Lucy Bryant talks to a Rye woman about why she swapped Harrods for her own fashion boutique.
With a start at Harrods, you would think it unrealistic that you would want to move out of London to Rye, but that is exactly what owner of Niche, Lesley Farrow has done.
She traded in the life of a lingerie buyer at Fenwicks, where people ‘would rush around to please [her]’ in order to buy an established business in Rye and make it her own.
Niche, a well reputed womenswear store, now shares its premises with Lesley’s goldsmith husband Peter’s jewellery business.
From being a buyer’s clerk at Britain’s most famous store, she decided not to go to university, because she loved retail and so stuck with it.
She then worked for Jaeger, before moving to Fenwicks, the department store in Tunbridge Wells.
About ten years ago, Lesley decided it was time for a change and bought her next venture, Niche.
“Working for Fenwick was lovely,” she says.
“They were a lovely family to work for, and I loved the lingerie business.”
As would be expected, there are many differences between working for a large company compared with buying for Niche, with both having their pros and cons.
“When you’re a buyer for a store you do have an awful lot of responsibility and you are spending somebody else’s money,” reveals Lesley.
“You have to sit in a board meeting and be prepared to say ‘right, I did this wrong, I’ve bought this and I shouldn’t have done’.”
Where in comparison working for yourself she says ‘you get more flexibility’ and can buy what you want, however ‘you don’t have the big name behind you so don’t have the clout’.
“As an independent retailer you really have to build your name and reputation meaning you have to work for trust, and they have to support you to a certain extent,” explains Lesley.
“It’s a two-way game. There is also so much work involved and you have to give so much time to it.”
Something which Lesley has evidently done given her success.
Niche has evolved from a little dress store to a big one with quite a few brands.
Those brands include - Elemente Clemente, Penny Black, Becksondergaard, and Oakwood leather as well as the recent addition of Wyse Cashmere.
Alongside the clothing, Niche also has a wide range of accessories, including Owen Barry bags from Somerset.
The store has reached a point where brands will come to them.
“We’re starting Maison Scotch for this season - they came to us,” she smiles.
“So I had a look and I liked it and I bought it.
“I think sometimes it’s easier to do it in your own space rather than being swept along by a trade show”.
Lesley still attends the trade shows in order to keep up with what’s happening in fashion, something which is important in order to remain relevant.
There has been quite a resurgence in independent boutiques across Sussex, with many targeting similar audiences. Niche, like the rest of them, has its competitors, but Lesley states that ‘we sell different brands and that’s set in stone that we do not sell what the other [boutiques] have. It’s too small to do that and neither party would benefit’.
Niche stock sizes eight to 18 and has a wide target audience.
“We have weekenders in their 30s and we have local ladies of 80 - we can’t fit everybody, but we give it a good try,” she says.
It is great to hear that Niche gets repeat customers every season.
This is in part due to Lesley’s foundation that ‘it’s worth talking to people’.
“We have good sales advice as well, we don’t push anything - they have to be happy - which is how we sell here,” she explains.
Although a lot of fashion becomes about being fast-paced and available to everyone via online retailing, Lesley notes the importance of good service and building ‘customer relationships’, so it is unlikely Niche will be online any time soon.
However this just gives us all the more reason to head down to Rye to visit the store.
To visit Niche and see what Lesley’s store has to offer, head down to 54 Cinque Ports St, Rye TN31 7AN, and get yourself a new wardrobe for the Spring.
This featured in the March edition of etc Magazine, you can still get your copy now.