Interview with Beth Pollak and Delphine McNeill from Livotte
Read how fashion industry professionals Beth Pollak and Delphine McNeill were inspired to launch Livotte – a fashion brand that elevates the t-shirt to a luxury staple – after meeting as mothers.
What’s your career background?
We have both worked in fashion in NY, London, Milan and Paris for nearly 20 years each! Beth in editorial at Lucky magazine and then in wholesale for Joe’s Jeans, and Delphine producing runway shows and then in PR and Special Events at Barneys New York.
How did your career change after having children?
We met and started Livotte after the birth of our now three-year-old daughters: Livvy and Charlotte. We loved many of our silk blouses from our former office days but were in need of a less fussy staple. We immediately noticed a void in the market.
Our priorities were definitely different after a few children. We wanted our style to remain chic yet be more effortless.
Where did the idea for Livotte come from?
For much of her career, Beth was immersed in the ever growing US denim and t-shirt industry. Designers were radicalising the look of denim but the white tee was not evolving. It’s versatile and a major item in a woman’s wardrobe. We set out to elevate the t-shirt to a luxury staple.
The brand is named after our daughters, Livvy and Charlotte because we want to show them that we can dictate our own course. We can be mums and entrepreneurs, make our cake and eat it too!
How did you move from idea to actual business?
Oh the journey! We began by pulling out all of our favourite silk tops, comparing special details and then simply started “designing” our capsule collection. We scoured the market for an organic cotton jersey fabric, one with just the right amount of weight and an unfaltering quality.
This meant attending every fabric show in town and talking to every mill from Italy to Portugal to South America. A few even suggested we’d be better off with reality show or stand up comedy routine about starting our company!
We called and trekked to every London factory (who would see us) from Lewisham to Wembley. We sampled with several of them and tried and tested different fabrics all while sourcing the right pattern maker. Eventually we came across a small factory who understood our mission and was able to make our vision come to life.
London is our home so Made in London was always a requirement. We were naive as to how challenging this would be. Hard as it may have been, we can now proudly say that we ride the tube to our factory and our organic fabric comes from a mill just outside the M25.
What’s your USP?
We have several!
- Made in London.
- Organic cotton with a touch of branded lycra.
- Quality (machine washable fabric tested to 200 washes for colorfastness, shrinkage and torquing).
- Free global shipping.
- Personal customer service.
Who’s your target audience?
Smart women who have effortless style, lead busy lives and appreciate sustainable fashion.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
It’s very organic. We are active on social media (check us out on Instagram) and are engaged in our community through our activities and our kids, through charities and networking. A few times a year we organise or participate in shopping events with like minded local designers.
We have hosted these in private homes, member’s clubs and restaurants. Some have a charity tie in because for us it’s not all about consumption but also about giving back and raising awareness.
Additionally, we host a monthly drinks get together on the last Wednesday of every month (this is called a stammtisch- an informal gathering of friends) where women can meet or catch up, network and be social.
It’s as much a place to moan about the school run with an old friend as a place to plan a future vacation by talking to a new acquaintance. Our stammtisch has become very popular. It’s a great way to bring women we love together and meet new ones.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
To date we have put minimal marketing budget in place as we are less than a year old. Marketing is constantly evolving and we are open to all possible ideas. Being self- funded and a lean operation of two, we have our hands in every part of our business.
We describe our strategy as grassroots/guerrilla marketing. In our second year we will focus more on digital marketing and will continue to develop a more precise strategy.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Fabric sourcing and finding a factory were two huge challenges. Neither of us has a garment production background. However, we were persistent, kept moving, even if sometimes it felt like it was backward. We met with and spoke to as many people as possible and listened to a variety of feedback. We still work at this tirelessly day in and day out.
Both of us being quite high energy and type A, we hustle. We know from many years in the fashion industry that few survive and nothing comes for free. We get an email, we respond immediately; it’s the fashion world we were raised in. Especially when it’s your own business, you want to see progress and want to always be thinking ahead. It’s hard to accept that not everyone works at our fast pace. We are small yet mighty.
And your proudest moment so far?
Hope it’s ok if we give you two!
It is wonderful to hear from family, friends and acquaintances that we have created a beautiful and desired product. However, this past May 2017 Anna Murphy wrote a full page on Livotte in The Times, it was affirming in an entirely different way!
That day and the days following the article, orders came flooding in from across the UK. For us, the success of Livotte became a reality; women all over the country were loving what we do, appreciating the quality and design of our collection and were choosing to support us.
Brands spend seasons and years pitching retailers. This was not our goal. We created Livotte as a vertical business, to be an e-tailer. We enjoy selling directly to our client and listening to their needs. However, we are well aware that everyone wants to know who carries your brand, who gives it clout, who legitimises it.
We were thrilled to be approached by Harvey Nichols a few months ago. They are excited about us and we’ve recently launched with them on-line. It’s a major step for us to be included in one of the world’s top retailers. We are very proud.
A press coup followed by a retail coup, this really has been a year we couldn’t have orchestrated better ourselves!
Why is work so important to you?
We are both daughters of working women and our moms are our best friends. They taught us the importance of having a life outside of motherhood and that having something of your own can make you a happier mother.
We are teaching our daughters the same values. Being a full-time mum is the hardest job and often the least appreciated. Working full-time for someone can leave you missing your family. The balance is so tricky. Finding something fulfilling is the ultimate dream.
Who inspires you?
Women everywhere. We have a monthly newsletter called Modern Women Doing Great Things. It’s a forum for us to praise and support women we admire because they are passionate about a product, service, charity or mission. We ask them a few questions so they can share their journey with our network.
For us, Livotte is about more than selling tops, we are creating a community where women show other women everything is possible.
How do you balance your business with your family?
Some days are easier than others. For us it’s clear that our children come first. We often divide and conquer. We are so fortunate that in spite of agreeing on most decisions, we have very different yet complementary skills.
We use the little time we have to focus and prioritise what needs to get accomplished daily. We are always multitasking, planning ahead and using the down time to prepare for the busy moments.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- It’s an uphill battle – don’t give up; keep plugging away with little steps and focus on the future. Mistakes are all about learning and all the past should tell you is how far along you actually are. Things will change, what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, so what?
- Be open – meet with everyone and anyone who will! Advice and learning from others is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with what you are being told, there is something to learn from everyone and each connection will lead you to another. Be a connector, help others, no one knows exactly what their doing.
- No one knows you’re overwhelmed but you – there may be tons of moving parts and mini disasters all around but no one knows that! Take a moment and pull yourself together.
You can find out more about Livotte on their website.