Ex banker Sukhy Nijjar reflects on 15 months since she opened her lingerie store in the West Midlands.
A former London banker is cashing in on the world of lingerie after investing in an independent boutique in the West Midlands.
Sukhy Nijjar, whose passion for lingerie led her to explore the sector, opened Sipsey Lingerie in Mell Square, Solihull on June 5, 2015, and it seems the hard work is paying off.
While stories of shop closures continue to hit the headlines, Sipsey is bucking the trend as it grows from strength to strength, becoming a destination for lingerie, swimwear and nightwear in the area.
“The biggest compliments I get are for the products I have chosen,” Nijjar told Lingerie Insight during an interview at the Moda trade show in Birmingham.
“People say ‘you don’t get this in the department stores’ and I say it’s because we handpick the items and we can choose what we like.
“I think you’ll find more people shopping in independents in the future because people are sick of buying the same products in high street stores.”
Sipsey Lingerie was launched almost by accident, after Nijjar moved back to the Midlands to set up her own business close to where her family lives.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business, so when I came to the end of my career in banking I thought about opening a restaurant because I love food,” she said.
“My family are based in the Midlands and they suggested coming home and starting a base there. I booked myself into a couple of courses in retail and, randomly, bra fitting,” Nijjar continued.
“Then I got in touch with [intimate apparel consultant] Clare Franks and one thing led to another so quickly that it was like it was meant to be.”
Nijjar visited Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris in January and six months later she opened her boutique.
So how did the ex banker, who had no previous lingerie retail experience, know which brands to stock?
“I learned a lot in Paris, but I really just went with my gut instinct,” Nijjar said.
“You don’t know until you open what brands are going to work for you and what people are really going to like,” she added.
“In the first year of business it’s just about building your brand name and, obviously, being new to retail, I’ve done a lot of learning. I’ve done a couple of seasons of buying now, so I’ve been learning about what works and what doesn’t work. So it’s been an interesting and busy year. We’ve just been trying to lay good foundations really.”
Sipsey currently stocks a mixture of premium and mid-priced lingerie, nightwear, swimwear and hosiery brands.
“I’ve got Bluebella and Stella McCartney, but I’ve also got Simone Pérèle, Chantelle and Le Mystere.
They’ve all been doing well for me, but in different areas. So Bluebella’s nightwear and loungewear has been doing great,” Nijjar explained.
“Silks have been a slow sell, which is surprising because I thought they would fly out. I think we’re still trying to understand what works,” she continued.
“We’ve sold a lot of bridal actually. A couple of local boutiques have recommended me, which is great. Bridal has been quite good throughout the year, which I didn’t expect, so that has been a nice surprise.”
Sipsey is also attempting to compete with high street stores like H&M and Topshop by offering fashion colours, as opposed to playing it safe with core collections.
“I love my colour and fashion so it’s great to encourage ladies to buy into colour. It’s funny because once you get them into the changing room to try on different styles, it’s amazing what you can get fitted on them,” said Nijjar.
“Sandra, who I work with, has got 14 years of fitting experience so that’s been great. She knows some of the brands really well. Obviously, we get asked for brands that we can’t always have, but that’s ok.”
At the time of opening, Sipsey Lingerie also launched an ecommerce website.
“The website has been great – it’s allowed for people to look up the brand online and people always ask if we have a website. It’s served as a really good location for people to find out where we are,” stated Nijjar.
But despite the success of online, Sipsey actively encourages customers to get a fitting before they buy online, through educational talks and workshops.
“I do a lot of presentations for female groups now, educating them about the importance of wearing the right size bra, but also about what it takes to make a bra and all of its components,” Nijjar explained.
“The problem we have is that lingerie is available in every high street store and it’s mass produced in three months, not 18 months. So it’s important to educate people on the difference between spending £10 and spending £40 or more,” she added.
“I think it’s really important to have independent stores because they can offer that service.”
So, as an ex banker, what does Nijjar forecast for the future of lingerie retail post Brexit?
“If I put my banking hat on, I think, initially, it may be tough for all retail businesses, as we negotiate the details of Brexit, and consumers may be cautious until we see the outcome,” she predicted.
“But, in the future, I see great opportunities for the UK and business as a whole. In the West Midlands, quite a lot of manufacturing still goes on and I’ve been approached by brands who are now manufacturing back in the UK,” she continued.
“I still think people will still want to come in and be fitted. I do have customers who buy online, but they say it’s a hassle because they have to buy so many, fit them and return them. The internet is great, but the return rate is so high in lingerie and fashion, and it’s not really the ideal way to run a business. You need to have bricks and mortar, as well as online.”