How COVID-19 inspired Alexia Genta, the queen of haute couture alterations, to launch a new business – and support Women’s Aid
COVID-19, and the resulting lockdown, has thrown most entrepreneurs a curve ball this year.
Some have had to shut their businesses completely. Some can only operate partially. And others have found a way to pivot (surely the word of 2020?) and look for a new way to serve their customers.
One such entrepreneur is Alexia Genta, the ‘queen of haute couture alterations’. Alexia was forced to put her business Alexia Alterations, on hold in lockdown.
But rather than simply sit and wait for things to return to normal again, Alexia launched a new business, inspired by lockdown – Geraldine London.
Find out where the idea for the new business came from, and why Alexia is donating 20% of all sales to Women’s Aid.
What inspired you to go into haute couture alterations?
This is quite a long story… Before launching my business, I had a corporate job in Marketing. I managed to save enough money to afford my first beautiful dress. I remember it so well: it was a gorgeous Dries Van Noten silk dress.
I was so proud to be able to treat myself and I wanted the dress to fit me like a glove. So I took it to the tailor that was most recommended by my mum’s friends. They were supposed to be the best, had all the celebrities visiting them etc. I was quite excited to go!
When I arrived I was so disappointed. It was a dark little place, with a dusty carpet and a fitting room with a curtain that wouldn’t close properly. The tailor was eating a sandwich and did not wash his hands before doing my fitting. I was gutted to see little grease marks over my beautiful dress.
The work done was average, the thread colour didn’t match and the fit was so so. How was it possible that this was considered the best alterations shop in London?!
At the time I didn’t really enjoy my corporate job and I felt a little bit stuck. So I guess that subconsciously the wheels were turning. I started asking affluent ladies where they went for alterations and they would all say “Never in London, I take them to Paris or Milan”, or “I had the worst experience in that place”. I felt there was a real need in London and became obsessed!
One year of sewing lessons later, Alexia Alterations was born!
What do you love most about your work?
Definitely meeting my clients. My clients are incredible women and I am privileged to hear their stories. Many of them are successful businesswomen and give me a lot of advice. We also fit celebrities and royals, so it is so much fun!
I also love making them feel better. Many women do not like their bodies, but they don’t realise that this can be fixed without going to the gym! They are just not dressing for their body shapes. I try to advise them on what they can do to look their best. It is such a lovely feeling to see my clients wear their dress with so much more confidence after it has been altered.
How much of an influence are your parents on your work?
Huge. In fact I would say it is probably my biggest influence. My father, Gérald was a watch designer, the best in his field. He was a pure artist and viewed the world in a completely different way.
He was quite an unconventional father where he kept telling me to stop doing my homework and go draw or look at nature. In these difficult times I tried to think creatively just as he would’ve. In fact I named my latest venture Géraldine after him and launched the brand on what would’ve been his 89th birthday.
My mother is the polar opposite of my father. She is a super rational, intellectual and strong businesswoman. She kept dragging me back to my books when my father was pulling me away from them. I learnt so much from her but mainly to respect the people I work with. I always watched her manage people with so much kindness and empathy and I hope I inherited this from her.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
Just like most other businesses I had to shut my doors for lockdown. It is a real disaster for us because this is our busiest season due to so many events taking place in the spring and summer such as weddings, races and the Chelsea Flower show.
My business was growing so much before COVID-19 and finally in a place where it was doing very well, so I was so looking forward to this season.
What gave you the idea to make headbands instead?
Firstly I love headbands and I wear them all the time. My hair is naturally messy and a headband is the perfect fix. I also find them very flattering. Just like a pair of earrings, headbands bring light to the face.
When Italy went into lockdown, I knew I had to get ready for a similar scenario in London. My seamstress needed her job, and I needed cash to come in. But working from home, in a smaller space without the adequate equipment is more than limiting.
Headbands were the perfect solution as they are small accessories and do not require much equipment. For a couture seamstress (who worked at Ralph & Russo) that’s a piece of cake!
We Facetime each other everyday to decide on the design, colour, fabric and process. We keep up with each others lives and laugh every day. Thank god for technology!
What makes your headbands special?
We only use the highest quality fabrics from those I’ve accumulated over years of altering couture and luxury brands. The fabrics are so gorgeous and include delicate lace, real and faux leathers, silk tulles and satin to die for from any brand you can think of on Bond Street.
Due to the small amounts of fabrics I have, each collection is incredibly limited and many pieces are unique.
The headbands are also made by a seamstress who, let’s face it, is way overskilled to be making headbands! Unlike factory made headbands, each headband is handmade, which is so much more special.
I also think that our prices are decent. There are other brands which are listed on Net A Porter which offer headbands that are so cheaply made but are so much more expensive.
You’re giving 20% of all sales to Women’s Aid. Why is this a cause close to your heart?
I think that business for business sake in these difficult times didn’t sit right with me. I then read an article about the increase in domestic abuse during lockdown. I immediately turned to my husband and thought to myself how lucky I am to feel safe at home. How awful would it be to feel unsafe in your own home and not be able to go out?
Perhaps I relate to women so easily because my life is about women. I work with women and for women.
I think Women’s Aid are doing an amazing job and that their live chat initiative is so important. This is what I can do now to help. I hope that more people will read it and feel as compelled as I do to support this cause.
What advice do you have for other businesses who can’t work as normal right now?
Be entrepreneurial. When I started Alexia Alterations I had nothing to loose – I was fearless. I just went for it and “see what happens”. Then the daily fires needed to be put out and it became all about operations. It meant that after a while, all I saw were problems, not opportunities.
Right now is an opportunity to step back and think creatively. I thought of headbands so I just did it without asking myself too many questions. I went straight in and thought: “Well this is it now: I am going to give it my best shot!”.
I wouldn’t recommend this in more normal conditions of course and I think my marketing professor would kill me if she read this! But I think in these extraordinary times “Go for it” is my motto. So far it has been working as we already sold out a few models and sold a lot of headbands. Fingers crossed!
Love a beautiful, handmade headband? Visit Geraldine London.