This post has gone out on International Women’s Day 2018. And what better way to mark the occasion than with another inspiring #My9to5 feature? International Women’s Day was created to celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”, so it’s the perfect time to share a new career-focused interview.
And this month I sat down with best friends, Lesa Bennett and Jemma Fennings, who founded the accessories brand Olivia Burton. Over the past six years, Lesa (above right) and Jemma (above left) have worked non-stop to make their brand a success. And here they share the story behind Olivia Burton…
Hi Lesa. Hi Jemma! So, how did you first meet? And what made you decide to launch a business together?
Lesa: Jemma and I met while we were studying at The London College of Fashion. And we both went on to become fashion buyers, working for the likes of Topshop and ASOS. During our time in the industry we noticed there was a lack of stylish but affordable watches out there for women, so we decided to do something about it! Quitting our jobs in 2011 to set up our own brand was the best decision we’ve ever made. It’s been over six years since we took that leap, and we’re so proud and excited that Olivia Burton has continued to go from strength to strength.
Jemma: As Lesa said, we both took the plunge and left our jobs to go it alone. It was a tough decision, because we were advised not to by a few people. The brand is named after Lesa’s great aunt, who was a huge support and really gave us the confidence to follow our dreams.
Our first designs took inspiration from nature and the catwalk trends, and these remain constant sources of inspiration for our collections today.
What was the first big turning point for Olivia Burton? And when did you start to feel like the business was going to be successful?
Lesa: Harvey Nichols snapped up our debut collection, which instantly sold out. That was a real pinch-me moment! And it’s just been the most incredible journey ever since then, to be honest. Launching our first shop in Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship store was another huge moment for us. It’s such a wonderful feeling to see customers around the world falling in love with the pieces.
What do your typical workdays look like? If a typical workday even exists in your world…
Jemma: I tend to be a late riser – largely because I’m always so connected to social media throughout the evening. Olivia Burton now has a big following outside the UK, which makes switching off at the end of the workday even more tricky!
I’m generally in the office by 9.30am, every morning. My commute is about an hour, so I tackle all of my emails en route. I’m in the office three days a week, and I spend the rest of the week with my son, Albie. Each day is totally different, but our roles are very easily divided up. I look after all of the brand creative, product design and development at Olivia Burton.
Lesa: I’m also usually in the office by 9:30am, and I like to start my day with a light breakfast and a good cup of tea. I look after the strategy and help to drive our growth. My emails are always the first thing I look at in the morning, but I actually prefer face-to-face communication. It’s so underrated these days and something we’re losing as we become more and more reliant on technology.
How do you like to unwind after a busy week at work?
Jemma: Quality time with family, friends and my son is really important. Albie loves being outdoors, so weekends are often spent in the forest hunting for Gruffalos! And I usually spend my evenings binging on a box set – right now Suits is my favourite.
Lesa: Spending time with my son, Broderick, is how I love to switch off. Although sometimes playing games with him can be more tiring than work! I also love to cook, and I find it so relaxing after a long day in the office.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to go into business with a friend?
Jemma: Be prepared to disagree, and think about how you’ll tackle disagreements when they do arise. It’s hard to believe it will ever happen, but it’s important you agree on a plan that outlines how you’ll handle differences of opinion along the way.
You need to learn how to leave work at the office and appreciate other people’s honesty and opinion.
Lesa: I’d recommend setting out roles and responsibilities ahead of time, so it’s clear what you’re both accountable for. Naturally, you’ll have different strengths, so play on what you’re both best at. And remember to listen to the other person. Communication is the key to every happy relationship.
Along with that, don’t forget to make time for your friendship. Keep doing the things you loved to do as friends before the business came along, whether that’s having a shopping day, going out for dinner or booking a girly city break.
Which other women working in the industry inspire you on a daily basis?
Jemma: I’m really inspired by Emma Hill. What she did at Mulberry was incredible – she breathed so much personality and energy into that brand. I’m also hugely inspired by the successful women in my family. My aunt Germana showed me that you can be fun, friendly and highly successful. And my Auntie Pat is a successful accountant who managed to enjoy her career whilst also raising an amazing family.
Lesa: I’m inspired by the women in my family too. Our brand is actually named after my great aunt, who has been a huge source of inspiration and support to both Jemma and I. I’m also inspired by the talented women in our office. All of our girls work incredibly hard and are so passionate about what they do. The brand wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for such an amazing team effort.
And, finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Jemma: Don’t spend too long planning. Sometimes it’s all in the doing.
Lesa: Learn when to say no. Sometimes it’s better not to do something, rather than rush things and execute it poorly. We’re really passionate about getting the little details right at Olivia Burton!
~ This post was sponsored by Olivia Burton – a brand that I love and will be working with throughout 2018. Thank you for continuing to support the sponsors that make Coco’s Tea Party possible. ~
Catch up on the previous #my9to5 interviews here >>