Find out how sisters Clare and Mary Burgess used their fashion industry expertise to launch their own clothing brand, Allium B.
What are your career backgrounds?
We both worked as senior executives at Topshop – Clare as Head of Merchandising and Mary as Head of Buying.
When did you first think about starting your own business, and why?
We launched in March 2012 and it was about a year before that we started the process of launching Allium B. We felt there was a gap for grown-up, affordable dresses – not too young, too old, too short or too long. And, having worked at big international brands for many years, we knew we had the expertise to fill this gap.
What skills or experience from your careers have served you well in running your business?
We have a good mix of skills. Clare has the business financial planning and Mary the design skills from our previous careers. We also crucially had the contacts to find great production to get our dresses made in relatively small quantities.
What’s your design process?
It’s a collaborative process we both have to love something for it to go into the range. Our starting point is usually print and embroidery and from there we work on new shapes.
We do love a vintage detail so Mary often visits vintage fairs to hunt out a beautiful fragment of embroidery, which we can bring back to life in a new design.
Who are your ideal customers?
Allium B dresses are designed for a grown-up woman who is confident and comfortable with her own style – who knows what suits her and above all loves a dress.
What’s your marketing strategy?
As a small independent brand we don’t have a huge marketing budget so make the most of our press contacts and work closely with bloggers to try to grown the brand.
We have had PR coverage in Stella, Red, Grazia and You magazine which have all driven sales. We also look to build word of mouth offering incentives to our existing customers to share Allium B with their friends.
Where are your dresses stocked?
We are very proud to say we are now stocked in the Liberty Store in London as well as selected boutiques across the country.
Locally we are stocked in Paul Clarke in Lewes, Living at Fiveways as well as Dragonfly in Brighton. We primarily sell from our own website.
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
Our highlights so far include making The Guardian’s top 50 summer dresses, featuring in Grazia and best of all some lovely feedback from our customers.
And your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge which is ongoing is marketing – there needs to always be a story about the brand to engage journalists to feature the brand.
We are still relatively unknown and to build the brand we need to be more visible.
How do you split responsibilities between you?
Clare focuses more on the financial management of the business and Mary on the product development. We share marketing between us.
What’s your five year vision for Allium B?
To continue to build the brand, increase our volumes and hopefully expand internationally.
And finally, what advice do you have for other wannabe designers?
Fashion is a very competitive market so be realistic about what you need to achieve to make your business viable – ensure you have good quality production and a robust marketing plan.
You can see the Allium B collection on their website.