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Elena Sirghi talks to Workingmums.co.uk about balancing a full-time job as a lawyer with building up her fashion business.
When she had her first child eight years ago Elena Sirghi dressed him in designer labels. The novelty soon wore off as she realised how much the clothes were costing her. Soon after, she discovered some clothes made by the Spanish firm Mayoral that looked designer and were good quality, but were around the price of Gap or Next in a small boutique. She found other shops, but they only carried a small selection of Mayoral clothes. Another mum suggested she contact the Spanish firm directly.
When she did so, she found out that they operated a franchise, but did not have anyone covering England. Elena was pregnant with her second child by this point. Indeed she travelled to Spain just two weeks after her daughter’s birth to negotiate her franchise contract. She says Mayoral clothes are in over 60 countries, including 130 shops in Spain, and the firm has a proven track record in the UK in the small boutique shops it had been sold in up until then. “I have always had a passion for fashion,” she says, “and I could see a gap in the children’s clothes market in the UK for good quality yet affordable clothes. Spanish design is very classic and there is a huge selection and what is great is that they have the same degree of selection for boys as for girls, something that is uncommon in the UK.”
She opened the first Mayoral shop in Clapham, on Northcote Road, last September. The internet shop, called Eric & Amy after her children, was launched a couple of months ago. Elena wanted to see how the brand would do given a bigger platform and in January she hopes to open Mayoral’s second UK shop in Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. Eventually she would like to open a whole chain of the shops in the UK.
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The remarkable thing is that she has managed to do all of this while also working full time as a lawyer. She started the business, initially with a friend who was to see to its day-to-day running while Elena focused on the business side and finances, thinking it would eventually lead to greater flexibility so she could see more of her children.
Before she had her son she had been working in banking in the City doing “crazy hours” and long trips abroad. Once she realised that she wanted to start a family she had taken a year off to do a masters in politics and had started looking for flexible work. Her husband who is a criminal lawyer told her that in law, as opposed to the City, she could find part-time work or more flexible hours. So five weeks after Eric was born she enrolled at a law school and did her training with a top law firm. Again it was long hours, but after a few years she got a job doing all the litigation for a wealthy Russian family which has been very flexible in terms of hours and work place.
She has always been interested in fashion – she describes herself as a “shopaholic” where fashion is concerned – and wanted to be around more for her children. Law, however, was less risky. While she was studying for her law degree Elena’s mum moved in to look after Eric and when he was two, he went to nursery full time and a nursery teacherworker used to help out in the evenings if Elena or her husband were home late. Her husband works long hours and is often in and out of police stations in the middle of the night, but his work is also quite flexible so he can now do some school pick-ups and take the children to activities. For the last two years while Elena has been effectively doing two jobs, the couple have had a live-in nanny. Working full time in law and retail has been challenging, she says. “Normally people have the weekends to see their families, but in retail the weekends are when you are busiest.”
Elena works two days a week in the Clapham shop so she can keep in touch with her customers. She is available daily for any questions about the shop and is also in the shop at the weekend. She can keep up to date with her legal work while she is at the shop since much of it involves replying to emails.
She describes her legal work as 24/7 since it requires her to operate in different time zones which means a lot of work in the evenings and at weekends.
The last six months have been incredibly difficult as she has had three major big cases in the High Court. She says: “It breaks your heart when you only see your children during the week to put them to bed.”
As a result of the stress, her husband has decided to reduce his hours so he can focus more on the children. “I could not have done it without him. He is holding things together while I am trying to develop the business,” she says. She hopes the situation of balancing two major jobs at the same time is not for long and says she has realised that delegation makes things much easier. “I realised you can’t do it all. I try to get staff I can rely on and I get them involved more in the business and give them more responsibility,” she states.
Currently she has five staff in the first shop. The Bluewater shop will need quite a few more as it is bigger and the opening hours are longer. There are also a lot more regulations and paperwork to tend to with a shop in a massive shopping centre rather than on the high street and, true to her desire to delegate more and to avoid being a “control freak”, she has hired other lawyers to work on the legal implications.
She says: “I am trying to build a team and show them how they can grow with the company and at the same time free myself up for what is most important to me: my family.”