The mentee Kate Starkey, katestarkeycouture.com, tailor
The mentor Chantal Coady, Rococo, chocolate retailer
The matchmaker FreshIdeas, a networking community for female entrepreneurs and corporate women.
No one had been servicing the tailoring needs of businesswomen. I did my research and women who had been fitted on Savile Row were frustrated with the service.
My clients have no time, they earn a lot, they’ve got top-level clients and they need to look and feel fabulous. I started off with bespoke shirts. We also do bespoke shift dresses, coats, and suits. We’re extending into business luggage and accessories and I’m thinking along the lines of a Savile Row boutique—everything that a working woman needs. I also do uniforms for corporate organisations-a lot of the large banks, for example. It’s an untapped market.
I was matched with Chantal last December. It’s been invaluable. Chantal is well placed because she’s a niche retail business as well. She’s been doing it for 26 years. I’ll download the issues I’m having and she’ll say what’s important and what’s not. She puts everything in perspective. I make decisions by myself but Chantal double-checks me. She’s been incredible with the number of ideas she’s suggested and thinking out of the box.
Being proactive is key. Think for yourself and then put it to your mentor. They’re delighted to help but don’t sit around waiting for your mentor to call-they’re busy people. Write down what you’re going to do before the next meeting. The onus is on you to make the first move.
Everyone who’s successful in their field has a responsibility to share that in some way, whether it’s doing charitable things or mentoring or both. I don’t think you can put yourself in an ivory tower and say, “I’m too busy.” I’ve been in business for a long time so I’ve learnt lots of lessons, probably the hard way. Not that I’m telling Kate what to do, but I hope I’m able to guide her, and call her to account, because when you’re a small business you don’t tend to have someone asking you searching questions.
She had a wish list. I’ve talked her through the implications of getting an investor. It’s a critical thing in business-if you’re going to do it, what you’re going to get for it. Perhaps explore some other possibilities.
There needs to be a certain amount of rigour; it sounds formal but write down exactly what you’re going to talk about and then have an action plan, otherwise it gets too woolly.
There’s a huge chasm between the vision and getting it to run. Kate’s at that critical moment—being quite small but having an ambitious idea of what she wants to do. I think potentially she could do a Paul Smith for women-really classic tailoring with some twists to make it her own quirky brand. I think that sort of thing has a huge appeal, particularly if you’re a lawyer or a banker. You have to fit into a certain pattern but you don’t want to be just another suit.