FamilyLife

How I Make it Work: Alice Shreeve of Belle & Bunty

Alice & MaeBelle & Bunty design some of the prettiest clothes around – from vintage-inspired bridal wear to a glorious ready-to-wear collection. (They also have the loveliest – and super-stylish – Instagram account: @belleandbunty). The brainchild of two friends and London College of Fashion alumni, Alice Shreeve & Hannah Coniam-Thompson, the label’s watchwords are feminine, flirtatious and eminently wearable (I often notice that clothes designed by women for women are the most flattering – not to mention the most comfortable.)

Alice also has two daughters – Mae, 9, [with Alice, above] and Darcey, 6, so we were longing to ask her she manages to be at the helm of her own business, design the Belle & Bunty collections and run a family. And we love her down-to-earth approach (and her brilliant advice).

Tell us a little bit about Belle & Bunty…

We are a London-based designer label offering women’s fashion and bridal collections. The label focuses on the exploration of all things feminine by offering the perfect balance of proportions, designed to accentuate a woman’s natural shape. In keeping with the brand’s core aesthetic of understated elegance, the collections combine pure glamour – inspired by the best of bygone eras, such as the 1930′s and 1940′s – with a modern and unique take on the vintage feel.

Pearl cami & Belle skirt with headscarf

What made you decide to go into business together?

We studied together at the London College of Fashion and had a mutual appreciation for each other’s work and became friends. After we graduated we both designed for the high-street and quickly realised this was not where we wanted to be. It didn’t take us very long to convince each other that our future lay in our own label = and a year after graduating we took the plunge !

Did you have a ‘eureka’ moment in terms of knowing that vintage bridal design was the path for you?

No not at all. Our Bridal collection was born from a very organic process of our RTW customers wanting a similar aesthetic and relaxed approach to their wedding dresses. This happened to coincided with myself and Hannah getting married within six months of each other. We designed our own wedding dresses which really kick-started it all. They are both favourites (obviously) in our collection!

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How were the early days of setting up your own business?

We both studied Design and Embroidery at the London College of Fashion so we were pretty in the dark as to how to run a business. Hence lot of things were unexpected! We’ve had some good mentors and had to learn on the job. You learn quickly that there are two ways to look at any situation: you can turn it into a positive or you can dwell on the negative. We learned to think on our feet, be a team players and have a strong stomachs!

What additional challenges did becoming a mother throw into the mix?

Time management became the biggest issue.  I felt torn between work and home all time; feeling guilty about wherever you weren’t was very stressful. I have learned slowly to accept that sometimes work must wait. and the business won’t collapse if I don’t deal with a problem straight away; and then on the flip side, sometimes the kids have to come with me to work. As parents we have really integrated the children into our business and they have spent many a day at the studio learning all sorts they would never learn at school. My husband and I talk to them about our businesses and they appreciate the commitment and freedom it offers in equal measure.

 How many days a week do you work?

I’m in the studio 4/5 days a week. I was back at work within a week of my first child being born (with her in a sling, naturally) but then went down to 2 to 3 days a week.  Now the roles have reversed and Hannah does 2-3 days as my kids are both at school and she has a one-year-old.

Talk us through an average working day… 

I drop the girls at school and walk the dog and am at my desk by 10am. I manage all the production which we run between three sites in London, so inevitably I’m visiting them at some point in the day. Dealing with all the suppliers, finances and general running of the business is also a key part of my day. We usually squeeze in some instagram shots and then I whizz off to collect the girls from school. I am super fortunate to be able to work like this: cramming a day’s work in before 3pm so I get to spend precious time with the girls.

How do you deal with childcare?  

We have two incredible grandmothers who live in London and are really amazing with the girls: they are both freelance so can be flexible with helping us out. We have a lovely group of friends who all do childcare favours for each other which seems to work. And of course Hannah and I are massively fortunate to have a fantastic team at the studio be able to rely on if we have to dash off in a childcare crisis!!

 How do you ensure you give your children the attention they need? 

The kids come first completely. I never miss an event: I’ll change my working days if they are sick. Although in reality that can be super stressful, I think it’s almost easier having your own business with kids, as you can build your work around them rather than be beholden to someone else’s schedule. I make sure I drop them and collect them from school most days. We all have dinner together and weekends are family time.

Do you have a set weekend routine or are you go with the flow?

We keep it quite varied, but there’s lots of outdoor activity. I was brought up in London, but both of my parents were from Devon so there was lots of camping, walking dogs, mucking around on horses, sailing and general outdoor muddiness when I was growing up. I think it’s important that children growing up in a city like London are also exposed to another side of life. So whilst our weekdays are immersed in cosmopolitan London, which we love, our weekends tend to be a little more nature-filled.

 Do you feel you have achieved that elusive work/life balance? 

At moments I think I have, but others times its utter pandemonium and I’m a headless chicken running around going nowhere. In the past year I’ve treated myself to a cleaner which is the best money I’ve ever spent! It’s my treat to come home and the anarchy has been cleared away. I do know that a good ‘To Do list’ can keep you feeling on top of things and a good gin and tonic at the end of the day is even better!

What’s the best thing about being a working mother? 

The feeling that you can’t cope mixed with the considerable elation you feel when everyone’s happy, work is going well, people have eaten, the laundry is done and – miracle of miracles –  you’ve kept all those plates spinning whilst painting your nails!

How do you find time for your relationship with your husband?

My husband has his own company in the fashion industry as well, so we try to make sure our schedules are somewhat aligned. As our shop is open on the weekends we close on a Monday and quite often this will be our day together.

And do you manage to carve out any time for yourself? 

I train twice a week at Circus School doing Static Trapeze and Ariel Hoop. I have been doing it for three  years now. It’s a total escape and very physically demanding, so it’s a great way to unwind and get fit without even realising it.

What would you change about your current set-up, if you could wave a magic wand?

I’ve actually given this more than a healthy amount of thought over the years and I’d either employ an army of elves, a fairy godmother and a goose that would lay me golden eggs. Or I would be able to tidy a room like Mary Poppins with a click of her fingers. The jury’s still out on that one!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to set up their own business? 

Be gracious to everyone, courageous with yourself, and well informed by those you trust.

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