Another day, another interview with a mother in Cheltenham who has done something incredible. Today I introduce you to Fleur Vidler, founder of Belle Enfant, a luxurious online boutique for babies and children. Enjoy it Mamans! And be sure to take advantage of the exclusive discount Fleur has given us all!
CMHQ: Have you always been a Cheltonian Fleur? What brought you to our town?
F: I grew up in Gloucestershire, but spent my 20’s living and working in London. I moved back to Cheltenham two years ago to buy a home, and with the view of starting a family. I love the architecture and green spaces here, and although I miss London I think Cheltenham is becoming more exciting and cosmopolitan. My favourite place is 131 and I can’t wait for the Ivy Brasserie to open!
CMHQ: Before Belle Enfant (established 2012) what did work look like for you? Have you always been in the fashion industry?
F: My background is in Fashion Buying. I worked for a big high street retailer for several years buying Lingerie, Womenswear and Childrenswear. I loved my job, but had always had a desire to do my own thing. I grew up in an artistic family and wanted to explore more of a creative outlet with more focus on Design which led me to start the brand.
CMHQ: You founded the company long before you became a mother – what was the inspiration behind it?
F: I had been playing with the idea of starting something for a couple of years and had an interest in knitwear so I began looking for some small manufacturers to work with. I always envisaged that what I would do would be in the luxury market and I decided to focus initially on luxury baby knitwear as I felt there was a gap in the market for tasteful, high quality knits for babies. I started out on my own, and then about a year in Henrietta (my close friend) became involved and that helped to focus our direction and turn our ideas in to something more concrete.
Belle Enfant began with a couple of cashmere styles in muted colours which proved a big hit and it has grown from there. We now produce bi-annual collections of approximately 100 styles and have extended the collection up to 4 years. Drawing inspiration from catwalk trends; incorporating sophisticated prints, styling and fabrication has resulted in a unique and fashion forward handwriting for the brand that sets Belle Enfant apart from its contemporaries.
CMHQ: Was it an overnight success or did you have to really plug away to get it all off the ground?
F: Gosh no, it took us a couple of years just to set up Belle Enfant; from the outset we wanted to appear slick and professional and behave like a big established brand (even if behind the scenes we felt pretty amateurish). It took over 6 months to design and build a fully functional e-commerce site and another 6 months to source a strong and specialist manufacturing base. Henrietta and I have different strengths (Henrietta was a lawyer in the her former life) and this mix of skills sets really helped to lay the foundations for the brand as I could focus on the design and aesthetic elements and Henrietta on the procedures and legalities involved in setting up and establishing a company. We decided early on that if the brand was going to be successful and scalable it would make sense to focus sales on a wholesale model so we began by attending a trade show in London with our first collection to test the water so to speak. The show was a success; the brand was well received and we picked up a number of accounts including Selfridges which gave us the confidence and drive to continue.
CMHQ: Is there anything, in hindsight, that you might have done differently in the early days of the business?
F: In the beginning we did everything ourselves and in hindsight it would have been a better use of our time to outsource some of the tasks such as packing and sending out orders so that we could focus our time and energy on more strategic elements of the business. That being said, by immersing ourselves fully in all aspects of day to day running of the brand we have a greater appreciation of the business as a whole.
CMHQ: How early on did you start exporting your lines? Was it a gruelling process to make Belle Enfant a global brand?
F: Having an e-commerce site enabled us to have a worldwide customer base from the outset, so in that sense it wasn’t difficult to achieve global reach early on. We offer a fairly niche product and as a result our market in the UK is fairly narrow. We have much more opportunity outside the UK. Our wholesale sales account for about 80% of our business (with direct, online sales making up the balance) and 70% of our wholesale sales are with overseas retailers, namely in Asia, the USA and Middle East. We exhibit bi-annually at 3 key trade shows in Paris, Florence and New York which allows us access to buyers on a global scale. One of my favourite parts of the job is the travel involved, I love going to the shows and also visiting my manufacturers. I travel to Nepal every year to visit my cashmere manufacturer and I feel very fortunate to have a job which allows me to do this.
CMHQ: How long was it just you and Henrietta? At what point did you expand the team and how big is it now?
F: Henrietta and I are still the only full time employees at Belle Enfant. We use a lot of freelancers for the design and production elements of the business and also to support the logistical side of things.. We are at the point now though where we are considering taking on some more permanent team members and recognise that this is a necessary step if we are going to continue to grow the brand… If there is anyone out there that would like to come and work for us.. get in touch!
CMHQ: What advice would you give any Mums about to start their business journeys?
F: I would say have confidence in yourself and your ability, and just go for it. I have never felt so driven to succeed at something and I’ve poured everything I have in to Belle Enfant. If you have a good idea then draft a business plan. It really helps to get the ‘ball rolling’ if you can articulate your objectives.
CMHQ: And now you’re a MumBoss – Congratulations! Tell us about your journey into motherhood?
F: My daughter, Celine, was born in April so I’ve only just begun the journey so to speak. It’s strange as I now can’t remember life without her, its as if she has always been here!. Celine is just starting to laugh which is really wonderful. I’m trying to treasure all these little milestones as I know time is going to go so quickly. I think having a child has made me feel more complete as a person.
CMHQ: And how are you managing to juggle being a mum with running a global fashion boutique? Did you manage to have any protected time away?
F: I’m just muddling along to be honest.. Being the Director of my own business has meant that I haven’t been able to stop and take time out. I need to keep working in order to keep things ticking over. If I am going to succeed at running Belle Enfant and being a mum then both elements of my life need to work together and as a result Celine is very much integrated in to my working life, she has already been to trade shows in Florence and Paris with me and is coming to New York in August! While Celine is little I feel I can afford to do this without compromising her or the business. I am not saying its an ideal situation, but it works for us at present. I have moments of feeling guilty for not giving her my undivided attention, but then I am fortunate to do nice things with Celine as I do not have a conventional ‘9-5’ job. We can go to baby classes or for a swim and then I will work in the evening. In that sense I have the luxury to do things when I want, and on my terms. I guess that is the beauty of being a Mumboss
CMHQ: You must have a great support team in place?
F: Yes I am very fortunate to have my parents close by. My mum comes and helps out a couple of days a week and this allows me to work whist knowing Celine is in safe hands. Mat, my partner is a real ‘hands on’ dad and is very supportive of Belle Enfant. Henrietta who is a mother too, has also been great.
CMHQ: Do you get to enjoy much of your downtime in Cheltenham? What’s your favourite place to visit as a family in our town?
F: As mentioned, I don’t have a conventional job so I am fortunate in that I can spend time in the day doing things with my daughter and then work in the evening after she has gone to bed. We try to do nice things as a family on the weekend. This often involves a walk in Pittville Park and brunch at Baker and Graze in the Suffolk’s or a trip to Sudely Castle. If my partner, Mat, is feeling indulgent we might go to Daylesford for the afternoon!
Thanks so much for your time Fleur. Your collections are stunning – I’m really pleased to spread to tell your story as an inspirational Gloucestershire based woman in business.
CheltenhamMaman readers can take advantage of an exclusive 20% off discount at Belle Enfant using the code CHELTMAMAN at checkout. Code expires mid September.