Drapers talks to Sangita Ebrahim, owner womenswear multi-brand boutique and label Charli about building the brand from the boutique and maintaining a family business.
Sangita Ebrahim founded luxury multi-brand boutique Charli in Muswell Hill, north London, in 1988. Almost 30 years later, and now with two stores, the second in Hampstead, Charli stocks brands such as Theory, Diane von Furstenberg, Helmut Lang, D Exterior, AG Jeans, Essentiel Antwerp, Veja, as well as the Charli own brand.
Founded in 2008, the label has become a success in its own right, growing to a full ready-to-wear collection with more than 80 stockists in the UK and 350 points of sale worldwide.
Ebrahim discusses trade shows, brand values and the importance of a team you trust.
Why you come to set up the brand?
The brand came about as it was very hard to buy key layering essentials back then. So, we wanted to introduce a luxury basics brand that would sit next to our premium brands in our boutique.
Why the name Charli?
“Charli Girl ” was in a song lyric a million years ago. It meant a lot to me and my husband when we started the business – we thought it was super-cool.
Charli autumn 17
When and why did you decide to launch your own brand?
Summer 2008. We decided to trial small edit of jersey separates in our own store. We went to a small production unit in Leicester to make a supersoft range of modal basics. After selling out each week in store, we took it to a trade show and it grew from there.
How would you describe the brand’s aesthetic?
Modern, understated luxury.
Your children work with you on Charli. How do you find working with your family?
They have both brought something different to the business. We all work in different departments, so we keep a balance.
How have you grown the brand since you started out?
The brand has grown in terms of scale – working all over the world with agents and distributors – and we are covering more categories with silk, outerwear and cashmere. But it is really important to stay true to our values and keep the same handwriting. We have a core of classic and commercial shapes, updating each season with a twist – introducing novelty and a “reason to buy” on each piece. I feel that as a retailer for many years, this comes as a second nature to me.
Charli autumn 17
What have some of the highlights been since you started the label?
Always love travelling to far-flung places and seeing Charli in a boutique or department store. It’s amazing to talk about Charli with a retail group owner in Japan or a sales person in a beach store in the South of France.
How do you balance running the stores and the label?
I have a really good team, both for retail and for wholesale, and I prioritise my time accordingly. It’s important for me to know my customer, so I make sure I spend at least three days a week in the store.
How do the brands you stock fit with your own brand?
They all offer something completely different, but complement our own range perfectly.
Do you go to trade shows, either with the brand or as a buyer?
Yes, we exhibit in Paris, New York, and London, and this enables me to research other brands. It’s important to make the store look different and add new brands every season.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
Dame Natalie Massenet.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Never take anything for granted.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
Le Bon Marché
Last fashion purchase
A Theory oversized slouchy cashmere jumper
Last book you read
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Last film you watched
Battle of the Sexes
Saturday job during my O-levels at a boutique in north London
What are you doing at the weekends
Working on Saturdays and catching up with friends on Sundays