I’d seen lots of snaps of the Mamans de Cheltenham on Instagram wearing bits from Bodega Womenswear on Suffolk Parade and always knew they looked gorgeous. But to be honest with a less than perfect figure (though I’m learning body confidence) and quite literally no idea what to wear to flatter it I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit intimidated about going in. I also wrongly assumed that the prices were all top end and that the staff would be intimidating- so the invitation to go and meet the Maman behind the brand and to have a good nosy around the shop was a great opportunity – mainly because I learned what a great hidden gem it is and that all of my assumptions were (as usual) completely wrong!
Sarah-Jane Worboys is a fairly new Cheltonian and though to the outside it may look like her life of high fashion and retail in one of the most eclectic areas in Cheltenham is all swanning about in stilettos, this couldn’t actually be further from the truth. We got to know her a little better.
CMHQ: Hi Sarah-Jane! You’re not at all what I imagined! I love your look today but it’s more bohemian/Indian Summer than catwalk ready! Thanks for having me here today. We start out every interview at CheltenhamMaman the same way. Tell us about your small people?
Sarah-Jane – Hello! So I have two girls. Beau is 16 and smack in the middle of her GCSEs at Balcarras and Oli is ten and she’s here with me today.
CMHQ: And way back when, before they came along, what did you do professionally?
Sarah-Jane – I worked in recruitment for six years but when Beau (my eldest daughter) came along I was a single mum and just found it so difficult, I was in the Doctor’s surgery with her one day, she was about eighteen months old and work called telling me to get back to the office. It was just impossible, I couldn’t make it work. I took a huge gamble and sold my house and used the equity to set up my own recruitment consultancy.
CMHQ: Massive gamble! I’m not sure I could ever be so brave.
Sarah-Jane: Yes, but I had to do something to make it work. I worked hard for seven years and I employed five people and things went well – but then the recession hit. The recruitment sector I was in was terribly effected by it and just after christmas, when Oli was two it all collapsed. I lost everything I had. I had to shut the office, make the staff redundant – it was a truly awful time.
CMHQ: And how did you recover from that?
Sarah-Jane: I was still a single mum and just had to find a way. I made up hampers and sold them around Christmas time – I’d give most little business ideas a go. I’d always loved clothes and started to take things to second hand boutiques to make some much needed cash – one day I visited one in Worcester and the owner told me she was closing down. It was in a really great part of the city and I made some enquiries about taking on the lease. Again – another massive gamble. Initially I sold a pair of my old Jimmy Choos and just went from there – selling and ploughing the profit back in to new stock. I’d sit in that shop Monday to Saturday nipping out whenever I needed to to collect the girls. If they were on holiday they’d come and play shop with me – and if they were poorly I’d close.
CMHQ: And how long did it continue like that?
Sarah-Jane: For a couple of years. I taught myself social media and started to use it to increase footfall to the shop and organise local events – it was really effective and I found things were going well enough that I could consider a second site. I’ve always loved Cheltenham so it was the obvious choice. The Suffolks were really on the up with the perfect selection of neighbouring shops and great free parking meaning customers could just nip in and out.
The first day we opened for twelve hours and had more than 300 customers through the doors! They stripped the rails and I had to dash out the next day to do some unexpected buying to keep enough stock in the shop! The whole of the first year was incredible. Then they shut the main road and things became really really difficult again. Thankfully the area has recovered again now and I have a brilliant team so I can focus on buying for the stores and organising fashion shows & charity events. I feel like things are all pretty good at the moment… If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a MumBoss though it’s that you never know what’s around the corner so I can’t rest on my laurels.
CMHQ: So for those who have not been in, explain what you offer?
Sarah-Jane: The shop has a real mix of looks and types of clothes. Our core lines are scandi inspired and many of the brands are European; I buy in Paris regularly and YAYA is a really popular Danish brand. I also offer a range for comfort – we have some elastic waisted skirts, hareem pants and trousers which are perfect pregnancy options or for those (like me – see my outfit today) who just like to dress for comfort!
Our range of jeans are seriously popular too and come in a range of colours and fits. They are £39 which most of our customers think is pretty great value.
CMHQ: I’ve just tried on a pair and would definitely agree – they will be coming home with me!
Sarah-Jane: We also offer a range of evening wear and have some occasion wear options which are great for weddings, christenings and special events. We have a wide selection of shoes, accessories, scarves and jewellery too and I have a few items of homeware.
It’s worth remembering that we buy in relatively small quantities of stock as I like to keep things fresh so aside from our core staples (jeans, vests, long sleeve tees etc) if you see something you like it’s not likely to be there for long. Our customers like to know that they are buying something a bit different – it’s not like when you buy a dress from Next and go to a wedding and see two other people in the same one!
CMHQ: So I’m just looking around and can see that I had got your price bracket a little wrong – you can actually get quite a lot for your money in the shop...
Sarah-Jane: Yep. Obviously we do hold some high end items – but on the whole we try to keep things affordable. We want the shop to be accessible to all – we are also doing an offer on our staple pieces – you can get any pair of jeans, a vest, top, scarf and clutch wallet for £99 and there are so many mix and match options you can really tailor the offer to suit you. If you’re not sure about your colourings we have a stylist (Michelle Blake) here every other Friday afternoon for a drop in style clinic. Our staff are also on hand to help but we’re not in your face either. If you need other sizes or styles we are always happy to grab them but if you want some peace to try things on that’s fine too.
CMHQ: And you’ve now moved the family to Cheltenham?
Sarah-Jane: We have. The girls and I are now in Charlton Kings and we’re very happy and we love the town. I’ve become quite active in The Suffolk Trader Association as I’m passionate about supporting this part of the town. We have so many fantastic boutique stores with a wide range of preloved, vintage and new products that you just can’t find elsewhere. There are some of the best coffee shops, florists, restaurants and hairdressers in the town here too. If you’ve not been you really must.
CMHQ: And what events do you have coming up?
Sarah-Jane: I’ll be at the Malmaison on the 15th September doing an event for the Marie Curie charity and I have an in store event coming up on Friday 23rd June
CMHQ: Fantastic. I can honestly say I’m really glad I came in and am genuinely very surprised by the pieces you stock, the quality, the price – the staff and the venue – it’s all great and a much nicer shopping experience than the high street. I’ll be back!
Bodega Womenswear is on Suffolk Parade in Cheltenham. It is open Monday to Saturday 10am – 5.30pm and Sunday 11-4. You can visit their website to find out more or follow them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.