My background is in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi; Eileen, my Co-Founder, has a background in fashion working for Nicole Fahri. We have been firm friends for a long time, having met at the school gate when our children where little. We felt that our complementary backgrounds, skill sets and characters were perfect to start a business together.
We launched Cucumber Clothing almost three years ago, in September 2017 and it has been a roller coaster ride ever since! Sometimes, you can get so bogged down in the day-to-day that you forget to pat yourself on the back and acknowledge what you have actually achieved. We hope that Cucumber will go from strength to strength, but either way, we have launched a label that is a recognised brand and has customers all over the world.
I think that to launch a brand takes three main characteristics; determination – if you want to go for something, you have to give it your all and see it through; organisation – there is always so much to do and not all of it can be done at once; which leads me on to…prioritising – and this means in a personal capacity too. You have to learn to prioritise yourself sometimes so that the business can be supported by two mentally and physically fit happy co-founders.
The foundation of Cucumber happened organically. I love to work out, as does my co-founder Eileen. We also love to wear our gym kits and found ourselves hardly changing out of them as the materials used are so comfortable, crease-free and easy to care for. They keep us cool and dry as we go about our busy lives, whether that’s trail running, downward dogging in hot yoga, jumping for the ball in basketball, walking the dog or popping to the local shops.
Our light bulb moment came when we realised there must be a way to reproduce this, but with a material that looked as gorgeous as it felt. We wanted to replicate all the qualities of anti-crush, cooling, stay fresh and comfortable clothing, but in more stylish, everyday luxury pieces that we would want to reach for time and time again.
We are both mums who have seen our children flee the nest; we had some more time on our hands and thought that Cucumber could fit neatly into our lives. Looking back, we were so naïve. We both gave up our other work commitments and it has been full steam ahead with Cucumber taking up every waking hour – an action packed journey of shifting priorities, meeting some incredible people and a huge learning curve; but mostly it has been lots of hard work and fun.
We launched with a very small collection of just six pieces of nightwear in two colours. We were truly overwhelmed by the response we had to our products and quickly realised that there was a real gap in the market for performance, luxury fabrics that work with your body. This led us to develop ourselves into a fabric-led fashion brand, for use 24/7 not just for sleeping in. We provide women with solutions for their super busy lives, whether day or night, at home, at work, or globetrotting.
Being a tiny start-up on a shoe-string budget, we have learnt to look at things differently and find innovative ways to achieve our goals. Unconventionality is what we stand for, both in terms of how we get things done and in what we are doing. We see ourselves as educators – teaching women that technical fabrics that keep you cool and fresh can also be sustainable and fabulous to wear. So many women initially feel that human-made fibres by their very nature cannot be sustainable and cannot feel luxurious. We are here to bust that myth! We are not the scratchy nylons of the 70s; we are beautiful, luxuriously soft fabrics with all the added benefits of modern technology.
Of course, our latest challenge is the challenge that now faces the whole world. We have some amazingly loyal customers and we hope that the world can get back to normal soon. These are uncertain and difficult times for everyone.
We have had to learn some hard lessons along the way. For example, quite early on, we decided to try and outsource our fulfilment (picking, packing and shipping to the customer). We pride ourselves on brilliant customer service – we personally answer every email and actively encourage feedback. Fielding out this part of our business was nerve-wracking as this was the first time we had no control over part of our customer’s experience with us. We were horrified when we began to receive complaints of wrong garments received, double orders sent out and boxes marked ‘shoes’ (we only do clothing)! It was a month-long, very expensive experiment with endless firefighting, but it underlined to us the value we place on customer service.
The ‘team’ is just the two of us (although we are excited to be hiring our first extra pair of part time hands soon) and we try to make our work mantra ‘kindness’. Everything we have created with Cucumber has been helped along with large doses of kindness from others and our interest in sustainability and circularity stems from trying to ensure that we leave the world a better place.
From the very start, we wanted to be mindful of the world around us. We realise that producing anything leaves a carbon footprint, but we are trying to make ours as light as possible, whilst supporting the local economy. We are not perfect, but with every new collection, we are getting that little bit better – no small feat for a tiny start-up fashion brand.