. Obviously Coco Chanel, but also Zandra Rhodes, Betty Jackson, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham.
If you could only wear one brand for the rest of your life, what would it be?
You can’t beat Chanel.
What is the most expensive item in your wardrobe?
A Comme des Garçons jacket that I wore when being presented to the Queen for the first time, in 1983.
Where did the name Pineapple come from?
Our [first] building was a derelict pineapple warehouse. When the fruit and flower market moved to Nine Elms, Covent Garden was left deserted.
Do you like pineapples?
I especially like them in a piña colada.