Wow, where did the time go?

It just seems a minute ago that Zoe decided to strike out on her own and found Lily Ella.

During her 2nd maternity leave and after 10 years working her way up as a fashion buyer, Zoe decided the time was right to realise her long term ambition and set up her own brand.  

The Lily Ella story is the stuff of entrepreneurial legend.  With a baby on her hip and a toddler at her knees, Zoe started the business at home round her kitchen table in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Having worked in classic ladieswear, Zoe used her expertise to target the market she knows best.  She decided to offer beautifully made, interesting but wonderfully comfortable clothes for the mature woman. 

The inspiration for the name came easily – Lily Ella are her two little girls’ names.  Home office sorted (ie kitchen table cleared!), name registered and with a logo based on Zoe’s own flowing handwriting, it was go, go, go!

Initially just running a few lines in styles which she knew were going to be great sellers, Zoe called on contacts old and new to pull her first Collection together.  It was a mountain to climb getting samples together for the very first Lily Ella photo shoot.  There wasn’t much time in hand to hit the Autumn Winter season and the run up to Christmas.  Leaving her husband in charge of the children and with her car piled high with photography samples and accessories, shoe boxes jostling with bags of coat hangers and cases stuffed full of outfits, Zoe set off for London and the photography studio where she’d put together a team she knew she could trust to deliver the imagery for the first Lily Ella catalogue and web collection.  

It was a heady and exciting first shoot! As the photos on the schedule started getting ticked off the Lily Ella concept suddenly started feeling very real!  A new brand was born! After that first 2 day shoot Zoe was itching to get back home and see her family, so, after waiting for the all pictures to be processed she set off at 7pm with car piled as high as before but with the added bonus of a hard drive on board containing all those precious images.   It was nearly 2am when she got home to bed, having driven back through driving rain, wondering all the way what she was taking on!  

Starting a company didn’t just mean putting a clothes Collection together – she could do that already, Zoe suddenly found herself responsible for all kinds of things which simply hadn’t entered her orbit before.  Web design, data protection, marketing, designing and printing a catalogue, selecting mailing houses, choosing packaging, payment systems, accountants, banks, the list was never ending.  Key to everything was appointing suppliers and manufacturers who adhered to the same high standards as Zoe, and who would be utterly trustworthy and who would help her on the Lily Ella journey.  This is a mantra which Zoe still abides by. It is all worth it when you have the finished catalogue in your hands!

Above is two of our 2014 catalogues when we were only a year old!

Zoe’s first employee was Julie who she’d worked with previously.  Julie came on board (round the kitchen table!) and took the phone calls and processed customer orders and helped with everything else in those early days.  She unpacked clothes deliveries, packed customer orders and took turns with Zoe to run to the Post Office with the day’s parcels.   She even did a bit of babysitting!  The local post master soon came to know Lily Ella very well indeed and was a great help in the days before Royal Mail would come and collect from Lily Ella. 

Zoe’s other key support in the early days came from Lesley, a garment technologist with whom Zoe had also worked previously.  Lesley quality checked the samples and production runs for Lily Ella and helped bring the first Collection to fruition.

Zoe’s living room was soon piled high with boxes which looked like crazy giant building blocks alongside the ball pool and toys. Before long the garage was decked out with industrial shelving bursting with carefully labelled stock and after the first successful season it became obvious that ‘premises’ had to be found!

With so much to do, Zoe’s husband Simon now started getting more involved in the business and sourced the nearby business village where Lily Ella took on a small office and warehouse space.  With access to meeting rooms and with Royal Mail now able to make collections from Lily Ella, things suddenly started feeling a whole lot more grown up.  Zoe took on extra staff to handle orders and warehousing so she could devote more time to creating and developing her ranges. Zoe relished each and every challenge and realised that Lily Ella was indeed her destiny and she really did want to grow this business.

Photo shoots got progressively longer and the Collections became bigger.  The long London drives became impractical so the shoots moved further north to Manchester where there is a wealth of fashion expertise.  Then a few seasons further in Zoe moved to a renowned fashion photographer who has a wonderful studio near York – and it’s only a blissful 90 minutes drive from home!

The talent for the photo shoot team is drawn together from all over the place.  Our gorgeous models often fly in as their schedules take them all over the world, particularly during ‘catalogue season’.   Our favourite hair and make-up artist is based in London whilst our Art Director and stylist are from near Manchester.  The shoot is always busy, busy, busy but it’s great to see a whole season’s development work and planning come together as the photography proceeds.  The team always has fun guessing which designs the customers are going to love most!  

These days Zoe has the benefit a fashion intern from the feted fashion course at Northumbria University.  The intern comes and spends a year in house getting hands on experience across the board in the world of Lily Ella.  Attending the shoot is always a highlight of the intern’s time at Lily Ella.  This year the lovely Emily has been a star!

Once the shots are in the can the catalogue artwork starts in earnest and suppliers are chased for timely deliveries of the stock.  Sometimes it’s a scramble to not only get the catalogue printed and out on time, but also to get all the stock delivered and on the shelves in time for each new season’s launch, but somehow it always happens.  

Five years in the catalogues and the website are more polished, the clothes more varied and Lily Ella has gone beyond those initial baby steps, Lily Ella’s found her feet and stands proud as a success story in a tough market.  

The irreplaceable Julie and Lesley are still on board and with Zoe every step of the way, but have been joined by an enthusiastic dedicated team covering customer service, warehousing and merchandising totalling 11 people.  The ‘office’ has expanded to become ‘offices’ and the warehouse has had to be knocked through into the next unit to cope with demand!  

There have been ups and downs along the way of course, including the frustrations of getting a delayed new website online and the awful day the team arrived at work to find the whole office flooded out!  However, the ups far, far exceed the downs.

At the heart of this success is the Lily Ella customer.  We know she’s not a mythical lady as she buys from us and tells her friends!  We wouldn’t be anywhere without support of the customers and are so thankful every day for such a loyal and responsive customer base. 

Zoe’s little girls are now 7 and 5 and Zoe always prioritises fitting in family time around her busy business.  Zoe’s husband Simon helps run the business too, but the design and production of the clothes is all in Zoe’s capable hands.

On their recent trip to London the girls were wondering which of the 700+ rooms the Queen might be in and whether she might pop out and give the girls a cuddle!

So the first chapter closes on a high and the Lily Ella story continues as we celebrate our fifth birthday and the launch of our Autumn Winter 18 Collection.  Wonder where we’ll be in another 5 years?  Watch this space, we want you at our side!



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