The world really is a conflicting place at times; in one moment we’re all banishing single use plastics and in the next we’re buying a one hit wonder dress for a night on the tiles only for it never to be worn again. Confusing huh? Amid the chaos of consumerism, we wanted to provide some clarity and give you an insight into the inner workings of WSd and what it stands for on the ever changing high street. Who better to hear it from than the leading lady herself, so I caught up with Sarah to get the lowdown on the WSd of today and the justification behind her mantra to ‘buy less and wear more’…
How would you summarise the high street in 2018 in 3 words?
Safe. Uninspiring. Faceless.
How have people’s shopping habits changed?
I think that shopping habits have changed hugely. We can now shop 24/7 online and it’s not a destination thing or an event with friends to look forward to. It’s part of our daily routine to surf the net or open emails that entice us.
The high street in its appearance has changed too, with more and more of the high street stores closing their physical in town stores in favour of out of town Retail Parks or online. With these big stores there is no continuity of staff and therefore little or no empathy for the consume-the vibe is robotic and no different to their online giant presence.
How does WSd differ now to when you first opened?
We pride ourselves on our customer service, our seasonal handpicked choices, honest styling for body shapes and the way we can work with each and every customer. I shop for my ladies of Hitchin- the lady who wants to believe in herself not just follow a trend like a sheep.
What are the challenges of running an indie boutique in 2018?
Having a unique selling point, my getting to know my customers and my styling background enables me to buy efficiently yet differently to the blanket buying of the high street, but I, up against huge businesses that can knock a floral dress out for £9 but will only be worn once and then seen on every girl too…. I have to bring something different and that, so I’ve been told is me…Gosh that sounds pretentious but I mean that I can genuinely help the customer find confidence in herself as well as her shopping habits by making the right choices. Its hard work running an independent business and to be honest I’ve never worked so hard, not only on the shop floor but maintaining an ever evolving social media presence, two online stores and a family too. The high street is forever scaremongering the public with constant sales and discounts or the media tells of the failing high street which sends the big boys into a tailspin. So I have to evolve again or make sure I’m one step ahead as I cannot go into sale every few weeks – or else I’d be DFS!
What are the most enjoyable aspects of running a boutique?
I love instilling confidence in my customers and by giving honest advice, advising on all the ways you can wear each item. I love buying, sharing my tips, working with under the radar brands and all the amazing independent giftware and homeware brands, shouting about the awe inspiring girl bosses out there. I love my job so much and am forever pinching myself that I have this opportunity to share my knowledge and basically shout about the brilliance of the brands I stock. I have the most amazing team working with me too which just acts like the icing on the cake to my little world.
What made you decide to go online?
I spend a lot of my time creating a conversation with my customer, answering all the questions that hold them back from buying. So to create an online platform went against everything I believed in but I also understood that I needed to reach a bigger audience and I realised that I cannot be available 24/7. That bit hurt and for a while I kicked my own arse as I saw it as a failure but its 2018 and I’m not silly to think that I can survive without a greater audience. I find a lot of work is done via my social media platforms and with my use of tempting imagery. I pride myself on the ethos of the store, my website and Instagram- I wanted my social media to be an extension of the in-store experience so that customers still feel confident to buy. So for now I have a happy medium; I’m still true to myself by helping with any questions that come my way but also guiding customers to the website when the store is closed.
We also have a whole host of unique products in store that we wanted to get to the wider world – for instance the Sarah products etc are all curated and developed by independent girl bosses and I love promoting them as much as I can. I believe in everything in my store- it wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in it.
You’ve introduced some new and exciting brands into WSd – what direction would you say they have taken the store?
I believe the store has never been truer to itself with the brand mix and look. I believe that my customer should buy less, wear more and invest. I have a diverse customer and I want her to be able to wear our clothes over and over again, year after year, all the while being relevant too. The demographic of my store is anything from 18~65 and I believe that she can wear most if not all of the collections in store, regardless of age. I love to see how diversely each lady wears a piece of WSd and I want everyone’s personality to shine through.
What does a lifestyle store mean to you?
To me a lifestyle store is my wide variety of individually collated collections, of brands I which complement each other to create a lifestyle, something to aspire to.
What changes have you had to make to keep up with changing high street?
I have looked at the high street closely and I’ve observed a huge gap growing year on year. I buy at least 6 months ahead of the current season so I make decisions about what will work ahead of what you see. I want my collections to stand out from the crowd, so I choose wearable pieces that no one else can get their hands on yet or have seen in the likes of Grazia. I don’t want to stock brands that are saturated across the high street, available from department stores or all over the internet. My girl wants something different but wearable.
How do you personally shop?
I’m actually the worst shopper! I justify every buy- I guess I practice what I preach with my styling and try not to impulse buy or double up on pieces I have in my wardrobe. I really think over each purchase and I like to buy good quality pieces that will stand the test of time rather than one hit wonders. This is why I don’t personally like online shopping. I want to feel the structure, fabric and cut of a piece that I want to become a staple. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought many a cheap cami from H&M for my holiday but generally I prefer to shop local or independent for something that is very different to the high street and that flatters my body shape as well as shows my personality. I do like a bit of vintage and tend to stick to the brands I know if I buy online. Sizing across the high street is diabolical so I’d rather not be ordering multiple sizes for the sake of their demeaning size proportions. I actually don’t buy very much at all as I’m wearing WSd 6 days out of 7 but I add in Zara for basics and that way the key parts of my outfits sing for themselves backed up by high street rather than being pure high street and getting lost in the crowd.
How has social media changed the way we shop?
Social media is a key part of everyone’s shopping! Adverts are thrust upon us at every turn via the web and we are all guilty of clicking on the link to see how much something costs. My Instagram account is a key part of WSd and my mood boards each day show so much more of the shop. Having the ability to shop via Facebook or Instagram is a huge part of the retail business and WSd is part of that roller coaster too. We sell lots this way and I also have a fab presence on Trouva too.
What do you think about ‘concept’ stores and event stores? Where does WSd fit in?
Event stores and concept stores are a great way of promoting your brand as a whole and promoting yourself to the masses. I’m currently in the middle of doing exactly this over the next year to get the entire ethos of WSd out there to a wider audience. More news to follow…!
What makes Hitchin such a great place for independents?
Hitchin is fiercely supportive of all the businesses that come to the town but the independents are the most receptive to this and get involved more. I’m hugely grateful for the continued support I’ve had via Hitchin Bid and indeed every single person who has walked into my store over the last 8 years. I’m always eager to give something back and this positivity breeds positive vibes into the town. Hitchin is rare and amazing and it rocks. We all support each other too. We have the best indies and I’m honoured to sit among them.
You advocate investing in a capsule wardrobe and choosing high quality pieces that will stand the test of time. Which WSd piece say should form our capsule closets?
I think the brands in store now; Scotch & Soda, Mos Mosh, Air & Grace, Designer Society, Rue De Femme and Just Female all are of equal quality and as a result will last throughout all the seasons. I buy for my customer so should stand across the ages too. You can cross through my brands and still stay true to yourself.
You’re a trained stylist, how does this influence what you buy each season?
I always look at the cut, quality and how it can be washed! My parents used to own their own Dry Cleaning business so I grew up looking at labels and this still lives on. Why buy a cute embroidered top if it has to be dry cleaned every 10 minutes?
I will not buy a piece in a size 14 if I believe it won’t work for the body shape. The same applies for a size 8! I try to add in something for everyone, looking at what works rather than the latest shock trend to follow. The high street fall foul of this and cut the same shape into anything from a size 4 through to a size 20!! This is so wrong and is damaging for anyone with body conscious issues. It makes my blood boil.
Its fab that WSd is online but you can’t beat shopping in the great British high street – what do you get in store that you don’t get online?
Well here at WSd it’s all about honest customer service and styling advice. Before buying any item of clothing, we come up with at least 3 ways you can wear the said item, justifying the purchase and realising its worthiness. Service with a smile and getting to know my customer is huge to me. I’ve done a Wardrobe Edit for many of my customers which consist of a review of your wardrobe to see what’s working and to weed out any items that no longer fit, haven’t been worn in a long time, need repairing or are wrong for your body shape, style and lifestyle. Ultimately you’re left with a wardrobe full of clothes that can be worn over and over again, season after season and that make you feel fabulous whenever you put an outfit together. After I’ve been to do a Wardrobe Edit at someone’s house, I feel I can advise on future purchases from my store.
If a customer can’t get into store, what are their options?
We can always post out to any customer that cannot make it into store for the whole WSd experience. I make sure that each and every package that leaves my store is wrapped beautifully and also that we have advised as much as we can on sizing and styling as is humanly possible via messages on Facebook/Instagram DM or via email. Any customer can pay via PayPal for any item in store and I’ll gladly post out. We’re all busy so I totally understand that travelling to store is difficult at times.
Also I offer style evenings where the store can be hired for the evening. I’m there to advise and ply with prosecco while you try on to your heart’s content at ease and in the comfort of a store open just for you.
What are your 3 fave pieces in store at the moment and how would you style them?
Air & Grace – these trainers work on every level with lots of outfits. For work, the bar or casually, they’re a fab investment that actually look after your feet!
Mos Mosh Holly Blazer – this blazer just WORKS. Dress it with dark skinnies and a plain white tee and trainers for a smart/casual day to night look. Wear with heels and cigarette pants and a cami for date night or that important meeting. Or over a prairie dress – a midi or maxi for that “oh this? I just threw it on” look of effortless chic
The prairie dress. The humble body skimming midi or maxi dress is going nowhere and we can always find one to work with your body shape and wardrobe needs – I love the new red midi from Designers Society but we have lots coming throughout the season so watch this space. Wear with trainers for day or work or with brogues if trainers aren’t an option. Wear with a grandad cardigan and ankle boots when the weather misbehaves or with a blazer for next level trend.
All 3 items here would work together so you can see how my mind works. If pieces are able to constantly cross over into different looks and needs then they’re worthy of my purchase.
Any exciting plans on the horizon for WSd?
We have a few exciting projects coming together nicely and as always they aim to evolve into something you all love. As WSd hits the ripe age of 8 in November, my little store feels that she is at her best with amazing new brands, awesome indie gift, cards and homeware as well as innovation – oops I’ve said too much!! Watch this space!
We’d love to hear what you think and how you shop- let us know in the comments below.
Sarah & Rachel x