Interview with Yvette Stubbs and Karen Skagerlind from pre-loved consignment boutique Willow & Eve
Yvette Stubbs and Karen Skagerlind, the team behind Willow & Eve, a pre-loved consignment boutique for premium brands, talk about their business and why they believe buying pre-loved is now the most fashionable way to shop!
What’s your career background?
Yvette: I was a mum of three at a young age and felt I didn’t really get the opportunities to pursue a career of my choice. Whilst at home I took up a cake decorating course and started to sell occasion cakes, which I did for several years, however when my youngest came along I gave that up to concentrate on the family. I’ve always wanted to have my own business so now they are older it seemed the right time to focus on building one.
Karen: My background is in retail buying. I did a management course at Harrods and went onto become a buyer of luxury leather goods and then designer jewellery. I have fond memories of being at Harrods as well as the unforgettable time our doorways were filled with floral tributes to Princess Diana after her death. Working for one of the world’s most famous stores was a career high and from there I went onto Accessorize and then the Arcadia group.
How did your career change after having children?
Karen: We moved to the South coast when the children came along and buying roles outside of London were few and far between. However, the expectation to travel frequently and lack of flexi hours meant I never went back into buying.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Yvette: I met Karen at the school gates and as our daughters were friends, we started to spend more time together. We found that we both had a passion for sustainability as well as wanting to start a business venture in the near future.
I was interested in her fashion background and discussed how we were concerned about the throw away clothing culture. We felt the fashion consumer craved a more sustainable way to shop and high street retailers were offering recycling schemes and promoting their sustainability credentials. It just seemed the right time to open up a pre-loved clothing boutique
Karen: When we heard that a traditional dress agency was closing after trading for ten years in our local village of Rustington we were excited about evolving the business and continuing to promote the message for slow fashion, something we both believed in.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
Yvette: When we knew the business was up for sale, we approached the owner who told us they already had an offer to buy as a going concern.
A few weeks later they got in touch to say that it had fallen through, and they were closing the business and the shop was up to let if we were still interested. To us it was a sign, so we made an offer, we didn’t really have time to think about it.
After overseeing a stylish shop fit we finally opened Willow & Eve in June of 2019.
What’s your USP?
Yvette: We want every customer to receive great service and a personal approach that you’d find in an independent store, whilst offering a surprising range of brands at affordable prices. We truly believe that pre-loved fashion is the way to refresh your wardrobe without costing the earth.
Karen: We curate the stock carefully and in doing so have created a boutique that reflects everything positive about pre-loved clothing. Our clients receive 50% of the selling price when items sell so it’s a win/win approach to keeping the stock turning every few weeks.
Who’s your audience?
Yvette: Anyone who wants to choose a more sustainable way of clothes shopping; the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world so buying pre-loved is the first step you can take to change that.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Yvette: We have a very limited marketing budget, and initially we depended on word of mouth to increase our footfall. Because we have high standards and guidelines we’ve built up our reputation and now have repeat customers. It’s so rewarding when we receive great feedback and can use customer testimonials on social media platforms, Instagram & Facebook.
Karen: We also use local media; we’ve supported a ‘Bring Us Your Bras’ campaignwith Spirit FM and post Covid did a Back in Business campaign with V2 West Sussex radio.
What’s been the most successful marketing strategy?
Karen: We paid for featured articles in ‘All about magazine’; a community magazine serving the local area, which definitely attracted new customers.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome so far?
Yvette: Welaunched our online store just before the first lockdown and faced the challenge of trading during a very difficult year. We quickly realised we needed to be in the shop to maintain and keep the online business active, which was extremely difficult when we were both home schooling!
How has the business been affected by Covid?
Karen: The landscape on the high street has changed massively during Covid with a lot of recognised retailers going into administration. Being Pre-loved actually worked in our favour; because we depend on clients for our inventory we were able to adapt to customer buying patterns quickly. Casual separates were in demand, occasion and cruise wear, ranges that we’d normally offer, were not.
Yvette: We’ve just started to consign more occasion wear as wedding parties expand in line with the government guidelines. It may be too early to take in cruise wear but we’re hopeful holidays will get the go ahead soon and they’ll be plenty of stock in for staycations!
What are your plans for the future?
As well as a “Little Willow & Eve’ offer we’ve also just consigned our first pre-loved wedding dress and hope to grow that side of the business too. Buying pre-loved clothing has definitely lost its stigma and we find our customers love the feel-good factor of shopping pre-owned items as well as the buzz you get with a bit of retail therapy!
And your proudest moment so far?
Yvette: When we did a session for a school’s eco committee and fashion club, highlighting the damage fast fashion has on the environment, the children’s knowledge, interest and enthusiasm was great to see. We were then featured in the local press, Worthing Herald, something we may not have been able to afford otherwise.
Why is work so important to you?
Karen: It gives you a purpose outside the needs of the family, so you can maintain a sense of self. Like a lot of women who have a career they love, within any industry, I felt I lost that identity when I became a mum.
What are your top pieces of advice for someone who wants to do something similar?
Yvette: Invest in your branding. We used Fiona Hamilton at Roccoco and absolutely love our logo; it easily translates what our business is about.
Karen: Do something you are passionate about, on bad days you’ll still know you are doing something you believe in, and for us it’s about helping the environment as there is no planet B!