Interview with fashion designer and entrepreneur Elif Kose

Find out how not having the education to get a good job in the UK inspired Elif Kose to launch her own fashion business.

What’s your career background?

So I come from Turkey and I grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs, my dad was a carpenter and my mother ran a hotel.

When I left my hometown, I worked in Istanbul for about nine months for a textile company where we were selling socks to the UK. Working with the UK instilled in me that I should come here, and my friends would encourage me to go and live here – they would often say ‘you seem so English, it’s like it’s in your blood!’.

The funny thing was, I couldn’t speak a word of English. So when I came here, I came here as an au pair earning £60 a week and worked in an alteration shop to earn some money. Here I created a really good friendship with the owner, and when she decided to move to France she asked if I wanted to take her alteration customers. I still have that list of names in a book I carry round with me to this day. 

At this point, I could still hardly pay my rent, and I decided to start a mobile alteration service. I went round, handing out cards and day by day it got busier and busier. Nine months later, I opened up my first shop and then the rest is history! 

How did your career change after having children?

I learnt how to delegate. Before becoming a mum, I was already my own marketing manager,  my social media manager, my own accountant – I was wearing so many hats. When I became a mother I knew that little child needed so much of me I just had to hire people and learn how to trust people with my business.

I know I had no issue trusting people in my personal life but trusting individuals with my business was hard, because it’s like having a baby in itself. So I learnt how to trust and how to delegate. It took me a while, I remember I had to have people for over a year, if not longer, before I could trust them to look after and help run my business. 

It was a massive learning curve; it taught me the importance of delegation, but it also taught me how to communicate clearly to increase productivity of my staff and ultimately my business. 

Where did the idea for your business come from? 

I’ve always wanted to be in fashion as a little girl but it was never planned, it wasn’t in my conscious plan. The idea of starting my business was purely to get my financial independence, it was the only way I only thing I knew that I could do without having to speak and being part of the team, because I thought my English wasn’t good enough.

I also thought that I didn’t have the education that was needed in the UK to apply for a good job so that was out of necessity I started my business. 

What’s your USP?

My unique selling point is that my background is in alterations, which means that I have worked with a variety of clothing, from sublime to ridiculous, and have dealt with all types of customers.

I’ve fitted clothes for my clients for the last 12 years, I have great knowledge on fabric and fit, andI know the dressmaking process from patternmaking to fabric technologies manufacturing. Having this background enables me to create bespoke clothing, and make pieces completely tailored to you and your style and this is what makes me unique.

You wouldn’t go to any designer shop and be able to order something in your size, in your colour and in your fabric, and I’m one of the very few that can actually provide this. 

Who’s your target audience?

Working professional women who are high achievers.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media and networking!

What’s been the biggest obstacle you had to overcome? 

My own mindset. Sometimes I’ve found that it’s been quite limiting, that I don’t think I deserve this, I think I can’t do it – that’s been the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome.

And your proudest moment so far?

My proudest moment was when I organised my first biggest event at the Grand, Brighton, last year for International Women’s Day. Here I brought women together to enjoy themselves and be inspired by the speakers and talk about how much we’ve achieved as woman.

At the same time I created a platform for my speakers to share their incredible stories and businesses. It was my turning point I think in terms of doing bigger events and actually COVID has also given me the opportunity to now do this event globally, so I’m so grateful for this.

Not only do I have the ability to do things bigger on an international scale, but I’m now connected to women across the globe. I never would have had that opportunity if it wasn’t for COVID.

Why is work so important to you?

It’s because I’ve never been a selfish person and my work allows me to provide a safe space to other women to find confidence with their clothing. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, I’d die of sadness!

Who inspires you?

Every one inspires me. My best friend inspires me, my team inspires me, Maya Angelo inspires me.

However, if I had to single one person out I’d say Oprah Winfrey. She has given so much to people, you know like in her programmes where she was literally handing people money and cars, she has such a fantastic platform to give back and I’d love to be like that and be able to offer women every opportunity they’ve ever wanted.

How do you balance your work with your family?

I have a clear weekly plan. When I’m with Luca, I’m doing my Mummy job, when I’m in the shop I’m a businesswoman, I don’t think of my son. It’s about wearing the right hat at the right time. 

What are your three top pieces of advice to someone wanting to do something similar?

Find your why, why you’re doing it and clarify your passion. The second thing would be to have a clear plan, you can always change it but having a plan will always clarify your route. The third thing is just believe in yourself.

Find out more about Elif Kose.