A London fashion label’s bid to become one of the ‘great brands’

Stripe + Stare co-founder Nicola Piercy preps her pitch to one of the UK’s biggest department stores

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

Nicola Piercy may have co-founded a clothing label, but that doesn’t mean she has a particularly keen eye for fashion. “I don’t weigh in on the designs,” she says, “apart from me going, ‘Oh my God, really? That’s a horrible color!’” To which her business partner, Katie Lopes, usually responds, “Trust me. It’s cool.”

The two founded Stripe + Stare, a U.K.-based brand that sells striped designs like Bretons and knickers (aka underwear), in August 2017, with a £70,000 ($90,000) investment from one of Lopes’s fashion-industry contacts. (Lopes owned a designer boutique, Austique, for more than a decade.) “She’s the creative and sales, and I’m the so-called sensible person,” Piercy says. “I do all the finances, purchase orders, sales analysis, etc. It’s a good balance.”

Piercy had just left her job as managing director of a cooking school in London when Lopes approached her about starting the business. They’d collaborated a decade prior at Austique, where Piercy helped out with operations for a bit, so “it was a pretty easy decision,” she says. “We make a very good team.”

With their financing secured (“The investor had come to Lopes a couple years ago and said, ‘If you ever have a business idea, I’d be interested in backing you,’” Piercy explains), they hired design firms to create their logo and website. The goal was to launch their debut collection at Spirit of Christmas, one of the biggest Christmas shows in London, at the end of October 2017.

“It was total chaos,” Piercy says. But they got the collection done in time, and even managed to follow the show with two more.

It helped that Lopes had been working with a manufacturer in China since her Austique days, using modal, a sustainable fabric made from beechwood trees, to develop the perfect pair of buttery-soft knickers. “When she was running her shop, everyone said, ‘You’ve gotta get the brand Hanky Panky in,’” Piercy tells it, in reference to the lingerie line. “And then she was amazed at these women who came in and bought armfuls of them at £20 a pair.”

Stripe + Stare co-founder Nicola Piercy and her puppy take a break at London’s WeWork 184 Shepherd’s Bush Rd.

So Lopes set out to make her own knicker equivalent. Now her skivvies, which have been tweaked over the years, are the company’s best-selling items, available in more than 30 boutique locations across the UK, U.S., and Germany, and on Shopbop.

“The knickers are what everyone gets excited about at all the shows,” Piercy, a member at WeWork 184 Shepherd’s Bush Rd in London, says. “The moment anyone feels them it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this fabric is insane!’” This year, Piercy and Lopes started manufacturing all of their products, with the exception of cashmere sweaters, using modal. “It is the best fabric,” she says. “So why use anything else?

Below, Piercy shares the details of a recent workweek.

Monday

7 a.m. I get up to let out my 4-month-old puppy, Penfold (she’s named after the wine). Shower, change, have a cup of tea, and walk out the door.

7:45 a.m. Head to Ravenscourt Park to take Penfold for a walk. I usually listen to podcasts such as Holly & Co orBusiness of Fashion—I always learn something hearing other entrepreneurs’ stories.

8:45 a.m. Arrive at WeWork, grab a coffee and some breakfast (fruit and cereal), and head to my desk.

9-10 a.m. Catch up on email.

10 a.m. Call with Katie. Although we speak about 10 times a day, this is our “official” time to go over things. We talk about what happened last week, what’s happening this week, sales targets, financials, production, PR, and marketing.

11 a.m. Emails. We raised £130,000 before Christmas by going directly to happy customers. Now I’m able to email all the shareholders their share certificates.

We’re using the service SeedLegals for the process, which saved us thousands of pounds and the headache of dealing with lawyers. So many new platforms like Xero (accounting), Vend (point of sale), and Shopify (e-commerce) make our lives easier.

12:30 p.m. Walk Penfold and grab some lunch from the salad bar downstairs.

1-2 p.m. Chase any of our unpaid accounts, reconcile money, pay bills. We have an accountant, but I do this day-to-day so I have a tight handle on everything at all times.

2-3 p.m. Go through all of our sales reports and learn that we’ve sold 13,000 pairs of knickers so far this year!

3 p.m. Penfold gets fidgety, so I decide to head home and carry on from there.

5 p.m. Katie arrives from Devon, where our head office and warehouse are based, and where she lives. She comes up to London every couple of weeks, and I go down every few months. The distance (a 4.5-hour drive) is not the most convenient, but cloud systems make it manageable—and everything is cheaper there.

5-10 p.m. We prepare for a big meeting we have tomorrow with Selfridges [a high-end UK department store]. Knickers and clothes are strewn all over the place as we try to assemble them into sensible piles. We need to be able to pull them out of the bag in order, labeled, and looking great at our meeting with the buyer.

In December, we sent some knickers to Selfridges creative director Alannah Weston, and her office called us immediately asking us to come and meet the buying team. We told them we wouldn’t have our collection for the year until the end of January, so we’ve been working hard on the sample collection for months. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday

8:45 a.m. After taking Penfold for a long walk, arrive back home and smarten myself up. Katie and I jump on the tube and head into town.

9:45 a.m. Arrive at Selfridges HQ ready to meet Rosie from the Body Studio team, which does lingerie, sleepwear, and more. To win Selfridges as a wholesale account would be a big deal. It would place us amongst the great brands.

10-11 a.m. Have a great meeting with Rosie. She loves everything and completely gets the brand. You need all your numbers at your fingertips in these meetings. The product makes up 50 percent of the pitch, and then the margin, terms of trade, promotional strategy, etc. make up the other 50 percent.

Promotion-strategy-wise, if I let Katie have her way, Gigi Hadid would front our next campaign. So I have to keep tight control [of the budget]. We need to spend on promotion without breaking the bank.

“The knickers are what everyone gets excited about,” says Stripe + Stare co-founder Nicola Piercy.

11:15 a.m.-12 p.m. Meet Alannah Weston’s executive assistant, Charlotte, who takes us on a tour of the beautiful offices.

12-3 p.m. After stopping by my house to pick up Penfold, I meet with Ruth at Indian Summer, a top independent store in London. She’s been buying from us since the beginning, so it’s more a lovely chat and a gossip over clothes and knickers. Great to be in these meetings—you get feedback and find out your bestsellers.

4-5 p.m. Head to The Cross in Notting Hill, to show them the new collection. It’s a London institution, so it’s a real badge of honor to be stocked here.

6 p.m. Get home exhausted but elated. It’s the first day we’ve shown the new collection, and it’s gone down really well. We’re on a high.

7 p.m. We’re both talked out so we go and see the movie The Favourite to spend a couple of hours not discussing work.

Wednesday

9 a.m. Get home after a yoga class, shower, and send a few emails before heading out the door.

9:30-11:30 a.m. Head into town to meet with the gynecological cancer charity Lady Garden. We did a bespoke box of knickers with them last year and donated £5 of every box to them. This meeting is to catch up on sales figures, discuss where we could sell the rest of the stock, and talk about doing a new box this year.

11:45 a.m. Grab a quick lunch with my cousin-in-law.

1-6 p.m. Walk Penfold in the park and then write our newsletters for the week, letting our followers know about new stock and promotions.

7:30 p.m. Host a friend for supper.

Thursday

7:30 a.m. Penfold gets picked up for doggy day care and a run-around in the country.

8:45 a.m. Attend an event at Google’s offices titled “How Will Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Affect Retail Marketers?” It’s an amazing presentation from the team at Google and some other industry experts.

2 p.m. Meet Robin Howard, who has just come on board as our chairman. We met him through Julian Granville, the chairman of the catalog company Boden. We initially went to Julian for investment, and he couldn’t invest because it would have been a conflict, but he offered to go to regular breakfasts with us and be our unofficial adviser. So when we needed a chairman, he suggested Robin, who was a huge success at Boden for 25 years.

So we met with Robin last year and just clicked. He’s going to invest, but he wanted to see how we work together first. He’s put loads of tasks together for us, like books to read. It’s fantastic to have someone so experienced help us step back and look at the bigger picture, strategy, and what is and isn’t working.

5 p.m. Meet with Chloe Loves to Shop to discuss a Valentine’s Day promotion. It’s so important to work with influencers who enhance your brand. She has 60,000 followers who are incredibly engaged. When she first posted about us, our sales went berserk. We were on [a major influencer’s] Instagram Stories recently, with millions of followers, and we got barely anything from it. So you’ve got to find the people with the right engagement.

7.30 p.m. Walk to the local pub for supper with friends.

Friday

9 a.m. Head into WeWork with Penfold after a walk in the park.

9:30-10 a.m. Catch up with a merchandising agency that’s helping us with a new display concept. The idea is to create a beechwood tree where we can hang our knickers and packaging—that way people can instantly see the provenance of the fabric. It will be fantastic to take to events.

10 a.m. Receive an email from Selfridges saying they love our products and we should receive a purchase order next week! Best news ever! They want to launch ASAP, so there is going to be a lot to plan, from a launch event to ensuring the product comes in on time.

11 a.m. Get a call from Katie, who is having a meltdown—our part-time warehouse manager is on holiday and Katie cannot cope with all the orders coming in from Instagram coverage we’ve gotten from Dolly Alderton. Exciting times, as we now need to consider hiring more staff, but taking steps like this is always scary—you’re committing to bigger monthly overheads.

12 p.m. I always use Friday afternoons as a tidy-up and planning day.

When you have your own business you have to be prepared to be involved in all areas of it. I’m also quite optimistic, and that always helps if you’re an entrepreneur. You can’t get down when something awful happens or things don’t go as expected. Just stay positive and passionate about what you do.

5 p.m. Leave the office at a reasonable time!

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