Blessd: Claire Priest
The founder of Blessd tells Startups why her company will be the solution to hundreds of curvy women who find it hard to buy clothes that fit.
Frustrated by constantly finding that clothes on the high street didn’t fit her curvy figure, Claire Priest decided to take matters into her own hands. She launched her company, Blessd, at the Clothes Show in December 2007.
The concept for Blessd is simple: to make clothes for hourglass- or pear-shaped women with a big bust or hips but a small waist.
Blessd clothes have a waist that’s 5% smaller than in high-street shops, meaning no gaping buttons in blouses or sagging bottoms on jeans. Priest says these women make up an estimated 10-20% of the market for women’s clothing.
Although she had no formal experience in the fashion industry, Priest had been altering clothes to fit her curvy size 14 figure ‘for years’, and the decision to design her own clothes rather than source them from other companies was pretty much made for her.
“I looked to buy them, but when I went to most places and asked whether they had anything that would suit an hourglass- or pear-shaped woman, they looked at me like I was mad,” she says.
In 2003, Priest took voluntary redundancy from the company where she was head of customer service, and using her payout, she enrolled in an MBA course at Cranfield University.
“I worked on the business plan as part of an elective called ‘planning your new business’, which ends in a Dragons’ Den-type assessment. It went through rigorous analysis and questioning by people who knew a lot about running a business.”
After graduating, Priest took the financial pressure off by returning to work on a consultancy basis. “I was lucky because I had a high earning capacity,” she says.
Its official launch at the Clothes Show went beyond her expectations – more than 200 people signed up to the mailing list, and the company attracted interest from outside the target demographic of the 21-45 age range.
“Even teenagers were walking past saying ‘that’s a nice colour’ or ‘that’s a nice style’. It’s rewarding that people are understanding the concept,” smiles Priest.
At the beginning of 2008, Priest will give up her consultancy work to commit to Blessd full-time. “I’m going to spend at least six months really trying to make it a profitable business rather than just a great idea,” she says. This supported her to start the business on a part-time basis.
With a projected turnover of £50,000 in 2008, moving up to £150,000 the year after, and a PR campaign that has earned her coverage from both the local and national press, Priest has every reason to hope the brand will go far – and winning Business Plan of the Year at the Startups Awards was the affirmation she needed.
“It was really nice recognition, she says. “It makes me feel like I can’t walk away from this now, whereas before I could have decided not to bother any more. I feel obliged to make it work.”