Isabelle Hartley- Nias is the founder of Champagne & Lemonade, an online fashion broker specialising in pre-loved designer clothing and accessories.
I recently had the opportunity of speaking with Isabelle about her new fashion startup.
Who was your inspiration growing and why?
My Father. He is a born entrepreneur and has worked exceptionally hard all of his life, taking risks and with sheer tenacity, reaping the reward. He has taught me so much and although retired now, he consults for my business and I am delighted to say that I am still learning from his experience.
Did you always envision yourself becoming an entrepreneur? How did you get started?
Our entire family own or have owned their own business at one time or another so although I began my career in magazine publishing, I always envisioned that I would launch a company by the age of 30. I left my job as Commercial Director of Motorsport Magazine in late 2011, having extensively researched the arena I was looking to venture into and we launched our business in January this year.
When did you know you wanted to work in the fashion industry?
I view my role at this company as I viewed my work in magazines and national press, with the exception that this is my own business now. When I worked on various titles across business and consumer publishing, I was commercially minded with the same business practice whether it was launching Lonely Planet Magazine or working at Motorsport. I was not immersed in the travel industry, nor was I racing around in F1 cars, so I do not consider myself working "in fashion". I have launched a business that operates within that arena but specifically, we trade off the back of it, we are a broker service operating in luxury goods.
So tell me about Champagne & Lemonade and how the idea came about?
I required a C&L type service as over the years I accumulated many designer pieces and my wardrobe was horribly cluttered. I realised that there were no reputable companies offering this service and I would be forced to handle the process myself using an auction site which I really had neither the time nor inclination to do. This instance sowed the seed of the idea and I subsequently set about thoroughly researching the marketplace to plan how and when to launch C&L.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
The launch period, which was a steep learning curve! There were many surprises, many problems with the initial development of the site and whereas I was used to having departments full of specialists to handle any situation, now it was largely me and a core team of staff, stretched to the limit, but I'm pleased to say we got through it with grit and determination and I am very proud of the brand we have created.
What are the most crucial things that you’ve done to grow your business?
Hiring the right people and marketing. Both are essential to the growth of C&L. I have always tried to surround myself with the best people and my background in media is predominantly sales and marketing so I feel we have collectively secured the vital tools we need to make this business a success.
What inspires you?
Learning. I get excited by opportunities to develop my knowledge base and that's why the digital arena is so important to me as the pace of evolution is extraordinary.
How have you been able to fund the business?
We are lucky not to have had to seek external investment. I'm not ruling that out in future years if we should choose to extend our offering but we did not require funding for launch.
What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The first few sales that came through were met with howls of delight from the team, and client feedback is always a pleasure.
What advice do you have for people who want work in fashion?
I would say whatever discipline you are looking to venture into, set your goals, write them down, remain focused and work very, very hard to achieve them.