Claire Collins is someone who has taken an old idea and given it a new twist. She is the founder of Violet May, a luxury business accessories brand for women. As with many great business ideas, the inspiration for Violet May came from her own needs. She was her own target market. Frustrated by the lack of chic, feminine business accessories, Claire decided that she was going to create fabulous products that were built with usability and practicality in mind as well as style.
Before Violet May, most products in this space were created and designed by men. There were very few products at the luxury end of the market, and most of the products at the mass market end were either pink or floral. So, Claire decided that she wanted to create a brand that was about all things fabulous. She felt the world didn’t need another handbag maker, but that there was a niche and an opportunity to create classic luxury business accessories for women.
First steps first:
Violet May (the name of Claire’s grandmother) officially launched in February 2007, but prior to that Claire began by researching the market extensively to find out who was working in this area. She ran focus groups with professional women to discover what they want. Off the back of this research, Claire started out by creating designer laptop cases for women.
Today, Violet May produce a range of stunning products of which their most successful is the Blackerry Purse which is frequently seen being used by major celebrities and entrepreneurs including Elle Macpherson.
Claire has been very savvy about developing her business. She has two executives on her board including fashion PR expert Zoe Kimber who has a background with high profile brands such as Jimmy Choo. To support her business requirements Claire has chosen to supplement head count with an internship programme. This is a win win for everyone involved. She gets the resources and help she needs to grow her business and the interns gain experience in the fashion industry and are given an opportunity to network and engage with people who they would not otherwise have access to (click here to read our article on hiring interns).
From her previous experience of working with startups Claire understands the importance of not taking on too much headcount. The biggest challenge that any small business is faces is keeping enough working capital available, but is particularly challenging when you are a product based business and so much of the business value is kept in stock.
In light of the current trading conditions, Claire has re-aligned her business strategy from last year and Violet May is now focused on building their brand online through their ecommerce store. They are focusing a lot of time and attention on engaging with people through their blog (which is about all things fabulous!), and now have some key advertisers expressing an interest. Claire recognises how important it is to engage with the other key players in the fashion industry and a part of her marketing strategy is to interact through the fashion forums, blogs and communities. The second part of the Violet May strategy is to grow their brand offline in the Middle East where people are still spending money.
PR has always been a big part of the Violet May marketing strategy. Claire has decided that rather than advertising in the fashion glossies, a much more valuable way to get their name and their product out there is to focus on getting their product in the press through PR.
Violet May’s publicity is prolific and you will find them in many of the major women’s magazines such as Vogue, Grazia and Harpers Bazaar. In Claire’s words, you can get the “biggest bang for your buck” through PR. Where a business like Violet May might not be able to afford the big magazine advertising rates, through strategic giveaways and PR activities they have been able to get a lot of coverage for a reasonable investment. Click here to see some of the recent press that Violet May has enjoyed.
It’s not always been easy
Violet May launched in January 2007 through self financing. Claire decided to launch her business with her own money and the brave decision to remortgage her home. Initially she worked two jobs when she was starting out and still occasionally supplements her income through providing consultancy, so that she can reinvest Violet May’s profits back into the business.
Claire has grown immensely in her journey as an entrepreneur and she has learnt to confront her fears.
“There have been moments where I have thought that I can’t carry on, the reality of working two jobs has been tough, but I have had to grow. I am a different person than I was last year. The biggest area of growth has been around the fear of thinking big and doing the action to back that up. This is why and this is what I’m going to do to go out and get it.”
She has worked her way through those fears and developed strategies that support both her and Violet May. The most significant of these was the decision to create an Executive Board. By bringing in external expertise she has gained advice and mentorship as well as accountability for her business. Having other people involved in the decision making of the business has also helped alleviate some of the aloneness that many people feel when creating a new business.
Claire is very humble about her success though it is very obvious how much hard work that she has put into developing her brand and her business. I have no doubt that Violet May will grow from strength to strength over the coming year and this is mainly down to Claire’s strength and resilience. Claire is a true entrepreneur and is doing everything that it takes to create a successful, sustainable business.