OPINION: Yourbrandspace.com’s Louisa Valvano

Former global marketing director of WGSN, Louisa Valvano, talks about what inspired her to leave her prestigious and highly paid job to found new business Yourbrandspace with friend and former director of PURE, Sam Bleasby.

“It seems rather ironic to be asked to write an article for a lingerie magazine three months into the life of yourbrandspace.com, when we had only intended to launch a lingerie section in 2013. But, I guess that is the moral of launching your own business. Success doesn’t always come from the areas that you most expect it to.

When my business partner, Sam Bleasby, and I look back to July of last year, we can hardly believe how far we have come. In fact, if someone had predicted when Sam and I met 10 years ago that we would eventually be running an online business together, I would never have believed them. We are an extremely driven partnership but, first and foremost, we are friends; working together is a pleasure and perhaps the secret to our success to date.

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yourbrandspace was born in a coffee shop on the beachfront in Dubai, on what was supposed to be a holiday for Sam and I, but what turned into more of a working holiday. We both joked that with Sam’s sales background (she was Event Director of Pure London) and my marketing background (former Global Marketing Director of WGSN), we should really do our own thing. Once we had stopped joking about retiring to Dubai, it really hit home that perhaps we had something to offer as a duo.

We had both worked in the fashion industry for some time and had seen how the Internet had transformed the consumer world. It seemed a natural and logical step to us that the trade side of things should and could be bought up to speed. We had seen a change in the industry to search and buy product all year round and need in the market seemingly was being fulfilled by the two tradeshow seasons in the year. I believe it was Sam who first said that retailers are using the Internet to source products for their shops, but that there wasn’t one single place where from this could be done. Our idea was born.

We thought if we could save the retailer time and money by providing a free online service where they could find all the brands they wanted, whenever they wanted, while saving the brand money in investing in a wholesale platform, we would fulfill a huge gap in the market. So, in large, yourbrandspace.com was born out of the growing needs of the industry and a desire to help indies.

Usually, people want to work for themselves to get a better work-life balance. What they don’t tell you is that this is never the case in the early stages of any company. They also don’t tell you it teaches you humility. Both Sam and I left well-paid, stable jobs to plough our life savings into the website. As anyone who has set up their own business knows, this is not only terrifying, but also a powerful incentive motivator to give 110 percent and appreciate each and every customer.

Almost one year on, the website has been developed and it is up and running. The hard work has really paid off and we have been blown away with its success. I don’t think either of us can say, hand on heart, that we expected to get such great feedback so early on from retailers and brands alike. Nor did we expect the development and design phase of the site to be so complex. As with any major project, there will also be things you didn’t think of that, with hindsight, you would change or timeframes that shift due to unforeseen complexities. The key is to work with suppliers who really get what you are trying to achieve and in this regard, we have been very lucky.

Now, with 80 brands on the site, over 700 retailers signed up and visitors from over 69 countries in the first few months, the hard work has all been worth it. We love to hear how we are helping brands and retailers, particularly those in sectors that we did not imagine we would ‘tap into’ until we were more established. We are especially pleased with how responsive the lingerie sector has been to the service we offer and the high demand from lingerie retailers, which seems to be echoed by the increasing number of lingerie indies opening. We are delighted we can fulfil the demand with some strong lingerie brands such as Parfait by Affinitas, Bestform, Seaspray, Moontide, Playful Promises, Curvy Kate, Spanx and many more.

On a recent call with Kristine Isberg, founder of L’Ecole Nuit, an online lingerie shop launching soon, I was in awe of just how much time goes into sourcing and researching products that will satisfy her customers.

Kristine remarked that yourbrandspace is exactly what her company needs to compete successfully in a 24/7 marketplace: the ability to connect with global brands and designers as quickly and efficiently as possible, creating new partnerships, staying up-to-date on fashion trends and reducing travel costs. These are all services that are invaluable to the success of Kristine’s business and we are flattered that she thinks all of those things are unique to yourbrandspace.com. It is feedback like this that keeps Sam and I motivated.

The final part of what we set out to achieve and are just beginning to make headway with, is championing new designers and brands, which perhaps can’t afford to attend tradeshows. We are working with one such lingerie designer, Sandra Palmer, from Louise Ferdinand Lingerie. We love Sandra’s commitment to launching her brand and her determination to make it a success.

Working with new designers and labels through partnerships with people like Nolcha Fashion Week will continue to be a key part of what we offer and we are always happy to hear from new designers.

In the first three months that the site has been live, so much has already been achieved, and yet, still we want to do so much more. Pinpointing how yourbrandspace will look and feel in even a year’s time is impossible; the scope for product categories is vast, technology changes daily and we want to adapt the platform based on the needs of retailers.

Sam and I have always envisaged the next three phases of development and we are clear on the direction the site will take, but one of the key lessons we have both learnt from our past roles is that research is key. By interacting with the users of yourbrandspace.com, we can ensure that we develop a winning strategy, but one thing is clear; lingerie and swimwear will continue to play an important role in yourbrandspace.”

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