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AMA: Cherish Reardon, founder of Popsy Clothing

AMA: Cherish Reardon, founder of Popsy Clothing

More than a clothing company, Popsy Clothing is a body-positive brand adored by a loyal community. We asked co-founder and creative director, Cherish Reardon, to tell us how it all began.

Hi Cherish! Could you share the story behind your startup, including the problem you set out to solve and the inspiration that led to its creation?

In 2017 I was a stay-at-home mum to two little girls and struggled with anxiety.

My husband grew up in the manufacturing industry and suggested we do our own little clothing range with a small collection of dresses. The idea was for me to sell the dresses online, I could work from home on my own and I wouldn't need to go for a job interview. Perfect!

I would sell dresses from my lounge at home on Etsy and take any parcels to the local post office with my two toddlers in tow. I still remember being at home when that first order came through - a pink dress with a little bow at the front.

We danced in the kitchen and we couldn't believe a complete stranger had purchased from us on Etsy. It was a feeling I will never forget. Selling dresses from behind a computer screen at home felt like my own little bubble.

I had two little girls full of character and confidence, the complete opposite to me. I never wanted my children to lose that special sparkle that they had.

They were my biggest inspiration and I knew if I wanted to sell more than a couple of dresses on Etsy from my lounge then I needed to step out of my comfort zone for them and make a change.

So, I put a post on Facebook introducing myself, the woman behind the dresses and shared my story. That moment changed our business.

I was relatable and everybody could see there were real people behind the brand.

I quickly realised that I wasn't the only person lacking in self-esteem. There were hundreds of thousands of us!

I was getting messages daily from women, so I decided to set up a Facebook group where we could come together, share our outfits, more about ourselves, and everything in between.

Our group now has over 50,000 women with meet-ups taking place across the country.

We design and manufacture women's clothing that makes them feel good about themselves. We give our customers a say in the design process and they have a real input into what goes into their wardrobe.

What were the initial obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

Initially, it was knowing what our customers actually wanted! We designed our very first collection back in 2017 with the initial idea of targeting 16-24 year olds.

We hadn't done enough market research and we had a range of dresses that nobody actually wanted to buy! We knew we needed a better understanding of what to design.

I had shared my story, and started to grow a very small social media following but didn't have the product that they would actually wear. I posted asking for feedback and input on what we should be looking at for our next designs.

From this, we started to design what our customers actually wanted in their wardrobes rather than designing something we thought they wanted. It took the guesswork out and our customers love getting involved in the process with us, giving their feedback and suggestions.

I learnt not to be afraid to change the initial plan. If we had carried on trying to target our original audience we wouldn't be here today. We listened, we pivoted and we changed our path.

I always think you have to follow your intuition and be open to doing things differently to what you may have expected.

Confidence was another challenge initially. Our brand now has a big presence on social media but making those first steps was really scary. I would post and there would be no reactions or comments and it really affected my confidence and made me question designs.

I had to work on putting myself out there, and consistency was key even if I wasn't seeing immediate results. I continued to post and slowly our social media following grew and our community started.

I am so thankful that I didn't listen to the doubts in my head and give up in those early days. I started doing Facebook Lives so I could chat with my customers and show them our designs. I was lucky if I got 10 people watching and I found them terrifying.

I persevered with the live videos and started to do them weekly. I now have around 1,200 women join me every week, with around 7,000 watching on replay.

Incredible! Could you tell me a bit more about your team?

We have a really dynamic team from all different walks of life which I love! People have their own style; some come to work in dresses while others come in their comfy clothes.

Some people may wear heels and others may wear Crocs. Absolutely anything goes here - no fashion rules and no judgement.

Some of our team are really creative. We have print designers who will do hand paintings and experiment with colours and different print techniques, and designers with exciting ideas for shapes and ranges.

We have our sewing team who make our dresses and they have a huge amount of knowledge between them. I can ask anything about fabric and one of them will know. I am still learning every day about certain techniques and fabric compositions.

We have our team of packers who seem to have the best memories! They can remember where products are in the warehouse and that department is quick and high energy with a real buzz.

We have a real mix of personalities that makes our teamwork. We have quiet, we have big personalities, and everything in between.

On a normal day at the Popsy HQ, you will have somebody singing, painting, sewing, drawing, packing, measuring, and there is a real fun energy here.

Every year we increase our team and I sometimes have to pinch myself when I look around HQ and see everybody. I am really proud that our Popsy family is growing and we have such a brilliant group.

That must be a wonderful feeling. If you could only choose one metric to help guide your business success, what would it be and why?

I would say our returning customer rate. I like to keep track of this figure because it lets me know that our customers are happy with our products and are sticking with us.

It is really important to me that we are exceeding our customers’ expectations and we have a high level of customer satisfaction.

Is there a unique tradition, celebration or inside joke that's become a part of Popsy's culture?

If it's a big birthday for a member of our team, we have a day where we dress them up, decorate their desk with balloons and banners, and everybody regardless of where in the building they work gathers on the factory floor to give gifts from the collection.

I always love seeing the team come together and each year I realise how we are growing with new people. It really makes us feel part of a team and who doesn't love cake while they work?

It is also well known that I am not brilliant at pronouncing names. All of our dresses have names and our team likes to give them ones that may be a little cheeky or a tongue twister. They then enjoy watching me attempt to say it live to customers.

What was the most challenging moment or setback and what did you learn?

The biggest challenge we have faced was definitely Covid! Lockdown was announced and I remember asking my husband, "Who on earth would want to buy dresses with nowhere to go?"

I thought the business we had worked so hard to create was finished. We had staff who relied on us and we temporarily stopped production of our clothes while we waited for guidance from the government.

I realised that our customers didn't need our clothing but they definitely needed our community more than ever before.

Our Facebook group was a window to the outside for many people during lockdown.

We did a buddy scheme so people who were isolating alone and wanted to talk to somebody else had contact and real friendships were built.

We provided a timetable of online activities within our group which included singing lessons, sign language classes, and jewellery making to help us through lockdown and I realised how important putting your community first is.

Our community supported us and continued to purchase, allowing us to grow. We even had online Christmas parties as our customers purchased our party dresses with nowhere to go.

I will always have a special bond and gratitude to our customers for supporting us through that time and we will continue to always keep their best interests at the heart of any decision-making.

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, it would be...

Destiny's Child’s Survivor album from 2001. This album is 23 years old and I still love listening to it. Music really helps me relax, inspires me to get creative and this album has some absolute tunes on it.

Strong choice. And finally, what's your dream dinner party line-up?

I love food! So Gordon Ramsey would be up there for the cooking. Every good dinner party starts with good food, doesn't it?

I would love to sit and have a conversation with Steven Bartlett. I think he is such an inspirational entrepreneur and I think we could definitely have a good chat about social media and growing a business online.

I am currently listening to his Diary of a CEO podcast and he has such brilliant business insight. I would be like a sponge soaking up his knowledge.

My next guest would be Stacey Solomon. When we first started Popsy I did a vision board and wrote down my goals. One of those was Stacey Solomon to wear one of our dresses.

I really admire her for the body confidence she shows on social media and the no-filter-style images showing the real life of being a mum and growing a business.

I would love to sit and have a conversation to find out how she balances motherhood and work so well! She also does the best Instagram stories so I would love to get her tips.

Stacey comes across as really relatable to her audience and I love how authentic she is. She has a brilliant story and she definitely would be an amazing dinner party guest.

I would love a dinner party with Christian Louboutin! His brand absolutely fascinates me and I am in awe of how somebody can identify his brand just from their sole colour! It is iconic.

The red bottom is arguably the most recognisable shoe in the world and being in design myself I know how important it is to put your own little spin on everything you do. The red bottom is genius. I would love his marketing insight and any thoughts he has on branding.

Next at the table would be Harry Styles. He is pushing every single fashion boundary that ever existed and is a force in the fashion world.

I really respect that Harry wears whatever he feels comfortable in and experiments with different fabrics and colours. He is ripping the rule book in half which is what we encourage our customers to do.

I would love to know his thoughts on our dinosaur print so he would definitely have a seat at the table. Maybe he could perform a song or two for us too!

We would love an invite to that dinner party! Thanks so much for your time, Cherish.
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