Brora is that rare phenomenon – a successful British fashion brand which is traditional but also innovative, is adored by its customers, and has stayed independent. How did Victoria do it?
When your first shop opened, was it your ambition to grow to 20+?
I opened my first shop in Chelsea’s Kings Rd in 1995; it was my baby (before the three girls) and has been part of the family ever since. I thought I’d never open a second shop, let alone a fleet of them!
Was there a breakthrough moment in the company’s life?
We had a very lucky kickstart; 6 months after founding, there was an article in a daily newspaper – pre-internet days – that compared our cashmere to 10 other brands and we were ranked in the number 1 spot! It was a brilliant affirmation of our cashmere and our reputation just took off.
The mill in the Scottish Borders where Brora designs are made
What decision are you most proud of?
To make as much as possible in the UK from the start. We were sourcing sustainably before the word was associated with fashion and it has been a pleasure to work with so many incredibly talented and local craftspeople since day one. It has also kept me close to home and able to form meaningful relationships with suppliers.
Susie, Paula, Irene, Netty and Margaret knitting children's scarves
What's the hardest thing about business?
Paying fixed rents on shops. I wish landlords worked more in partnership with tenants taking a percentage of trade, benefiting from the highs and riding the lows together. It should be more of a collaboration.
What’s the worst mistake you’ve made?
I’ve made many, I’m sure. Cashmere hot pants?!
Seemed like a good idea at the time ...
Actually opening shops in 'bling' places with disposable income thinking they’d love us and realising too late that we were way too understated to appeal. Our lack of logos was commercial suicide!
In your shops, men’s clothes seem to be about 10% of the range. Will Brora always be more focused on women than men?
I love the fact that we offer the largest range of men’s Scottish Cashmere knitwear in the UK from classics to stripes, textures, herringbone patterns and our unique Donegal cashmere. We’re experimented with other lines over the years but the English man generally loves a navy round neck jumper and they aren’t great shoppers! Our ladies will always be tempted by a new something each season.
Outside the UK, which are your biggest markets?
America by far and we have a shop in New York which helps spread the word. However in the Covent Garden and Edinburgh shops particularly we see all nationalities; Scandinavians love Brora!
Who are your business heroes?
My father was a great inspiration. He taught me to take risks, write business plans on the back of an envelope, and always believe.
In the fashion world, I admire people who’ve made a success of a brand by sticking to their own very stylish aesthetic and not being swayed by the vagaries of fashion. Margaret Howell is a good example.
How much of business success is inspiration, how much perspiration?
As I’ve got older and feel like I’ve almost seen it all - although the next few months might bring something fresh to the table - I am less anxious as it is often a case of holding tight. If the consumer is not in the mood to shop due to things outside one’s control ie weather, economic uncertainty, you can’t panic. That’s easier said than done.
I feel inspired daily. With two stylish step-daughters and three daughters all running a very different look, I’m constantly being fed new ideas. Charity shop raids come back for dyeing, sewing, shortening, patch-working and eventually discarding. Amongst them is always the seed of a new design. Right now there’s a lot of knitted tanks so watch this space!
Victoria's daughters and step-daughters keep her on her toes
In 20 years time, what will Brora look like?
Much the same I hope! I think what people love about the brand is the familiarity, the sense of tradition and nostalgia, the cosiness and colour and the fact there really is genuinely something for every member of the family in a relatively small space. I really hope we will still be supporting the very best local mills too!
Victoria in Brora's Edinburgh shop
If you hadn’t been en entrepreneur, what would you like to have been?
An art teacher
What single piece of advice would you give a fledgling entrepreneur today?
You must be decisive, passionate and fair.
Thank you Victoria.
Brora has shops in Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh (2), London (4), Guildford, Harrogate, Oxford, St Andrews and New York, as well as in 6 John Lewis stores. It publishes beautiful catalogues several times a year.