Branching into fashion

Mhairi Clarke not only works full time, but she has also launched her own business. She spoke to Workingmums.co.uk about starting over as a single parent and setting up her own clothing business.

Mhairi Clarke clearly likes to work. Not only is she doing a full-time job as communications manager to Bionic Vet Noel Fitzpatrick, but she is setting up her own business which allows people to re-sell their designer clothes.
Mhairi has always enjoyed a busy work life. She used to be a production secretary on Blue Peter, but realised that the long hours and short-term contracts did not make for a secure future. She moved into tv marketing as a publication executive for specialist factual programmes like Walking with Dinosaurs and BBC Schools. Her son was born in 2003 and she planned to take a year off. However, all her plans went to the wall when six weeks after the birth Mhairi’s marriage ended, just before Christmas.
She decided to leave London and move back in with her parents in Scotland. She accepted quite quickly that her marriage was over, but it took a while to find her feet. “Getting a divorce is a full-time job in itself,” she says, adding that it took her a couple of years to get herself sorted out. “It was not till I was divorced that I could get a feel for the future. I felt it was down to me to make a good future for me and my son,” she says.
 
Retraining
A freelance opportunity came up in PR and marketing. She says she was winging it a bit as she had never done PR. She decided to retrain and do a masters in PR and soon got a job in Vets Now, an emergency and critical care out of hours service for pets. The business grew fast and Mhairi rose from PR executive to PR manager.
The job was very busy and there were times she had to be away from her son for two or three days. Nevertheless, her employers were flexible and allowed her to pick up her son from school and then log on again in the evening.
She did the job for three years and then the company had a restructure and the marketing department was made redundant. Mhairi was offered a 20-hour a week freelance contract working from home. Her salary was cut in half so she started freelancing on the side, developing her own PR lifestyle consultancy, doing PR for clients such as florists and jewellers.
She realised, however, that she wanted to move into the retail industry. “I realised that there was no online boutique re-selling quality clothes. Ebay never appealed to me for buying clothes. It was too big and too random. I felt there was a gap for a designer online boutique,” she says.
She started working on a business plan and drumming up business through social media. The idea for her business, The Clothes Tree, is that she will sell old designer clothes for people. She sends people who contact her about selling clothes mailing bags which they collect clothes in and return to her freepost. She then steam cleans and professionally photographs them and puts them online.
She gets 60% of the selling price and 40% goes to the person who has donated them.
 
The next level
The shop is beginning to build up a lot of interest and Mhairi has set up an office in a converted mill 10 minutes from home. It has also brought press attention in Scotland. Mhairi has a regular blog on a Scottish newspaper, for instance. Now she wants to take it to the next level and is looking for an investor so she can afford to pay for an assistant.
This is because at around the same time that she set up the business she started a full-time job as a communications manager for the BBC’s Bionic Vet. It’s a busy job and, although she works mainly from home, she has to travel to Surrey every few weeks.
Mhairi says she looks forward to it as she loves her job and it means she can just focus on her work, even if she misses her son.
She clearly loves being busy because she is also writing a book, which she says is an honest guide to making mistakes and surviving them. “It’s through the eyes of a mother and is about all the expectations we have to live up to and the guilt that comes as a consequence of feeling we are not being a good mum,” she says.
She had decided that she didn’t want to build her fledgling business too quickly, but she says she realised she had, ironically given her background, been neglecting marketing it. Over Christmas she went to Australia and took the time to write a huge marketing strategy for 2012, including an online strategy. She is now looking forward to the future.
“I love my work. I don’t look at it as 9 to 5 work. There are no real divisions between my work, life, family and relationships and it works,” she says.

 




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