This month I am so delighted to welcome Holly Scarsella, founder of resortwear brand Pampelone Clothing, to the #My9to5 family. Holly is one of the most intelligent, inspiring and downright lovely women I know, and you’re about to see why…
This is the longest #My9to5 feature I’ve ever published, because it was impossible to edit Holly’s answers down. If you’re a business owner – or dream of launching a your own brand one day – you’re sure to gain so much inspiration and motivation from Holly’s words. So grab a cup of tea, get comfortable, make sure you have a notepad to hand, and discover the story of Holly Scarsella’s 9 to 5…
Hi Holly! So, let’s start right from the beginning… How did you get your start, working in the fashion industry?
I started working in Fashion PR as soon as I graduated from university. I worked in agencies for about six years, representing brands like UGG Australia, Spanx and Tiffany & Co, before going in-house at Astley Clarke.
One of the things I learnt very early on, when working in PR, is that it’s not necessarily about having the best product in the world. It’s actually just about how well you market said product.
Over the years I helped represent some really mediocre brands. But just by marketing them correctly we made them sell out. And, on the other hand, we’d also see brilliant brands with very good products that didn’t have a strong marketing strategy or budget, and they quickly fell dead in the water.
What made you decide to leave the world of PR behind and start your own brand, Pampelone Clothing?
It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but I always knew that I wanted to set-up a brand one day. I did a lot of profiling for businesses, whilst working in PR, and the qualities that I saw in women who had launched their own businesses were also skills I recognised in myself. How tenacious they were, how they thought through their brands from every angle…
So for years I had the goal to set-up my own brand, and my ear was very much to the ground, in terms of thinking about what kind of product I could create.
Then I got married and went on my honeymoon. And whilst I was planning my honeymoon wardrobe I noticed there was a huge gap in the market for a well-priced resortwear brand. At the time, you could pick up cute pieces from Topshop and Zara. But for my honeymoon I wanted something a bit more special. And the only other options were your Melissa Odabash and your Mara Hoffmans, where you’d end up spending £400 for one beach dress.
At the time I remember thinking, “Do I really want to spend that much money on something that’s going to be on the beach covered in sand and suncream?” When you’re on holiday you just want to be comfortable in something that’s really good quality, looks great in your Instagram photos and can be chucked in the washing machine when you get home. So that’s where the idea from Pampelone Clothing came from.
Once you had the idea for Pampelone Clothing, how did you start developing the idea for the business?
Everything happened quite quickly for me, because I’d been thinking about starting a business for a long time. So I’d already had time to digest those tricky questions, like, “How am I going to afford to sustain myself? Am I going to quit my job?”
I got married and went on my honeymoon in August 2014, and I started taking the business idea seriously that October. The first thing I did was research the resortwear market. From reading tons of business books, I knew that research was the most important first step. If there’s a competitor out there you need to know before you start putting all of your time and energy into an idea that doesn’t have legs. So I spent an entire month researching competitive brands, the wholesale mixes at all of the biggest department stores, fabrics, manufacturers and websites.
Very quickly I realised I was going to need money to launch a business, so I Googled “startup business loans” and came across the Virgin StartUp Scheme, which offers business loans along with mentoring.
I applied for it when I was on my lunch-hour, one day, and I thought nothing would happen. But I got a call from them the very next day, and we scheduled a meeting for the following week.
What was the funding process like? And, after getting investment, what was your next step?
I attended the meeting with Virgin and everyone else had business plans or existing businesses. So I felt a bit stupid, because at that point I just had an idea. And when I chatted to my Virgin mentor they agreed it was very early stages, but decided to take me though to the next level because they thought my idea had merit.
So from about mid-October to November I worked insanely hard on putting a business plan together. And then another realisation came to me… Obviously summer was just over six months away, at that point, so I would either have to work my absolute hardest and launch something within six months, or wait another year and a half to launch.
I didn’t want to wait, so I decided to work non-stop for the next four months. I was working a full-time job at Astley Clarke, and also worked every evening and weekend to get Pampelone off the ground.
It was mental, but I worked incredibly hard and got all of the product ready. Once the stock was ordered and everything was ready to go I handed in my notice. I finished my job in mid-May and the Pampelone website went live on the 15th of June. I launched with nine designs and I had all of the stock in our spare bedroom. But three pieces sold out within a month of launch, and I was going to the post office at least four times a day to keep up with the orders. So I very quickly realised Pampelone was going to be much bigger than a little bedroom business.
What does your typical workday look like, if such a thing even exists for you?
I do everything and anything. I know that’s not a very exciting answer, but part of why I love working for myself is that every day is completely different.
For example, at the moment we’re launching a new collection, so we’ve just re-designed our website, and there’s been a lot of creative meetings focused around that. We’re just about to finalise designs for spring/summer 2019, so we’re also having a lot of meetings about fabrics and trims, right now. We’re planning a lot of marketing activity for the summer too, so I’m spending a lot of time viewing hotels and looking at different venues for photoshoots. But a few weeks ago it was very much about wholesale, and I was spending a lot of time visiting different accounts in London – like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. So it really is so different every day.
What is the biggest challenge that you currently face in your 9 to 5?
My biggest challenge is the age-old one that every woman – especially working mothers – talk about. It’s striving to get the work/life balance right. I think from a business perspective it goes back to delegation and learning to let go of the reins a bit more, as the brand grows.
Before I had my daughter, Sienna, I knew it would be difficult. But, in reality, it’s so much harder than you expect because you’ve got this gorgeous, amazing little face staring back at you. And all you want to do is play with them all day. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling to be able to enjoy being both a mother and a businesswoman.
I think for women there’s more of a conversation around “mum guilt” and struggling to get the work/life balance right. But my husband is a really hands-on father, and he gets up in the night with Sienna too. And sometimes it’s frustrating for him that men don’t receive the same level of understanding. He’s also desperate to see her if he’s working late, he also misses her. So this isn’t a challenge that’s exclusive to women. Men struggle with the work/life balance too.
Which other women in business inspire you on a daily basis?
There are two key inspirations for me, at the moment. I really love Emily Weiss from Glossier. As a business owner she has a really fresh perspective on how to market products to your customer. I think for business owners pushing products that have been around for years – for example, clothing and beauty – there is a way that you can form more of a connection with your customer, even if your product isn’t revolutionary. So she is really inspiring me.
And I’ve also been obsessed with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, since I did PR for her. She’s someone who really inspires me because of the principles that she has ingrained into her business. The principles that she lives by are that no matter how big your business becomes, as long as you take care of your core values things will take care of themselves. And a more successful business will come as a result.
It’s interesting how many men take note of her too. In this day and age if you ask a man who their business heroes are it’s not often that they name a woman, unfortunately. But I think Sara Blakely has resonated across the board, and a lot of men look up to her. So I think she’s great!
And, finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I think one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received came from a friend, who is also a business owner. She once said to me – excuse my language – “Just f***ing do it!”. Stop sitting around, stop thinking about what’s going to go right and what’s going to go wrong. Just do it.
I now go back and do mentoring with Virgin StartUp, and there are so many aspiring business owners who spend years putting together documents. But if you’ve done your research properly it’s time to stop talking about it and just go ahead and do it!
Yes, it’s good in business to do things properly, and take the time to set a good foundation for your brand. But you also just have to do it. And you can apply this advice to every element of business. Sales: stop sitting there complaining about a bad month of sales and go out there and do something about it. Social media: if you want to grow your social media following then just do something about it. Stop talking and do something. Be smart, and do it.
Catch up on the previous #my9to5 interviews here >>