The Berkshire women making a name in the fashion industry
PUBLISHED: 15:35 29 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 July 2019
Every month, we interview and introduce you to innovative and inspirational people. This issue, we are celebrating Berkshire women who have made a name for themselves in the field of fashion
The Jean Queen - Donna Ida Thornton
Donna Ida lives with her husband and three chihuahuas in the pretty Berkshire village of Pangbourne. She says: "We love the countryside here; the green hills, the space, farm shops − everything!"
Donna worked as a PA until she moved to London. "Then I worked in all sorts of horrendous support roles till I found a great job as a PA again for a wonderful man who is still one of my dear friends today," she says. "I then went through the process of residency and once I had that I started Donna Ida. My ex-boss's step-daughter, Lindsay, suggested it. I was talking to her about business ideas one day and she said: 'Well, you know so much about jeans and you wear them every day, why don't you open a shop that sells jeans?'"
So Donna did. In 2006, she opened the doors to her first boutique in Chelsea, London.
And after running her business for 13 years, she admits she now instinctively knows what the next designs should be. "It sounds crazy but it's true," she says. "I used to forever ask myself: 'How do designers know? How do they do it?' and now I know."
Donna names her jeans after girls that Ida would hang out with: "Ida is my grandmother's name and my middle name. I name the ready-to-wear pieces after how they make you feel, or the atmosphere, or images they inspire.
"We have styles that run and run, like our Rizzo ankle skinny or Jeanie the cigarette leg. But I get very excited about the new styles too, like the April jean. Our boiler suits have been selling out for years and now the jumpsuits are having such a moment it's great to see demand stronger than ever - and I like that we were there first.
"Our jeans are made in Tunisia, from Turkish and Italian fabrics. Our coats are made in Bulgaria using French and Portuguese fabrics. We used to make silks and cashmere in China but we are now exploring Mongolia."
Donna tells me there is no average day in her job, which is how she likes it. "I do like one day of the week at my desk to stay on top of things, though - it's easier to keep up than catch up," she says. "We do a lot of events, I meet with people, I try to see industry colleagues as often as possible, I juggle production, sales, marketing, finance..."
I'm intrigued by what Donna carries in her handbag; how nosey is that? "I have a card wallet, my car and house keys, a lip gloss, business cards and my phone," she says. "And that all stays in a pouch which gets transferred from bag to bag. I like to change my bag all the time!"
So, finally, does she love being known as the Jean Queen?
"I do! And my goal is to continue driving Donna Ida's online business," she says.
"I love online."
Visit donnaida.com, shop at their pop-ups, or through Harper Concierge in London
The Preloved Store - Antonia Timpany
Never has recycling been so fashionable! And Timpanys in Sunningdale is powered by a dedication to slow down the production of fashion, encouraging customers to invest in sustainable pieces that will stand the test of time.
Timpanys Founder Antonia Timpany says she had a passion to democratise luxury fashion, which led to an idea of a resale store. "I wanted to make wonderful second-hand designer pieces available to people who otherwise could not afford them," she says. "I didn't just want to make them available − I wanted to emulate the luxury buying experience and give people a personal, luxury and bespoke service. Everything but the price tag. Interestingly, I have an economics rather than a fashion background. I think that is why I have a fascination with looking at fashion as an investment."
Antonia opened her first store in Sunninghill in Berkshire in 2009. "It was hugely exciting - and quite nerve-racking as you never know if something is going to be a success. It's also always a constant battle for me between what I would love the place to look like and my budget."
Timpanys offers authenticated luxury and premium goods ranging from accessories, clothes and shoes for women from classic brands such as Prada, Chanel, Burberry and Louis Vuitton, to contemporary brands such as Claudie Pierlot and Maje.
Over the years, Antonia realised the extent of excess clothing her clients had and it shocked her. "It's not just a huge environmental cost that our over-consumption is causing but it's a human cost too. In fact, according to fashion designer and environmentalist Katharine Hamnett, cotton-related pesticide use causes 350,000 farmer deaths a year and a million hospitalisations," Antonia says.
"I realised by selling items I was helping with the symptoms of over-consumption but I was really dealing with the cause and to make a difference I needed to impact purchasing habits, not just help sell the result of over-consumption."
Antonia likes to encourage people to "think second first"; buy for investment and rent or buy and sell more trend-led items. "I started a YouTube channel focussed on advising people how to 'buy for investment' and thus reduce clothing waste," she says.
During the brand's growth, Timpanys has openly worked with celebrities. "Some prefer to remain off the books. The ones that we can talk about are Sophie Hermann from Made in Chelsea, Adela King from Ladies of London and Ampika Pickston from The Real Housewives of Cheshire. We also work with models, ladies who are seen regularly on red carpets, and bloggers and Instagrammers," she says.
Antonia is inspired by Sheryl Sandberg - "the fact she is a strong woman encouraging other strong women. That she is a single mum and has an amazing mind. A few of my favourite quotes of hers are: 'What would you do if you weren't afraid?' And: 'Done is better than perfect'."
I ask Antonia what she is coveting most this season. "I have chosen to invest in a few jumpsuits - fantastic, easy pieces that don't take much thinking about when I am rushing out of the house at 6am! I have a relaxed style − generally jeans and a classic t-shirt, which I use as a canvas for the pieces I choose to invest in, which are shoes, accessories and outerwear," she says.
Timpanys has solidified itself as one of the biggest in-house multi-channel resale stores in the UK. So what's next for Antonia? She says: "I have been approached by an investor, which is exciting. We are looking to expand in to new markets as well as capitalise on our already good online growth."
The Eco Swimwear Start-Up
Elli and her husband, Ross, and their four children, Millie, 19, who is studying marketing at Bournemouth University, Charlie, 17, who is finishing his A Levels, Lola, nine, an avid surfer, drummer and dancer, and Lexi-Rae, five, who loves to sing and dance and play with bugs, are in the process of moving from Wokingham to Crowthorne.
"We love living in Berkshire because there is so much to do, from museum trips to evenings watching cricket," says Elli. "I grew up here so have all my family and friends around. It's home and I couldn't imagine being anwhere else for too long."
Elli taught swimming for many years and her family love to spend time in the water. "We enjoy swimming, surfing, sailing − anything in the ocean or pool. I spent a fortune over the years on swimwear for my children that just didn't stand up to the job. It either wasn't pretty enough or it wasn't tough enough," she says.
When her youngest started school, Elli had an idea. "I decided I'd like to try making my own swimwear. My husband said: 'Well, it's now or never!' So I started researching technical fabrics and ethical manufacturers and discovered the amazing things that can be done with plastic − something that has become a huge problem for our planet.
"I decided I wanted to work with ECONYL®, a company who take ocean plastics like ghost nets and bottles as well as discarded nylon from landfill, and turns it into a regenerated nylon yarn that can be used to make beautiful swimwear."
Elli designed all of the styles herself, with help from her youngest two girls who chose the colours and design features.
"I don't have a background in fashion but I'm enjoying learning all I can on my journey," Elli says.
"Many mums want to preserve the environment for our children, so slowing down fashion and creating garments that can last and also help solve such a big world issue is very important. It's also vital to involve our children so they can be a part of that change and make better decisions," she says.
LB Swim's first collection features large bows, tutus and ruffled sleeves. "My youngest girls love their dance classes and ballet, which is where the inspiration came from," says Elli.
When I ask Elli what she likes to wear, she tells me: "I love my jeans and t-shirts, and as a busy mum I do tend to be found in a gym kit during the day. If we are going somewhere special I love Victoria Beckham dresses, but I'm a bit of a home bird."
Elli is keen to teach her children to follow their dreams and to show them how hard work pays off. "I think it's vital to give everything 100%. If you've started something, finish it, and when things get tough, take it one step at a time," she says. "My husband has always inspired me as he gives me the confidence to follow my passions."
Elli says they travel quite a lot as a family. "I have several special places in the world, but my new favourite place has to be Bali," she says. "The manufacturer we use to make our swimwear is based in Bali. I wanted to make sure we used an ethical manufacturer and part of this meant going to check out the factory myself. They treat their staff so well and we got to see how everything was made!"
Elli is achieving great things with her new sustainable fashion venture. "I'd love to be able to add a boys and a mummy and me range to LB Swim," she says. "But that's all with my fingers crossed that people will love what we do as much as I do!"
These Fab Four
You must have heard of the BIG Little − it's been the talk of the county. It is an experiential company that brings the best of independent British brands to the countryside in the most glamorous of settings. Its founders − personal and fashion stylist Patricia Dhir, model Zanne Lee, local lifestyle blogger Alex Ashton and marketing and events boss Lizzie Hughes − are all local working mums with established businesses/careers who have joined forces to create innovative and insightful events for women.
"I live in Berkshire with my husband and two children," says Patsy. "I love the leafy countryside and I'm so fortunate to live close to Ascot racecourse."
"We adore Windsor Great Park. It's stunning," adds Alex, who lives in Amersham with her husband and children.
"We love Windsor Castle − and The Living Rainforest is always a winner with my girls," says Lizzie, who is married with two daughters and lives in Henley.
Zanne lives in Beaconsfield with her husband and two sons.
So how did The BIG Little come about? "We were chatting about what we missed about living in a city and we discussed doing something all together that could bring a bit of city attitude and fun to our glorious countryside," says Lizzie. "Also we are all passionate about independent brands and supporting them as much as possible. We all knew that it had to be different for it to be successful and appealing; plus we all have other businesses and careers to keep going at the same time, so it had to be an exciting proposition for us to spend the time on it too.
"The name comes about from the idea of a big, spectacular event with a focus on the little independent brands and companies doing amazing things," adds Lizzie. "The location for our event is also linked to this as we knew we wanted it to be glamorous but not too big! Hedsor House was ideal for our first event, The BIG Little Fashion Show.
"The response has been phenomenal. We sold out completely before our event in June. We welcomed 500 people over two sessions; afternoon and evening."
Talking trends for this season, they say they are seeing lots of oversized hats, the return of tie-dye and tight pleated clothing, as well as sensible-length shorts and neons.
"There has been a shift in fashion and we, as consumers, are more conscious of what we're wearing and are leaning towards being more sustainable," says Patsy. "High-street brands are introducing collections that are more responsible and made from recycled sustainable fabric."
The fab four have lots of plans for expansion of their fashion event and ideas for other BIG Little shows. Zanne says: "We want to grow The BIG Little into a nationwide brand that highlights the best of British, but always offering something extra with a little edge."
Alex adds: "Our goals are to continue to be challenged, to enjoy work that we're passionate about and that fits around our families, and to continue to work with talented and energetic women."
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