In a world of AI and worries about the threats it presents, a new book outlines a vision...read more
Freya Rose Archer speaks to workingmums.co.uk about building her luxury designer shoe business and her recent win at the everywoman awards.
Freya Rose Archer’s passion is not just shoes, but creating wearable works of art. Her luxury designer shoes are a blend of footwear and jewellery and have been worn by the likes of Holly Willoughby and Michelle Keegan. But making them and building the business has not always been easy, even though Freya Rose says she was “born with entrepreneurial tendencies” and a great role model.
Growing up in Portsmouth, her mum was a jewellery designer who built her business up while bringing up her three children on her own. “Design and craftsmanship and knowing I can do it is in my DNA,” says Freya, who was also a single mum as she built her business.
Her parents split up when she was 10, but her mum, who had a fourth child at the age of 47, had always been the breadwinner while her dad stayed at home. After the split, Freya saw how her mum navigated her way through the ups and downs, having had to close her shop after her dad left. “It was very difficult, but she was able to reopen later,” she says. She recalls coming in from school and sitting at the back of her mum’s shop which was under their flat, observing her mum and a jeweller making the jewellery she sold, and also travelling to Hatton Garden to buy the beautiful stones she used in her business. “My mum is very talented with a passion for craftsmanship and quality and when I started my business the quality of the product and how it were made was the most important things for me,” says Freya.
Her entrepreneurial genes kicked in at just 15 when she left home and began buying and selling clothes in the search for a better life. “I was a tearaway; a very independent character,” she says. Eventually, however, she got herself into the London College of Fashion and developed a love of sculpture and textiles. “When I saw shoes it was a lightbulb moment. I realised they could be an object of art. I fell in love with the idea straight away,” says Freya.
After college, she worked for commercial shoe companies like Dune whilst travelling in the Far East. She soon realised that she didn’t enjoy working in commercial shoe manufacturing, churning out fast fashion. She wanted to create something beautiful. She studied how artisans in Bali went about it and fell in love with the spirit of the place and the people. “They do such beautiful mother of pearl inlay there and I had the idea that the heel part of the shoe could be worked on like jewellery,” she says. It has taken years to get it right using different techniques and artisans and investing in training young women, but Freya says she likes the idea of pushing boundaries.
To fund her idea, Freya applied to the Prince’s Trust for a loan and mentorship and secured 3K pounds in funding. The business, which also sells designer bags and jewellery, started in 2008 amidst the financial crash, a good preparation for the business uncertainty that has now become the norm.
Freya freelanced while she was building up the business. It was not until 2010 when it became a limited company and acquired an office that she was able to go full time. It was around this time, however, that she found out she was pregnant. It was a big risk to put all her eggs in one basket, but she had seen her mum running a business while raising her kids so she just went with it. “I couldn’t see another option,” she says. “I couldn’t get a job while I was pregnant.”
In 2011 Freya gave birth to her son. She took no maternity leave as she had to focus on building her business. When her daughter was born four years ago she was also unable to take maternity leave. She faced a whole host of problems, from Brexit, which meant she had to take on freelance work to tide her over, to family sickness – her late father, who lived with her, became very sick. In addition, Freya had to contend with placenta previa and she suffered so badly from sepsis post-delivery that she nearly died. However, two weeks later she was travelling to Holland for work. “It was crazy, but we got through it. You muddle through and it forces you to be creative,” she says, adding that she hopes she will have more time to be with her children as the business develops. “As a single parent running a business is very challenging, but it was definitely the toughest part of my life to be facing such emotional turmoil and to be frightened of losing everything,” she states.
Being your own boss means you have to know about all aspects of the business. In the early days, for instance, Freya spent time at the British Library’s IP Centre learning about running a designer business. She found it enjoyable, however, to understand how everything fits together. She knew from the offset that she wanted her shoes made in Spain in a region known for shoemaking. So she went there and knocked on the doors of different manufacturers and the rest is history.
The hardest part, she says, has been employing and managing people. “It can be quite emotional and lonely managing people. You want to be their friend, but you are also their boss. I really struggle with that and am learning all the time,” she says. She now has a business consultant who she can discuss all aspects of the business with, including how to get the best out of people. “You make mistakes and you learn from them,” she adds.
Freya Rose London, which is committed to sustainability through its 100% recyclable packaging and use of DHL’s Go Green service, now employs six people in the office. While she didn’t have a network of connections and was not able to afford PR, meaning she had to rely on word of mouth, Freya hit it big fairly early on. Kate Moss, Freya’s favourite style icon, was one of the first celebrities to buy one of her bags which was huge in terms of press exposure. Over the last eight to 10 years Freya has gradually built a good catalogue and portfolio of celebrities who wear her products, but it is only in the last 18 months that she has been able to invest in a freelance PR person who can build a faster momentum. She is feeling excited and more confident about the future and says her recent Aphrodite award at the 20th anniversary everywoman awards in early December has contributed to this. The award recognises women who have founded their businesses whilst raising a child/children aged 12 or under.
Freya is also a Prince’s Trust ambassador for its #womensupportingwomen campaign, the first beneficiary of the Trust to take on this role. That involves contributing financially, but also meeting regularly with other inspirational women in business and spreading the word. At a recent gala at Freya Rose’s Portsmouth headquarters, 13K pounds was raised for the Trust to help women from disadvantaged backgrounds get back to work or build the skills they need to find a job.
Freya is keen to help other women, but also to recognise those who have helped her. At the everywoman awards she gave a shout out to her mum who has just opened her second shop at the age of 73. It was a very emotional moment. She says the awards “meant so much to so many people” and she was so happy to be in a room of such talented women. “Everyone was so delighted to be there,” she says. “Everyone was a winner. There was such an amazing energy in the room.”