Tunbridge Wells fashionista with sights set for world domination

    Sophie Bath-Stirk Lily & Carter London

    A local fashion designer is looking to exploit what she sees as a glaring gap in the clothing market.

    Sophie Bath-Stirk, 25, is looking to appeal to young people like her who ‘don’t want to shop at the top of town any more, at places like Topshop, but also don’t have the funds to afford the really high-end boutiques’.

    And with her label Lily & Carter, she is convinced that by rooting herself in that ‘middle ground’ she will find a perfect fit with her customers.

    Growing up in Nevill Park, she considers her home town to be the place with the perfect demographic, a ‘wealthy, stylish, commuter town’. And after her stall at last year’s Pantiles fashion market sold out within eight minutes, all the signs suggest the custom is there.

    “I often see the addresses of online orders, just around the corner from me and I think, ‘I could hand deliver that!’”

    Beginning its third year, the label will be hoping to continue its pattern of growth after seeing a 150 per cent increase in annual sales in their second year, from £20,000 to £50,000.

    It was off to a good start after being invited to the London Fashion Weekend – a retail accompaniment to the world-famous Fashion Week, where she sold old out of stock on all four days.

    Selling a range of garments, her Autumn Winter Collection channels inspirations from ski-wear. One of the most popular pieces at the event at the Versace Gallery was the Fleece Tunic Dress.

    And now she has just signed a flagship deal with Champneys spa, putting her product in front of thousands of new potential customers, overcoming what she considers the ‘biggest barrier for a start-up – getting your products in front of the right people’.

    Although they do have to accept the spa taking a 30 per cent commission on each sale – a fact that Ms Bath-Stirk doesn’t mind as ‘it ensures there is an incentive for both sides to sell the product’.

    Her range is now in nine boutiques, after securing five wholesale deals earlier this year.

    Such a bumper year has led to the business’s founder harbouring global ambitions for the brand.

    “I am determined to expand into the international market. In terms of the fashion scene, China is unbelievably large. The amount they spend on fashion as a whole is just obscene.”

    Although she admits, working internationally brings along its own challenges:

    “When I was working with a manufacturer in India, being female it was very difficult. It was very clear they didn’t want to talk to me. But in the end, you have to work with each other’s culture.

    “So, for example, we started Photoshopping any cleavage out of the pictures as we know it is considered disrespectful to be that revealing.”

    And despite being in the fashion industry, she is keen to avoid any unnecessary frills becoming attached to her business.

    Still working from home, she employs only one permanent member of in-house staff, liaising with six key people who have expertise in different areas as and when she needs them – since ‘it’s important to keep costs down’.

    And this frugal attitude has been with her from the beginning, when she would watch online tutorials on website design to protect her £20,000 start-up capital.

    “My attitude is if I can do it myself, or teach myself to do it, I’m more than prepared to get on and do it.”

    While many young designers who’ve started to taste success in a glamorous industry may be tempted to splash out on fancy London offices or retail space, Ms Bath-Stirk is determined to keep her feet on the ground:

    “I don’t want my own shop, it would just be an unnecessary distraction. People might be surprised by that, but online retail is growing quicker than I think people realise.”

    As for her home town, she is a ‘big fan’ of lots of the boutiques, but ‘there are so many good ones, it’s hard to choose’.