Working with a friend sounds great, right? But, is it all laughter and shared dreams or is there a downside? It’s been so far, so good for me and Natasha, but we were keen to find out how other friends have fared when they’ve gone into business together. Lauren Skerritt (picture above on the left) and Poppy Sexton-Wainwright of gorgeous lingerie brand ASCENO by Beautiful Bottoms met in their first year of university, going on to set up their business just a year later. Five years on and the brand has gone from strength to strength, expanding into swim and lounge wear with 100 wholesale clients and stocked in stores such as Selfridges, Liberty and Holt Renfrew. So, just how did they do it?
How did you meet?
We met at Newcastle University, in our first term as we were on the same course studying Marketing, Management and Business. We ended up living together in our last year with another girl and three boys. Juggling finals, going out and also trying to find suppliers and finalise our second collection made our last year very busy!
When did the idea for the brand first appear?
We launched Beautiful Bottoms when we were both in our second year at Newcastle University. We were working on a business module and realised we shared the same vision for a company, so we decided to do a business plan together. We wanted to create a brand that was about laidback sophistication, relaxed silhouettes and exciting prints at an accessible price point, so we bought some stock and it went from there. It was the first business idea we had together, although as a child Lauren did dream of being a lingerie designer!
That was five years ago – In keeping with the brand’s evolution‚ Beautiful Bottoms is now being rebranded as ASCENO. It’s name we feel is more in keeping with the energy and essence of our collections. The ASCENO woman can easily pivot between urban city breaks and exotic luxury travels.
How did you go about turning your idea into actual wearable items?
Having had the initial idea and decided on the name, the first thing we were advised to do was purchase the domain name, which Lauren’s stepfather immediately registered for us. Now that we think back, there was so much to do initially from registering the business to creating the website, all of it took time and money! Although, one of the most important things to do first was to finalise the collection. Through a family contact we created a bond with a factory in Delhi. However, not having the time or the money to travel there initially, it took a lot of to’ing and fro’ing to finalise the sample shapes and prints. Our first trip to see the factory didn’t happen until almost a year later when Poppy travelled there with her Godmother who happened to be going on business already.
We managed to fund the business personally from a very small total of savings. We started small, and grew the business organically – the first collection was conservative with only three styles. This stock was purchased, and sold, and with the profits we slowly began to grow. Still to this day we have taken no funding or investment. A very helpful bank overdraft helped us in the early days when purchasing stock up front. This is always a difficulty for a fashion brand as there’s such a delay in the process of receiving money for goods sold to the customer, cash flow issues can be problematic.
What’s it like working with such a close friend?
We are very fortunate to not argue. Of course occasionally we disagree on things, but we are both reasonable and can usually understand the others views. We always come to an agreement in the end, and usually a better one than if only one of us had been in change!
What’s the best thing about going into business with a friend?
When we have to travel abroad to trade shows its nice to be together! And we know each other pretty well. Its also pretty relaxed in the office. If either of us need a day off, we are very understanding of each other – maybe you wouldn’t get this from someone who wasn’t a friend.
What’s the worst thing?
Working with a friend has huge benefits, but also difficulties. When you make a mistake, you’re not only letting a colleague down, you’re letting down a friend. Which is obviously not ideal. We can also never travel on holidays together anymore like we used to – no one would be left in charge! We also find it very difficult not to constantly talk about business, so even when we’re not in the office it’s difficult to switch off if we are together.
I don’t think either of us probably consciously considered the pros and cons and problems of working with a friend prior to the company creation. It just sort of happened! However the benefits definitely out way the negatives.
Where do you see you and the brand in five years time? Is there a plan?
Our ultimate goal is for Asceno to be worn and loved all over the world. We want our customers to enjoy wearing the products and have a great time in them, so it would be wonderful to see the brand in far away places like Australia, on beautiful islands and of course to be found in the top department stores and exclusive boutiques worldwide. Eventually we would love to have our own flagship store in London where our customers can enjoy the Asceno experience. That’s the dream.
If you could give any advice to someone looking to set up a company, what would it be?
Research the market and make sure the product is different to what is out there. Be persistent!