Interview: Beth Chilton and Sarah Sleightholm, Hope & Ivy
Beth Chilton and Sarah Sleighholm are the co-founders of contemporary women's occasionwear brand Hope & Ivy. They hit the headlines last year when they appeared on BBC2's Dragons' Den and won the backing of both Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones.
The brand has gone on to be stocked by major retailers such as ASOS, Next and Topshop and they have just launched an affordable bridal line. They talk to The Industry about launching a brand, keeping their nerve on TV and their plans for the future.
To start with please tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how you met.
BC: I have worked in the industry for coming up to 10 years now. After finishing my fashion management degree at Nottingham Trent I moved straight into a role of fashion production and garment technology. I worked for a few years at Topshop and realized this role wasn’t quiet for me and fancied a change. From here I joined a start up fashion company and helped grow this with the owner to a successful business. With having such great experience in running a small company gave me the confidence to go out into the big world of fashion on my own.
SS: Beth actually poached me from my design role at ASOS Salon to come and work at our previous company. From there we found our joint passion for all things beautiful and I took the leap of faith with Beth to get this business started.
What inspired you to join forces and set up your own fashion label?
SS: We both had a few drinks one night together and thought why not let's just do this, we both had great contacts in all areas from design, production to selling. Looking back we were a little crazy though it was definitely worth it.
What was the niche you saw for Hope & Ivy and how did you go about filling it?
SS: We just felt that nobody on the high street was designing affordable yet gorgeous pieces for the occassionwear market. Our collection has amazing prints, embroideries, laces and shapes, we felt no one else was really offering this selection.
What vision did you have for the brand in terms of where you wanted to see it stocked and the extent of the range?
BC: We are due to launch with Topshop this week and we are already in ASOS and Next, so we have all the great British retailers. So now we are looking across the ocean to selling with Urban Outfitters US, Revolve and Nordstrom. We would also love to do a premium range for Net-A-Porter.com one day; the dream.
How do your roles complement each other (in terms of your responsibilities and respective skills) in the business?
BC: We are the perfect business match, I look after all the accounts, production, sales, logistics and Sarah is the full design processes from sourcing, painting our gorgeous prints, drawing our amazing emboderies and manages the pattern room. It's great we have strengths in both areas and don’t tend to overlap a lot. So theres no stepping on each others toes.
Who else plays a key role in the team?
SS: We have a weapon who we can’t divulge the name of in case someone whisks her away, though we have an amazing pattern cutter who brings all of Sarah’s gorgeous pieces to life. Oh and our team mascot Roxy (my dog), she plays a keep part in answering the door to the postman and greeting all our guest to the office.
How did you go about setting up a supplier base and getting retailers on board?
BC: A lot of our supply chain has been word of mouth or recommendations and again getting into the retailers has been through contacts we have both made over the years.
You obviously struck a nerve with a customer base as you exceeded your first year’s target of £500k in sales (and have since gone on to achieve £1m in sales), were you prepared for that?
BC: Not in a million years did we expect to grow this fast, its been an incredible year and a lot of hard work.
You famously appeared on Dragons' Den a year ago, what made you take that route to gain investment?
BC: I actually applied for the show when setting up the business to help raise the funds we needed though I never heard back. So we raised the funds through friends and family instead. We were approached by the team at Dragons' Den about five months later and were after a next round of investment to support our growth. It was also an amazing press opportunity as its watched by nearly 5m people.
You achieved an incredible feat of getting two of the longest-standing Dragons on board, you must have been thrilled. What was the experience of pitching like and what did you learn from it?
SS: I was extremely nervous though Beth manage to keep her cool for it.
BC: It was like walking into a TV set, familiar though daunting. We both learnt from it to always be true to yourself and show passion. Having passion for what you do helps drive you forward and achieve.
Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden are both still on board and backing the business, they are clearly huge names with great experience, what skills and value in particular do they bring to the business?
It’s endless and we are still tapping away, their contacts and help are amazing.
You have your own ecommerce site and are stocked in ASOS and, more recently in Topshop, how is that going and where are you setting your sights next?
BC: Our Spring collection has just dropped on ASOS and is selling incredibly fast we have received an amazing reaction to the new drop. Being a fashion brand we constantly have to evolve and move forward with our designs. So every new collection is so exciting to work on. We think we will always strive for the most beautiful collection ever seen. Our next steps are really growing the brand with our customers across all our social media and getting some key bloggers on board for our Summer collection.
You’ve recently added affordable bridalwear to the line-up; it’s a growing market, what do you hope to bring to it?
SS: Our bridal range is really bohemian and feminine, something we feel is not out on the high street at affordable prices. We have had a great reaction to this and the pre-order list is getting quiet big now.
We note that Hope & Ivy is part of an umbrella business called Iveson & Sage, are you planning to use that vehicle to launch further brands in the future?
BC: We own another brand called Alter which offers great prices on tailored pieces, this currently stocks on ASOS and Next. We set up the umbrella company to have the flexibility to produce new brands if we wanted too. Though with the success of both brands, this is something that's on the back burner.
What’s the one piece of advice you would offer anyone out there looking set up their own brand?
BC: If you have the natural drive and passion for what you want to do set your hopes high, drive forward and don’t look back. Its so worth all the hard work and determination in the end.
SS: Don’t forgot to stop and celebrate your achievements as little as they may be.