What do most of us hope to have achieved by our 21st birthday? Perhaps the skills to cook a decent meal. Moving out of our parents' home, maybe. Or how about the ability to do our laundry without turning white socks pink?
Well, that wasn't quite enough for one young lady. And I warn you in advance, she may leave you feeling slightly inadequate, but most definitely inspired too.Phoebe Gormley is not your average 20 year old. She is a woman on a mission, a woman full of ambition, and a big inspiration.
Phoebe is the founder of London's first made-to-measure tailors exclusively for women: Gormley & Gamble. "Everyone is always so appalled that we're the first ones to do made-to-measure womenswear exclusively," she tells me. And I, dear readers, was one of the appalled.At the very trendy Sketch in London (possibly the coolest restaurant I've ever been to), Phoebe filled me in on all things G&G over tea and salted caramel macaroons. This is not a restaurant review, but I have to say both the tea and macaroons were sensational.
Charming, eloquent, passionate and stylish, Phoebe is a fantastic ambassador for her own brand. From her perfectly painted nails to her beautifully-fitted (conveniently) G&G jacket, looking at this young lady gives you the impression she knows a thing or two about style.
But Phoebe isn't just about the design. She has mastered every aspect of the business, and it's clear she really knows her stuff, dropping in impressive stats about profit margins without even thinking about it.Website design, social media, marketing, fitting, sewing, finance... She's had to do it all.
There may now be a team of five working at G&G, but at the start it was just Phoebe.Rewind a few months and Phoebe was in the second year of her degree (Costume Design at Nottingham Trent), unfulfilled and unhappy to stay put.
Having worked with various tailors in her school and uni summer holidays for the past five years, she already knew a lot about the industry and what was out there. "The majority of tailors are 65 year old men, so when I tell people I'm a tailor they're always like 'But you don't look like a 65 year old man!'
But actually, when you're young and a woman, a 65 year old man is so open to teaching you everything he knows because he doesn't see you as competition."I can't help but wonder if Phoebe finds people underestimate her as a result of her youth. "Oh definitely," she responds, "But in all the best possible ways. Because then they tell you all their trade secrets and tricks." I think it says a lot about Phoebe's attitude that she's spun a potential hindrance into an advantage.
It was after her first year of uni that the brainwave came to Phoebe. "As a man, you can walk into a tailor and ask for a size 38, extra slim fit, long jacket, but as a woman you can only go into a high street store and get a size 38. It's quite tedious when all your sleeves end at your elbows." Preach, gurl.
Like most people, Phoebe presumed there must already exist a tailor for women who made specific cuts and lengths. But market research revealed a gap in the market. Phoebe spotted her niche, realised she could do something pretty awesome and didn't let that idea fester.
Despite having a blooming business idea in her head, Phoebe still went back to uni for her second year. Her degree wasn't stimulating her though: "I was bored and wanted something I could sink my teeth into. And, after insisting Phoebe write a satisfactory business plan, her parents said they would support her in her move. "They actually loved it," Phoebe tells me, almost still with an air of surprise herself.
Once she'd convinced her parents there was no stopping the 20 year old. She'd decided to follow her dream and take a gamble. Hence, Gormley & Gamble.
Fun fact: Phoebe came up with the logo (Gs as scissor-handles) before the name so particularly wanted to find another G. Thus, Gormley & Gamble was born - Phoebe would leave unviersity.
Her uni friends were sad to see her go, but supportive. “90% of my friends didn’t really take it seriously at first. They were just like, ‘Oh, Pheebs. Another one of her hobbies.’” But It’s safe to say Gormley & Gamble is seriously a-go-go now.
Phoebe had her ducks in a row and, straight after finishing her second year of uni,packed her bags and moved to London the very next day.
Does she miss any aspects of uni life or regret leaving at all? Phoebe pauses and smiles at me before saying, "Rachel, I'm talking to you in my favourite restaurant in London, having jasmine tea and a salted caramel macaroon... I've taken the biggest leap of my life, and I couldn't be happier." And you can tell she means it.
It wasn't all an easy-ride though. Early-on, the tailor she'd chosen to work with backtracked on the cost price he'd given her and Phoebe was left in limbo, daunted and struggling to find a manufacturer. "The ones I've found now though are amazing - they can etch your name round the edge of a button!" Sounds cool, don'tcha think?
One of things that impresses me most about Phoebe is how she learnt all about running a business herself. Was it hard? Apparently not for breezy Phoebe: "I just went onto the Prince's Trust website and downloaded a template for a business plan and just filled it out [she also recommends their four-day course on starting a business].
These things don't have to be as complicated or daunting as everyone thinks they are. You have to be open and willing to learn." She pauses before adding, "and willing to ask."With the official launch of G&G in February (on Phoebe's 21st birthday, no less), she is currently testing the market.
"That's called proving the concept. Then you can go back and refine everything, the packaging, all the external factors you don't really think about. Then, you can have the hard-launch." Told you she knows her stuff.
In a cut-throat industry, your average 20 year old newbie might be worried about being taken seriously by potential clients. Is Phoebe? Of course not. "Although the company has my name in it, it's not about me. If someone wants a good suit, it shouldn't matter whether it comes from a 20 year old or a 65 year old if we're equally passionate."
All the clients so far have come through word of mouth. But having already sold to CEOs, the future looks bright for G&G - Phoebe's first client was the CEO of a certain branch of Virgin who had a two-hour fitting the very day her company went public."I was terrified. The tailor who was meant to do the fitting with me cancelled that morning so I had to do it myself... and it was absolutely fine." Given that said CEO bought 12 G&G pieces and then set up a direct debit for a suit every month, I think we can assume Phoebe did a good job.
However, G&G's target market isn't CEOs, but rather "the fresh-faced girl to the City." Phoebe's looking at stylish graduates, new to working life and earning, who want to look good but don't have time to trawl the high street."Our clients want something that will look good, is convenient, and is a luxury service - all of our fittings come with macaroons and Champagne.
The Savile Row tailors do theirs with whisky and cigars, so champagne and macaroons is the whisky and cigars for women."The clients get to choose their favourite flavour of macaroons in advance too. It seems like Phoebe has thought of everything, and adamantly tells me how important she considers packaging and service to be.
"I didn't want to send [our suits] in a brown cardboard box like Louboutin, I wanted something really personalised which is why each client's packaging has their name on the box. If packaging is nice they'll keep it and then always be reminded of G&G. If I received one of our boxes, I'd Instagram it." I don't think it'll come as any surprise that I would too.
G&G two-pieces start at £400, just less than those from the likes of Reiss and L K Bennett. "That's for our purple label. But then we have our black label which is completely customisable and starts at £600."For G&G purple label you choose one of six fabrics and your fit. For the black label, however, you choose your fabric, lining, under-collar, button-hole stitching, monogramming, whether you want belt loops, skirt slits, the shape of your cuffs, collar... The list is seemingly endless.
Such a brilliant idea surely needs spreading to the world, and of course, Phoebe has thought about her marketing strategy. I for one love the G&G Instagram, which is full of inspiring quotes "all about working hard and being a woman." (Yes, I'm sharing some of my faves in this very blog post.)
Social media aside, G&G has been going into law and finance firms doing pop-up shops, and Phoebe has attended lots of women's networking events in the City. She's already been super busy so is reluctant to do a huge marketing push yet as they couldn't cope with a huge demand. Relying on word-of-mouth seems to be working though.
"We give clients a priority code which means they and any of their friends can skip the waiting list." And if five of your friends buy a suit using your code, you get a case of Champagne (you lucky lady.)
Phoebe is fast making me wish I had the place for a suit in my life. She shows me a picture of the G&G fitting room which she converted from an old bike shed (seriously.) It is so stylish I want to move in. Forget being an entrepreneur, this is a gal who could be the UK's next top decorator.
It's clear Phoebe's parents have had a huge influence on her, and I can tell how important they are to her by the way she speaks.With a successful entrepreneur father, it's all Phoebe has ever known. "I remember, from a very young age, my father would always ask my opinion on things. I don't know if he wanted my opinion or whether he just wanted me to have an interest in business. He knew it was the right path for me."
"People can decide to moan about things but that's their decision"
She's also one of very few people I know who exceed my levels of positivity, drive and general zest for life. This is a girl who also knows the value of being bubbly, enthusiastic, friendly, eager and willing to learn when it comes to networking and getting on in business.
"If you're not happy with something, you're the only one who can change it"
"I really believe in Karma," says Phoebe, "A little deed can go a long way and I think people who do well deserve to be praised. I don't know if it's London or England but there is a lot of negative energy. But I just think, why bother? Life is so short, I don't see the point in complaining. If you're not happy with something, you're the only one who can change it."
But even this oh-so-positive young lady isn't cheery all the time, and she knowsher weaknesses: finance, panicking for 30 seconds when thrown curveballs and being too trusting.She's also realistic about competitors. "We don't really have any competition in made-to-measure.
Then there's the top designers but their suits aren't often that office-appropriate if you work in the City not at Vogue."Phoebe knows she's likely to face challenges, but she also knows where she'd like to take G&G, namely to New York, Tokyo and Paris. So basically world domination, I suggest. Phoebe doesn't disagree. "If you don't throw yourself into it, it's never going to happen"
Currently solely online, Phoebe doesn't envisage a physical G&G shop any time soon, but at the same time she'd love to be the first women's only tailor on Savile Row. "I think Savile Row is dying because there is so much competition for menswear tailors. It's not the same for women.
There's nothing customisable at the £400/£500/£600 price point for women's suits."G&G does already have a spot on Savile Row for fittings. I'm unsurprised to hear Phoebe's had various customers buying G&G fittings as presents - who wouldn't love a trip to Savile Row, choosing your suit and enjoying macaroons and Champagne?
Before G&G, Phoebe had done work experience and internships, and now she's her own boss. She gushes with praise about her part-time employee Rasha ("an absolute godsend") who is very hot on the financial side. "I don't think she works for me, I think we work together." G&G also has three interns.
So, what advice would Phoebe give to budding entrepreneurs? "
Ok, A) A lot of start-ups now aren't specialist enough. I think it's best to nail one thing and then branch out. If you have an idea, write a business plan. If you can't fill out a whole business plan, you're not set on it."
"B) Don't quit your day job until your idea takes over every second of your free time, if you’d rather sit and watch TV then work on it, you’re not passionate enough."
"C) Network and share your idea with people in the industry. You have to be open to their suggestions, but don't let one person change your course."
"D) Don't be afraid of mishaps and hiccups once you get going. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Have faith in yourself and your idea."
"E) Am I on E yet? If you don't throw yourself into it, it's never going to happen. When I go to work, I don't feel like I'm going to work. I wake up every day with a smile on my face because I know I'm doing something that excites me."
Phoebe's ability to push herself is admirable, and she admits she can be quite ruthless, blunt and honest. "I'm an open book. My spine would be broken if I was a book, I'm readable, not going to lie."This is a girl who does not do complacency. If she's not enjoying what she's doing, she'll move onto something new. "I remember a time I was really unhappy, stuck at university feeling uninspired" she tells me, "But now, I couldn't be happier."
Phoebe is confident, enthusiastic and excited - three emotions I feel for her too. Could it be youthful naïvety on both our parts? Maybe, but I don't think so.
Written by Rachel Hosie, writer of Handbags & Cupcakes Blog.