From packing 60 dresses a day at a kitchen table, to being told “you will never be good enough to run this”, the trio of women at the Entrepreneurial Leaders event, at the city of Sunderland Business Festival, have faced challenges, trials, and tribulations but still succeeded.
Entrepreneurs Alice Rowen Hall, Cassie Moyse, and Kim Cattin shared their inspirational stories, from starting and running their businesses, to turning a £90 investment into £25 million a year fashion empire, and even how to embrace burnout. The event was hosted by agency boss Natasha McDonough at Sunderland’s recently renovated Fire Station events space.
Rowen Hall, who founded Pink Boutique, before selling it and launching interiors firm Rowen Homes, talked about starting her fashion business with no investor and growing it to a team of 70, and turning over £25 million a year. “Both of my businesses, I’ve been the target audience when I started them”, said the Sunderland University graduate, as she spoke about the importance of knowing the customer and how you have to love ‘the stuff’ or you’ll find it hard.
As is often the case with new businesses, the majority of Alice’s sales came via social media, until Facebook changed their algorithm, monetised and they lost a third of sales overnight.
“Don’t make your business overly reliant on organic social media”, she advised. It’s helpful to think of social media as a pie chart, with each social platform or channel being a different site so that if one goes down, the company can still run, Hall Rowen told the audience.
The Sunderland University graduate, who studied journalism, was also joined on stage by Cassie Moyes, group marketing director of Bradley Hall estate agents, who studied PR at the University of Sunderland and is director of Portfolio North, a property, lifestyle, and business publication with a readership of 35,000.
Moyes was told early on by a former boss that she was never going to be able to run the publication and said this was the first thing that propelled her to do what she does and climb to the top.
“It’s really important to know the audience, the magazine is a product and so is the reader….I still know where every copy goes”, she said.
Cassie also admitted to working non-stop: “My work/life balance is non-existent….we have to be honest, there’s a lot around; burnout. But if you want to start a business, it’s what you have to do”
Co-founder and CEO of beauty business West Barn Co, Kim Cattin, also shared her rise to success. The make-up artist, who is from Sunderland, and is a Sunderland FC fan, started the beauty firm after seeing a gap in the market for brow products. Her products, which include hero product Soap Brows, are now stocked in Harrods and Liberty, and have been featured in Vogue. Celebrity fans of her products include Bella Hadid, Billie Eilish, Kendall Jenner, and Zendaya.
“My strategy was just to gift it to influencers….I found top professional industry makeup artists, stalked them, found their assistants…and inner circle and gifted those people”, she said of her initial marketing strategy.
Cattin also touched on the notion of burnout and keeping a work-life balance. Whilst she admitted that it was only having her baby that made her slow down, she gushed about how much she enjoyed her work.
“It was a choice to be there. It was a drive and a passion and a fire in my belly making me do that”, she admitted.
The women agreed on the importance of compartmentalising and the growth of the city, with Alice Rowen Hall even partnering with the University of Sunderland to provide new opportunities for students and offering masterclasses on entering the industry.
“The best businesses will always find a way….as long as all your eggs aren’t in one basket, you’ll be okay”, Cassie advised in closing.
To get an exclusive sneak-peek of the event, head to @Fashionnorth
*Find out more about the journalism and PR programmes at the University of Sunderland here