Lily and Lionel: Alice Stone

Alice Stone tells us about her online retail business, which specialises in luxury ethical fashion accessories

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Company name: Lily and Lionel Ltd
Founders: Alice Stone
Age: 25
Based: London
Date started: 13th November 2008

Tell us what your business does

We specialise in exclusive and ethically designed luxury men’s and women’s fashion accessories and resort wear.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The brand has a huge influence from my late grandparents, Lily and Lionel. Lily worked in secret as a seamstress, spending evenings sewing elaborate creations for her family, whilst Lionel worked in production for British fashion high street retailers. Having graduated and worked in fashion for the last five years, I have a huge passion for design and sourcing all things eclectic from across the globe.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I realised that there was a gap in the market for luxury accessories at premium high street prices. Our niche is scarves: they are bold and unique without the crazy price tag.

What were you doing before starting up?

I worked in PR for 3 years looking after fashion and lifestyle labels. It was an amazing learning experience and invaluable to launching a label.

What planning did you do before you started up?

Before launching I put a business plan together. I figured out what funding I would need, what my goals were for the future and what we could do differently to make us stand out as a brand.

How did you raise the money?

We had some help from private investors and the bank. It was a nerve wracking time and our fingers and toes were constantly crossed that we would get the funds we needed.

How did you find suppliers?

I was really lucky as my parents are in fashion and have been working out of India for 10 years. We have a lot of friends and contacts over there in terms of finding the right suppliers and factories.

What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge we have is building up our mailing list as we are such a new company. The best way to reach out to our demographic of customers, I’ve discovered, is word of mouth.

How have you promoted your business?

With PR, and by organising small events. I have also used Google optimisation and PPC as well as social networking sites. Having dabbled with it in the past, we have realised advertising isn’t the best route. Consumers reading magazines are more likely to be moved by a genuine piece of editorial.

How much do you charge?

In the beginning, you have to gauge what you think is right. The only way we can work out the right price is by testing.

What about staff?

I have an assistant and we have a part-time accountant which works really well.

What has your growth been like?

We are steadily making headway towards our goals in the business plan and have had some amazing developments such as a collaboration with the store group Matches. Our aim is to start making profit in the next 6 months.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?

It has made me a little bit of a workaholic if I’m honest as it can be tricky to shut off. It took me a few months to realise I needed to switch off sometimes, in order to be more focused.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?

The biggest challenge is determining how much stock to buy; with a website it is really a guessing game until you have launched and can see what the best selling items are.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Collaborating with the Matches stores in designing them a unique range of scarves for Spring/Summer 09

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

You have to be willing to fall in order to pick yourself up and work out how to do it differently next time. And try not to be too precious.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

As well as doing a great deal of business through the online store, I hope to have concessions in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, and stores in the US

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