3 Female Entrepreneurs Tell Us Their Stories
3 Female Entrepreneurs Tell Us Their Stories

3 Female Entrepreneurs Tell Us Their Stories

At SheerLuxe, we’re all about supporting women in business – which is why we’ve launched this series highlighting those at the top of their industry, be it fashion, finance or something else. For the first instalment, we spoke to three female entrepreneurs who are successfully navigating the ever-changing retail landscape…

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Owner of Beauty Salon Sugar Cane

I started out in the art world. After completing a fine art degree at Central Saint Martins I landed a job in an art gallery. It was at that time I enrolled on first beauty course, so you could say this next career started as a hobby. Eventually, I dropped my gallery job down to part time, and that’s when a local salon reached out and asked if I wanted to work there independently. I accepted, and over time that became my full-time job. I eventually came to own the entire salon and that, I suppose, was the tipping point.

The original salon was based in southeast London. I renamed it Sugar Cane and at first we just offered lash treatments. That expanded into brows, then teeth whitening and nails. The lease was only for a year and a half, so it all felt quite low risk, so I wasn’t too worried about things going wrong. My dad also has his own restaurant and my uncle owns a recruitment company, so there was a lot of support at home – that’s where my entrepreneurial spirit comes from, I suppose.

Then the pandemic happened. We’d been running the salon for about two years at this point and the landlord asked me to extend to either five or ten years. I just knew there wasn’t enough walk-by trade to make that a sensible decision. That’s when I started looking at different salons in southwest London – like Balham, Clapham South and now Clapham Old Town. We officially opened our new doors in April 2021 – the same day salons were allowed to reopen. After ten months of closure, that was a massive day. 

To supplement my income during the pandemic I started selling facial-to-go kits online. It was probably the first e-commerce product we ever had. It just took off – and it gave me the hope and confidence to push through the lockdown. One of my main ambitions for the future is developing and selling our own line of products, as well as launching online masterclasses for technicians around the world. 

Retail has really changed. Nowadays, so many more people work from home, so a lot more of them come in during the day with their laptop. This new flexible world has actually given the salon the best chance at success, and I’d say our clientele are far more varied as a result. It’s given us the chance to show people how good our artists are – we source and handpick them all individually, and they all have a single specialism which makes them the best at what they do. Standards like that are so important to me.

This new FLEXIBLE world has actually given the salon the best CHANCE at success – I’d say our clientele are far more VARIED as a result.

For a salon, customer experience is everything. Everything we do here has a luxe feel to it. It’s also really relaxing – I never want the clients to feel like getting their beauty bits done is a stressful thing. Your coat’s taken at the door, there’s a complimentary drink and there’s always a good playlist on. Our booking system also has some of the most advanced features available – for example, clients can save their payment methods and we can check them in or out with a single click. 

Expansion is the thing I’m asked about all the time. We’ll have been here for two years in April, but I could see us opening more sites for sure. But it’s worth remembering there are plenty of ways you can grow your business without taking on more physical space. Instagram, for example, has played a massive role in our growth story – it’s brought in so many new clients. The most powerful posts are product shots, before and after pictures, and little clips of daily life in the salon. People like informative content that gives them an idea of the in-salon experience and the results they can expect. We tend to find the more interactive the post, the better; it’s an amazing way to get real-time feedback, too.

I'm not the type of person who looks backwards. So it’s hard for me to say if there’s anything I’d have done differently give the time again. I look at it like this: yes, there are a lot of peaks and troughs in business, but you have to learn to embrace the journey. Every negative thing that happens is a lesson, and the good stuff is great memories. Never catastrophise – you’re bound to be better equipped to deal with whatever it is next time something happens.

If you’re a woman in business with an idea you’re passionate about, half the battle is already won. Believing in yourself isn’t a given, so if you have that, you have a lot. Most of what happens in business they don’t teach you in school, so find people around you to look up to and ask questions – for me that was my dad and uncle. At the beginning, my uncle forwarded me a spreadsheet template to keep track of all my expenses. I still use it now, and it’s one of the most helpful things anyone’s ever done for me. 

There’s a reason a lot of our clients are long-term regulars. Sugar Cane is a one-stop shop for many of them and they’re confident in our artists. They trust us to work to a certain standard across the board – and they know we all bounce off each other. It creates such a harmonious place to work and be.

Visit SugarCaneSalon.com 


Qwner of Floral Studio Fiona Fleur

Our first floral studio was in Covent Garden on Floral Street – very coincidental! About six months later we opened our Burlington Arcade studio. Both of them were pop-up shops. Covent Garden opened about three months after I launched the business. I’d previously worked in events and PR, which has actually been incredibly helpful in terms of branding and getting the business out there, but I always knew I wanted to do something a bit more creative and work for myself. I know now that if I retired tomorrow, I could do with a real sense of fulfilment. 

My previous job had taught me I was good at coming up with concepts and ideas. And that was sort of what drove the idea for the floral studio. It started out in a very simple way – the job would come to me, I’d come up with a design and send it to the client for feedback. Most of the clients loved it, and that helped me build confidence and passion for turning it into a proper studio. It’s so rewarding when someone else thinks you are good at what you are doing. 

Our original aesthetic revolved mainly around dried florals. This was 2019 and early 2020 and pampas grass was a big trend. I ran with it and set up one of the first dried flower bars where people could pick from different types of dried flowers and make up a bouquet. That hadn't been seen before and I’m convinced it was this unique offering that put us on the map. It was also a sustainable way to work and people really embraced that. Our sustainability credentials are something I’ve been keen to build on ever since. 

Doing pop-ups was super strategic. I saw them as a real exposure opportunity for Fiona Fleur and sites like Burlington Arcade were a really strong platform to showcase our bespoke luxury offering surrounded by other high-end brands. It really gave us the chance to connect with our audience and build relationships with brands. From there we were able to build our social media following and that’s what took the brand to new heights, ready for when events returned after the pandemic. 

Going into RETAIL brought the brand to LIFE – I’m glad we were able to find a way for it to WORK for us.

I never saw Fiona Fleur as a traditional florist. Lots of people expected me to open a shop with buckets on the floor and girls dressed in gardening aprons, but that was never the vision. It taught me a lot about backing myself and sticking to the plan. Sometimes, the more niche the offering, the more interesting it is. People were very taken by our minimalist, clean aesthetic and the team in these beautiful cream dresses. It felt different and fresh.

There’s no need to do what society expects of you. It’s been one of my biggest lessons from business that I think actually applies to so much.  We were the youngest brand to have ever been in Burlington Arcade – the world's oldest shopping mall. It felt insane, and kind of iconic. If we did it again, I’d be even more strategic. The business was only six months old at the time, so as smart as I was trying to be, I was also very new to it all. Today, I think I'd be much firmer about, “We’re going to do it here, for eight weeks, with this activation on this week, to hit this market,” and so on. 

Going into retail brought the brand to life. I’m glad we were able to find a way for it to work for us – you never know who you might meet in a physical space and having one, albeit temporarily, facilitated so many professional meet-cutes. It’s how you build on connections and form emotional relationships. It’s about so much more than flowers. Retail isn’t just about the product – it’s about the experience. The staff, the interiors, the music – it all contributes to how customers feel about your brand. Covid took that away from all of us for a while, but I think it’s also made us understand the value of real-life communication. 

My advice for other business owners would be: don’t always take people’s advice. When I look back, I often think if I’d just listened to myself first time around, things might have happened quicker or more organically. That’s not to say people don’t have valuable insights worth sharing, but sometimes someone will tell you something only for someone else to say the exact opposite. It’s not always helpful. If I was to share anything, it would be that there’s a silver lining in every single situation. In business you have to a be a glass-half-full type of person, and that way you’ll be able to see the positive. 

I’m excited to expand into bridal this year. We believe the wedding market is missing our unique style – which is a twist on the traditional wedding floristry. We've also got some amazing photo shoots coming up that will help bring our vision for weddings to life. 

Visit FionaFleur.com


Owner of Fashion Boutique Katie & Jo

After seven years in banking, I left to set up my own business. I loved fashion and shopping, and I was passionate about running my own boutique. At the time, there were very few independent boutiques in London and, having lived in Parsons Green, I really felt there was a gap in the market, as the area is flooded with families, young professionals and stylish women who want to shop but aren’t always willing – or have the time – to travel into central London. That’s why we set out to create a beautiful retail space with an array of brands from around the world that these women could shop locally. Hence, Katie & Jo was born.

I was in my 30s when I started the business. In terms of who our customer would be, I just assumed the target was a similar age and profile to me. But I have to say that as the business has evolved, so did our age range. Today, it doesn’t matter if a customer is 20 or 60 – what unites them is a sense of style and wanting to look good.

One of the biggest challenges of running a fashion retail business is scoping out the next ‘it’ brand. It’s incredibly hard to find exciting new names, and even then they sometimes have a couple of good seasons and go off the boil. It means we’re constantly having to curate and source new brands. Luckily, we’ve been able to turn one of our biggest challenges into a strength in that we’ve always got something new and refreshing at Katie & Jo, and our customers know that.

In business, there are lots of MISTAKES you make which ultimately contribute to your SUCCESS – I wouldn’t necessarily have done anything differently if I had the TIME again.

In business, there are lots of mistakes you make which ultimately contribute to your success. I wouldn’t necessarily have done anything differently if I had the time again, but my thinking process has definitely changed since I launched the boutique. I now expect two bad things to happen every day, and if they don’t happen, then I’m pleasantly surprised. If they do, I’m ready for those challenges – especially at this point when experience can teach you so much. It’s rare that we come up against a problem we’ve not handled well before.

Retail has changed in lots of ways since we started – but some things have stayed constant. For example, we still have a large customer base who love coming in store to try on clothes, but our website and e-commerce business is now a huge part of our sales. Over the past 12 years, social media has grown exponentially and the power of Instagram is significant in the retail world – it’s such a brilliant marketing tool and has really helped us bring the brand to life.

That said, face-to-face retailing is still a big part of the business. In store, we have a range of trained personal stylists who love to put outfits together and help our customers who want more guidance in building their wardrobes. People might not believe it, but there is definitely still that customer who needs to touch and feel clothes before they make a decision on what to buy. I’m really happy that boutiques like ours exist to help them do that. 

At Katie & Jo we’re always looking to the future. This year there are a couple of super exciting projects in the pipeline. In the next couple of months we’ll be expanding our own brand with a summer collection that is due to launch in May and we’re also updating our website. In store, we’re planning on stocking a few new brands for the summer.

Visit KatieAndJo.com 

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