New Independent Profile: Curated Woman, Richmond, Surrey
Curated Woman opened next door to Curated Man in Richmond, Surrey, last month. We hear about the new retail venture from owner and director, Henry Threadingham, and womenswear shop co-owner Freya Swainson, who also happens to be his long-term girlfriend.
With Matchesfashion.com long gone in Richmond, and a distinct lack of womenswear independents in the town, there seemed like a gap in the market to be seized on when number 12 Hill Street, next to Curated Man at 10 Hill Street, became available.
It was a now or never moment for menswear retailer Henry Threadingham, and his long-standing fashion-loving girlfriend, Freya Swainson, who he’s actually known since they were 11, having attended the same secondary school.
Signing a long lease is a big commitment and risk for any independent testing new waters, but they were convinced there’s a market for good womenswear not available anywhere else in the affluent town. And what could be better for couples out shopping to have their favourite his and hers local independents side by side?
“We did effectively want the partners of the men to come in to the women’s shop, but we’ve been surprised to have attracted a lot of women that we didn’t know existed in the town as well,” offers Threadingham.
“Also, we’ve seen a bit of resurgence in people wanting to support independents. The whole movement of slow fashion and ‘support your high street’ has come a bit late, but nonetheless people are jumping on it. Richmond is a wealthy area and people do want to be seen to be supportive. They can also afford to more. If people can see a value in a product, they can justify it. So long as your product commands that, in terms of quality and how long you’re going to wear it, you can do it.”
The early response to Curated Woman has been very positive, with people saying they want them to do well, and they want to go to the official launch party this Thursday. “They also want to tell their friends about us – and bring people in, which they have certainly have done,” adds Threadingham.
Instagram has also been a key tool in getting the word out about the new shop. The launch party will include a music set by recording artist, VC Pines. The man behind it is the former frontman of London-based indie rock band, The Carnabys, Jack Mercer, who sometimes assists Threadingham with the menswear buying. “He’s a great musician and we’re really lucky that he’s going to do a set for us. It’s going to be excellent and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Curated Man is also undergoing something of a relaunch, with the ground-floor refit only completed two months ago before work started out on the new Curated Woman store. Both the shops have a clean and contemporary look and feel, with wooden floors.
“Curated Woman is very much a joint venture,” offers Threadingham. “But Freya has led the aesthetic from the buying to the shop-fit.” It’s feminine, but minimalist and quite Scandinavian in appeal, though the shop front is actually Grade 2 listed, so there’s still very much an English feel to it too. Period features inside the store include chunky Victorian skirting boards, though other touches are more modern. “The idea behind the rails, which are suspended from the ceiling, was to make it look like they are floating, with the clothes being the focal point,” offers Swainson.
Curated Man is in the same location as was Lizard Menswear, which was owned and run by Henry’s father, Terry, since 1979. The decision to re-name the business and start afresh came with the change of direction Henry, 29, wanted to make when he took over the reins three years ago. He wanted a more directional and contemporary look, feel and brand offer – no doubt influenced by the few years he spent running the Nigel Hall shop in Soho (before he returned to work with his father running a second Lizard store in Farnham, Surrey, which is also no longer).
Appealing to women is a whole new avenue to take though. Says Swainson: “The wives and girlfriends of customers in Curated Man have been asking us when were we going to do womenswear for a long time. We’d just play along and say ‘one day’. When I came on board last year, after previously being a wedding planner for eight years, we started to seriously think ‘well, maybe, but where?’ So, when this became available immediately next door, we thought the time was right.”
Swainson believes that the branding of Curated Woman next to Curated Man on the high street is almost like a yin and yang effect. “It’s more noticeable, and it’s also easier for us as well as our customers. If I get too busy on my own, I’ve got a little bell to signal to one of the boys next door to come and help me out for 10 minutes. Business-wise, it’s much more economical.”
The women’s shop may not be the biggest, but it does have a decent-sized changing space at the rear – with two changing rooms and a large mirror. “It’s nice to have a separate area that’s tucked away, because a lot of women appreciate that more private element,” says Swainson.
Swainson also affirms that a lot of women say they stopped shopping in Richmond for clothes when Matchesfashion, Max Mara and others went. “I think it just drove them out of shopping in Richmond. But all those people who go up to London to shop are now coming in because it’s somewhere on their doorstep that sells brands they Iike. The feedback we’ve had has been amazing, much more so than we were expecting.”
Launching the new shop so late in the spring/summer season, when so many other shops are now going on Sale, has not made it easy, but the collections they bought are more high summer – so product that hasn’t dropped in stores that long ago.
Threadingham says: “Thankfully, a lot of customers have come in and seen that our current product offer isn’t particularly seasonally driven, or over available. A lot of our stuff is carry-through, and we don’t need to go on Sale with it.” If they do go on Sale, it will be much later in the season, and customers are seeming to be receptive to that, keen for a new shop to succeed.
The AW19 buy was carried out in a much bigger way, having gone to all the showrooms and seen all the collections they wanted to. One particular brand they are looking forward to getting in for the new season is Studio Nicholson, a brand from London inspired by Japanese cuts and fabrics.
What they have noticed since opening Curated Woman is a real difference in shopping habits between men and women. Swainson explains: “We’re certainly finding that women shop differently to men. I tend to get quite a lot of footfall, as women come in during the week to do a bit of a recce. Then they come back at the weekend to try on and buy. Where as, with guys, if they need something they go out to buy it. They have that purpose. Women are far happier to browse and float in and out. They think about it and come back later.”
They do the buying appointments together, with Swainson’s eye for product and Threadingham’s approval and advice. A fair few of the brands cross over between the two shops, such as Folk, Monokel Eyewear, Samsøe & Samsøe, Vetra and Norse Projects – coming in for AW19, but there’s also a good selection of new, different and not so well-known brands in Curated Woman.
“I’ve actually discovered a lot of them on Instagram,” offers Swainson. “Just from looking and following bloggers that I like. For instance, Aure Studio is a small brand from Copenhagen that makes pottery, artwork and a few garments. They are a creative collective. There’s only do about 11 pieces, then every year they just tweak them or do them in a different colour or fabric.
“They really do the slow fashion thing, and I don’t think they have another UK stockist at the moment. With a lot of the brands we have, I think we are their only current UK stockist, such as Aéryne, a Swedish fashion brand with showroom and creative studio in Paris.They are an amazing brand, and a lot of the proceeds from their garments go to support women’s charities. That was a big draw for me.” Another brand from Copenhagen, Mr. Larkin, is proving a favourite. “Though it does have some other UK stockists, it’s definitely not saturated,” says Swainson.
Threadingham has been more focused on putting in brand names that people are aware of, conscious of having some names that customers are familiar with. But, he says that Swainson has been very good at sourcing those things that set them apart and give them a point of difference from anywhere else. It makes for a more interesting mix.
“We have exclusivity on everything we sell in Richmond,” says Threadingham. “And I think that’s now more important than ever for an independent business. Obviously the online world is massive, and you can buy most products online from someone, somewhere, but I think the whole identity of stores has become so much more important, with emphasis on service and a unique curated buy. That’s valid for both our shops.”
Aside from clothing and footwear in Curated Woman, there’s also artwork from Andrea Kollar (including on an exclusive tote bag), and scents from Fiele Fragrances which sell for £99. “They’re very sophisticated scents from Los Angeles,” comments Swainson. The big funky framed Monokel sunglasses are also going down well with locals.
What has been a surprise hit, which Swainson says have just “flown off the shelves,” are the "boobs and bum" pots, from a British husband and wife team who make them at home for fun. “I can’t actually believe the response we’ve had to those,” she adds. “It’s the little unique and quirky pieces that draw people in, and it’s been the more adventurous pieces - from eyewear to clothing - that people have been picking up on.”
The aim is to launch an e-commerce website for both the men’s and women’s later this year. “It’s obviously the next step,” says Threadingham. A busy time indeed for an independent seemingly hitting all the right notes, in a town crying out for something new.