"I do love hearing about women who take on big challenges in business none more so than those who take on bastions of male tradition."
One fabulous and inspirational example of how women can bring the female factor to male dominated workplaces is that of 22-year old Suffolk-born Phoebe Gormley, who has stormed the ramparts of St James’s Savile Row by launching her women’s made-to-measure clothing company Gormley & Gamble at No. 13 on the world-famous London street.
The spirit of entrepreneurialism appears to have run in her blood from an early age – at 11 she began hosting charity fundraising parties in the garden of her family home that continued for several years raising hundreds of pounds, a lot of money for someone so young. This early experience of taking the initiative seems to have whet her appetite because when she made the discovery that tailoring was a way of working with clothes without being in the fashion industry she decided to learn from the men who could teach her their craft. As a result every summer from the age of 15 to 19 she worked as an intern “waist-deep” in St James' Savile Row and Jermyn Street.
Whilst studying for a degree in bespoke tailoring and costume at Nottingham Trent University Phoebe began looking into how she could start a business based around women’s made-to-measure and was told that women were “too hard to please” and more interested in “fast-fashion poly-blend and not investment pieces.” She thought this view was not on trend with what she knew to be the case, which was that most women struggled with the variation in the high street fit of clothing.
So, why not offer women great quality, perfect fit and flawless service for the same money as the top end of high street clothing?
This concept propelled her to write a business plan in her second year of University and then asking her parents to use the money set aside for paying her final year of tuition fees as an investment in her business instead – hence the “Gamble” in her company’s name. After analysing the plan and seeing that their daughter wasn't going to give up on her dream they relented. She recalls getting their go-ahead on a Friday and by the following Monday,
" I was down in London working in an incubator in the City and bringing Gormley & Gamble to life. "
The first few months of setting up her business wasn’t all plain sailing though. Having based her business plan on quotes from a particular supplier who subsequently pulled out at the last minute on the basis that she was too young with not enough business experience, and that they “didn’t really work with female suppliers because they are too unpredictable”, she had to speedily find a replacement who would step into the breach. In spite of this setback
@gormley_gamble made history in 2014 as first tailor for women on Savile Row
On the very same day she made her first sale to the CEO of Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia who bought 12 items and also set up a direct debit for a jacket and dress combination each month!
One of the common misconceptions about Savile Row that Phoebe is breaking down is that it only makes suits. At Gormley & Gamble much greater variety of custom-made women’s wear is available, using materials such as tweed from Chanel’s original supplier, Italian wool, machine washable silk, Scottish cashmere and British merino wool. She and her five person team make jackets that fit, trousers the right length and dresses with the sleeves and neckline that her clients want.
" There’s power in knowing something has been made specifically for you; your body, your lifestyle and your aspirations. "
Phoebe Gormley, Founder of Gormley & Gamble
“I guess through G&G I’m trying to make that feeling accessible to all women. In short – I want my customers to feel like they can take on the world.”
Phoebe believes that because her business delivers to a very specific niche on Savile Row it has enabled her to break through what would otherwise be a very high glass ceiling. In an online interview with vlogger and young female entrepreneur Lauren Riley, she mentions how Savile Row historically forbade women on their premises – these days since her arrival they are tweeting that it’s young, elite tailors like Gormley & Gamble that are going to keep Savile Row alive.
In 2015 Phoebe was named “Young Star” at the Women of the Future Awards and describes this moment as “incredibly humbling”. Even with all the accolades that she has been receiving in the media and from her business peers she maintains that her very favourite moment is when the customer tries their new clothing on for the first time.
Her persistence, passion and fantastic skills have brought her a long way but she admits that luck has also played its part. Many people have gone out of their way to help her move the company along including Deloitte who shared Gormley & Gamble with their entire Women’s Network and Cat and the Dandy who are Savile Row’s biggest tailor allowing her to shop-share in their store, which she readily admits made the dreams of a once 15-year old girl come true.
So what advice does she have for other aspiring female entrepreneurs? Top of the list is not being afraid to ask.
“I definitely felt like I was in it alone when I first started out, but as soon as I reached out for support and advice I was amazed by how many people were there and wanted to support. However, I would also say if you do go to someone for help – a parent, friend or mentor – don’t waste their time. Go with proper questions, and potential solutions for them to help you work through. And always say thank you!”
Let me know what you think of the success of Phoebe Gormley. If you know of other young female entrepreneurs who are breaking down barriers please share with us. Please leave your comments below.