Laura Crabb believes that getting dressed in the morning should not be the first thing a woman struggles with each day. Having worked with some of the country’s fastest growing start-ups in her professional life, she was inspired by the capability of some of the female leaders around her. Laura remained frustrated that for her, and many of the 1.8 million tall women in this country; there remained very little provision in beautiful clothing specifically designed for the taller frame. In 2016 she decided to address that challenge by forming a team of industry specialists to develop an elegant range of premium clothing, tailored for the taller woman. North Clothing Co opened its virtual doors in late 2016 with its first collection.
We first met Laura over dinner last year. Now that she’s celebrating the launch of North Clothing, we want to see how her start-up journey has played out, as well as to share the story of the driven woman behind this emerging brand. So let’s get started…
Laura – congratulations on the launch of your first collection, which we’ll get on to in a moment but first, we’d like to rewind to the start of your fashion adventure and ask…
Q1. What inspired you to launch North Clothing?
A1. For a long time I worked in business development, in a professional environment where it was important to be well presented. I struggled to find clothes that I loved. Clothes that were premium quality and which fit a taller frame. I would walk down the high street in my home town of Cheltenham (England) and gaze longingly at all the lovely pieces for sale in places like Hobbs and Reiss – but I knew there was no point trying any on – because they just wouldn’t fit.
I felt that as taller women we were really missing out on the opportunity to access beautiful tailored clothing that was made to last. When I started looking into just how many tall women there are in the UK, and reading comments on sites like Tall Guides, I realised that I was not alone in my frustration. So I set out on a mission to help close the gap!
Q2. Before you embarked on this new venture, did you have any previous fashion or business experience?
A2. I’ve worked with, and in, businesses for many years. Most recently having setup a business accelerator for high growth start-ups, through which we supported over 3000 businesses. My team there specialised in working with new businesses that had strong growth potential.
It was through that process that my eyes were opened to the excitement of the startup journey and I guess I caught the bug! I knew I needed to rapidly up-skill within the clothing sector so I pulled a team of people together who really knew the industry and we built North from there. We’re also lucky to have some big multinational fashion businesses on our doorstep so were able to get some great mentoring from them and from there, we’ve built a really enthusiastic team.
Q3. And from a personal and /or business perspective, what has surprised you most?
A3. Well it’s certainly different being the one who wears all the hats but I’m enjoying it enormously. I’ve been really surprised by the strength that exists in communities of support – both at a personal and professional level. There is so much help available for new businesses in the UK, it’s very encouraging to feel that. And I love the way that taller women find strength in communities such as this one. It’s a great way to collaborate and engage with each other. I have found that if you reach out, there is always someone who can help with a challenge or offer a piece of advice that can make a big difference.
Q4. You’re still very early in your startup journey but as the Owner, the Managing Director, the Designer and many other roles in the business – is there such a thing as a typical week and what does it look like for you?
A4. We’re focusing on establishing really strong design and production partnerships at the moment. So I will often be away meeting with suppliers and manufacturers around the UK. When we’re back at North HQ I’m often reviewing new designs, answering a lot of questions from the press or taking part in my favourite pastime – talking to customers. As a new brand it’s really important to hear every piece of feedback from our customers, including their suggestions for new pieces. We’re also working on a project with our local University to deliver a course on the business of fashion, which means we get the opportunity to work with some fabulously creative young minds.
Q5. Have you designed your own collection and how involved are you in the creative side of the business?
A5. Yes absolutely, we have a small team of designers and I work with them on every piece. I’d say we’re seasonally inspired but not really trend-led. So we tend to keep an eye on what’s hot but retain our own individual style in a way that I hope blends well with our customers other pieces. But we do love a little browse around Selfridges just to see what’s coming up!
Q6. Are you the only tall girl on your team? How many people does it take to make North Clothing a reality?
A6. We’re a small team of girls and guys – so there’s plenty of height in the mix. Our Social Media Manager, Rebecca, is 6ft tall like myself, and she actually approached us for that reason. She’s a delight to have onboard because she’s talking to our customers every day and she really understands their perspective.
Q7. Can you tell us more about your debut collection…
A7. Our aim was to develop a range that would mix and match with the pieces our customers already had in their wardrobes. So the first pieces are simple and elegant. Lots of customers told us that trousers and coats were an issue, so we started there. We’ve also tried to use a subtle colour palette that transitions well between seasons. The thing I like best about our clothes though is the way they feel. We’ve chosen super-soft Italian fabrics such as micro-modal and cashmere which feels great on the skin.
Q8. And what we can expect to see from the North Clothing brand in the future?
A8. This first collection has been quite classic and formal so I’m looking forward to developing some more casual pieces in the next round. We’re about to launch our first blazer – the piece I most wanted to make when I started designing. I just could not find a decent jersey blazer anywhere, so I’m very excited to get that one out into the world.
Q9. You’re clearly a woman with ambition and seemingly endless amounts of energy! Who and/or what has been your biggest influence in life?
A9. I’ve worked with some really good mentors these last few years. They are the kind of people who ask difficult questions and keep me on my toes. I think it’s important to be constantly asking ‘How can this be better?’ I also have a fabulous coach, Danielle, whose wisdom and insight astounds me on a regular basis.
Q10. As a business owner, a mum and a fellow tall girl, you’re incredibly inspiring and we’d love to know how you juggle it all?!
A10. I do love to be busy which I think helps. And I try to break the day up into different areas of focus with clear outcomes – which sometimes works! I’m also a mum to two children, so the school run and playtime provide some valuable down time. I practice yoga as a way of keeping my mind from wandering onto crazy new projects. Right now I’m really trying to resist the urge to start a children’s’ range. It’s so difficult to clothe tall children these days. Resist, resist!!
Laura’s Tall Guides Takeaway
Thank you for talking to us today and for sharing some of your story – we wish you every success with North. Before we wrap up, we’d like to know what three pieces of advice you would give to other women who might be looking to start their own business or a fashion brand?
1. Believe you can. Start with a highly positive mindset.
2. Know your customer – really do your research. Name them, ask them, understand them. Who are they, where do they shop, what do they need, what frustrates them, what would make a big difference?
3. Know your strengths, your weaknesses and when to bring in help
To shop the North Clothing collection, head over to the website or connect on social media