Discussing women’s suits and creating a niche fashion line from an IT background, all as a busy working mother.
Laide Lewal plays a key balancing act, and successfully shows up to everything in her life and niche fashion eCommerce business. She’s a 36-year-old married mother with two children, and is currently based out of London. Her background is in Information Technology (IT), which stems from her studies in Computer Science at King’s College University London. Currently, she works in IT Project Management.
Besides her work in project management and fashion, Laide’s passions involve sci-fi, traveling, dancing, reading, and spending time with her family. Her major interest in life is engaging in various areas where she can further explore and utilize her creativity.
We sat down and discussed women’s suits, skill sets, and key tips she has for others approaching business passions that may be different than their current line of work. Finally, we learn her insights on creating a fashion brand from scratch, differentiating from others in the fashion marketplace, and how to balance work and life.
Our chat with Style & Suit
Camille Outside The Box: Tell me a little more about your business. What do you do? How did you get started?
Laide: Style & Suit was founded in October 2018 and officially launched its online retail store in March 2020. Style & Suit specialises in ready to wear, classy and stylish tailored suits for women. I’ve always loved fashion and love experimenting with different designs and textiles. I love classic and timeless designs and suits are one of my favourites. There’s just an unspoken confidence with elegance in a suit. I love power suits that exude femininity with sophistication and style. I came up with the idea of my clothing brand a few years ago when trying to find that “perfect suit”. I realised there was a gap in the market for more good quality, ready to wear women’s tailoring which also had an impact on the way women purchased and wore suits. I started working on the business idea in October 2018.
Tell us about your current collections.
I currently have two collections which are the Candy Plaid and City Lights Collection. They have classic suit patterns like stripes and plaid but in vivacious colours. The fabrics are very good quality and were produced in Europe. My goal is to improve on sustainability by sourcing textiles that are environmentally friendly and also look into the possibility of upcycling waste materials. Each collection released is based on the fabric used to produce the suits. Our suits are all individually handmade and have the perfect tailored fit. There are different varieties of suits styles. E.g Trouser suits, Skirt suits, Shorts suits and more. Also, you can mix and match the styles from each collection or even style them individually by pairing with something else from your wardrobe.
For those who might not be familiar, what all is involved in the concept of a properly fitted suit?
Suits are a traditional masculine attire so finding the perfect fit for the female body can sometimes be a struggle. A properly fitted suit must definitely feel and look comfortable, whether it is ready to wear or made to measure. When you try on a suit, practice walking and sitting or raising your arms to make sure the sleeves or closures are not restrained or loose in any way. If it’s made to measure or bespoke tailoring, every cut of the blazer should be constructed and tailored properly to your exact measurements. Also, a good suit should be made from high quality fabric as it’s easy to overheat in a suit with mostly plastic fibres. Also, the details in a suit are very important. For example, the stitching of the buttons, the size or length of the lapel, lining material used for the blazer or jacket should also be good quality. A properly made suit should last for many years.
How does Style & Suit serve customers in a way that other suit retailers or individuals in the space do not?
I haven’t come across many stores or brands that are a one stop shop for all things suits. Most brands and stores will have a section for suits or somewhere in the mix amongst their other products. Brands that solely cater to women’s tailoring are very few. And a lot of them usually offer a made to measure or bespoke tailoring service. Style & Suit’s main focus will be suits. My aim is to design good quality ready to wear suits in different varieties and styles that can be worn for different occasions. I think it can be a bit overwhelming for some women when purchasing or planning to buy a suit. Many women are still unsure of the correct fit, price, colour or fabric to choose when buying a suit. I took all these problem areas into consideration when designing my suits. I wanted the suits to be made not only with high quality fabrics but also well defined measurements in order to accommodate different size requirements. My goal with each design was that they had an impeccable tailored fit and hopefully no major adjustments will be necessary after purchase. And also at affordable prices compared to what you’ll get for the same suit if you go to a bespoke tailor. I want suits to be a staple in every woman’s wardrobe and when considering an outfit for any occasion. Basically, whatever your style or occasion, there is a suit for you!
With your prior work as a PM in the IT field, how did you find your calling in the fashion e-commerce space?
So, the idea came back to me in 2018, I felt inspired from seeing a few stylish suits I liked on social media. Subsequently I started to do some research which led to making contacts with fashion houses and manufacturers. Once I was able to secure a partnership, things progressed from there.
Overall, what was the source of your motivation in starting a business?
I’ve always felt that I have a more creative side to me and I couldn’t really muster the same passion for IT. I do like working in IT, but I couldn’t foresee myself staying in the industry for much longer. I studied Computer Science as that’s what I was geared towards by my parents and teachers after secondary school. It came to a point in my life where I felt I needed to do something I’m passionate about and also make an impact somehow.
How did you go about tackling tasks that may have been unfamiliar to you, such as sourcing materials, organizing fulfilment, reaching out to manufacturers, developing your own personal website, marketing, etc?
I did learn a lot along the way. But I made sure I did enough research and asked as many questions as possible especially when dealing with manufacturers. Also networking and connecting with people in the fashion industry and ecommerce business really helped. I was able to connect with more experienced entrepreneurs who offered great advice and tips.
What was your process in sourcing textiles and partnering with manufacturers to create two quality-focused collections?
Once I was able to find manufacturers that understood my ideas and designs, I started to work with a garment technologist on the technical packs and patterns for each individual garment. I had to make sure I developed a good relationship with all third parties especially as they were outside the UK and communication was mainly via email. Also, I did a lot of research on fabrics and textiles that are most suitable for ready to wear suits. I contacted different companies and requested samples of textiles and we were able to produce the fabrics desired.
From there we developed almost perfect samples for each style. I was really happy with the first samples that were made. We didn’t need to do any major adjustments on any of the items which was a good thing.
It’s always a big push to get your business concept out there. What was the major turning point to getting your business launched?
I think for me, it was when the fabrics were produced and shipped. That’s when I realised, I had no choice but to go all the way. Most of the money I invested into the business went towards purchasing the fabric and shipping, so I knew I had no choice but to make it work one way or the other.
Do you feel that there are specific skills from your IT project management role that directly tie into your business?
Definitely. My project planning and organisational skills allowed me to document, design and implement my plans successfully and also facilitate a cohesive working relationship with all third parties.
Who did you enroll, if anyone, to help you along the way?
This has mostly been a solo ride. My husband deals with most of the technical side of things which I’m so grateful for as I am able to focus on other daily operations for the brand. He’s been an absolute gem!
What has/have been the two biggest challenges that you could share with others to give them insight into your business building experience?
The biggest challenges for me were having an online presence and marketing. I guess they go hand in hand. I had difficulties with the digital marketing aspect. There are so many platforms and so many avenues to sell your products online. This can be quite overwhelming especially for those that are not used to social media. It’s good to have a well-defined marketing plan or strategy prior to launching. Also, to have a good online presence, the key is to be consistent with posts and engagement on whichever social media platform you choose to market your product.
What is your individual definition of a work-life balance what all that you do right now?
Having a work-life balance is very important to me. I’m currently a full-time mom (homeschooling a 5 &2-year-old) working 9-5 and with a side business. It can be very tiring some days. I always aim to have some time to myself to meditate or watch Star Trek Discovery!
In mentioning the IT industry, it’s only natural that we have to delve into the technology that made everything happen. What tools or software has/have been beneficial for you in building your business or managing it now?
I use Shopify for my business. I would recommend that for most ecommerce businesses as it is easy to use, and it has various themes and tools available to build your business online. Also, Photoshop, Mailchimp, Zendesk are great tools.
What are two actionable tips that would recommend to others starting out in building a fashion e-commerce store?
I would say… 1. Start building your audience now. Don’t wait to launch your products before you start your PR/marketing. You can start connecting with your target audience once you are sure of which type of clothes you want to design or produce. The best scenario will be to sell out your first collection/stock on pre-order before manufacturing is complete.
How can people get in contact with you or shop your collections? What social media are you on?
You can email Style & Suit with any questions at [email protected]
Finally, what are your top 3 tips for helping others take action and launch their ideas into a business?
- Don’t be intimidated by the big brands out there and think your ideas are futile or will be overshadowed. Every brand started from somewhere and your ideas are just as valid and needed.
- Don’t be afraid of failure, learn and grow from it. (it’s part of the process.)
- You can never be ready so just start now!
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