How Kate Middleton transformed my business

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Cécile Reinaud was working an advertising executive at J Walter Thompson when she turned 30, “and suddenly everyone I knew seemed to be pregnant, and complaining that they couldn’t find anything smart to wear – especially to work.”

That was the “big ‘aha’ moment for the French-born entrepreneur (who has lived in London for more than two decades): “I realised that there was quite a serious gap in the market for stylish maternity clothes.” Fast forward 13 years, and Cécile’s maternity clothing business Seraphine this year hit £15.5 million in sales, with a 33% rise in pre-tax profits to £2 million, and 80 staff around the world.

How did you go from ‘big idea’ to launch?

“I launched Seraphine in 2002. I started out with just a single bricks and mortar maternity boutique in Kensington and a tiny office space above a shop on Regent Street. From the start – and still now – Seraphine is privately owned, with funding from business angels initially. But when you first start to run your own business you have to be the jack of all trades, doing everything yourself. There were days where I’d design the clothes, organise the photoshoots and take the pictures all by myself – in fact I have a vivid memory of sitting on the floor and fighting with a flat pack kit, trying to assemble a desk for one of my very first employees – she was coming from a top level position at Asda so I really wanted her to be impressed!”

I hear there have been some big royal moments for Seraphine?

“Yes – Seraphine is known for dressing all the Hollywood A-listers through their pregnancies. Stars like Gwen Stefani, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba and Marion Cotillard are all fans of the brand, to name just a few.  But the real turning point for Seraphine came in 2013, when The Duchess of Cambridge appeared in the first official pictures with Prince George, wearing our signature fuchsia knotted maternity dress. The pictures made the front pages of newspapers and magazines all over the world and suddenly everyone was talking about us and our little pink maternity dress! The Duchess wore our clothes through her second pregnancy too, choosing a Seraphine maternity coat for her very high profile arrival in New York, and now Seraphine is known as her maternity brand of choice. This publicity really took the brand to the next level, raising our profile around the world and in the United States in particular.

“Another big moment for us was winning The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2015, in recognition of our outstanding international growth. This was a huge moment for Seraphine, and also for me personally – I was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and officially accept the award!”

How has Brexit affected the business?

“The biggest challenge has been negotiating currency fluctuations. With the changing value of the pound, I have had to take extra care to ensure that the currency is on our side when developing our international business. That being said, it’s certainly not all bad news. We already do a lot of business in the US, and are currently working on developing new opportunities in China and the Middle East.”

What about expansion?

“We’ve just opened a new head office in Notting Hill, and invited the French footballer David Ginola to come and cut the ribbon. We are 90% women at the Seraphine head office, so having such a sex symbol around caused quite a stir! Later this summer, we’ll be opening a new flagship store in Paris, and I’m currently looking into possible locations for new stores in New York and LA too.”

Which businessperson inspires you – and what are your tips for others thinking of a retail start-up?

“Oh there are so many amazing female entrepreneurs, but if I had to choose just one, Arianna Huffington has always been a big inspiration for me, in business and in life. As for my tips, my first advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is always to trust your instincts, and second, to be prepared to put in plenty of hard work. Make sure you’ve done all your research so that you know you’re targeting the right markets, and make sure to factor in all the costs involved in exporting, transport, tax and insurance. Retail is not for the faint hearted but if you can quickly bounce back when something doesn’t go to plan and you are passionate about what you are doing, the hard work is sure to pay off and it will all be worth it in the end.”

Lucy Tobin is a senior writer at the Evening Standard, author and blogger.

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