How Rachel Riley built a childrenswear brand fit for David Beckham’s kids – now in its 20th year

How Rachel Riley built a childrenswear brand fit for David Beckham’s kids

With the expected arrival of a royal baby this summer, Rachel Riley’s childrenswear business – now in its 20th year – is well-placed to grow stronger, writes Emma Sinclair in her latest Biz Idol.

Rachel Riley’s shop customers have included David Beckham and Madonna.

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By Emma Sinclair

12:56PM BST 07 May 2013

May is a month of milestones for Rachel Riley, owner of the eponymously named children’s fashion brand. She’s just celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of her first shop on London’s Pont Street, and next week she celebrates her 50th birthday.

A smart child with a photographic memory, Rachel went to a girl’s comprehensive school in London.

She grew up “making stuff” for her dolls and teddies and was competent at knitting, embroidery and sewing. “I love using my hands,” she told me last week, when we caught up a few doors up from her second store, on Marylebone High Street.

She loved needlework and dress making but demonstrably intelligent, the school preferred that she focused on more academic subjects. She juggled academia and crafts, leaving school the first pupil ever to have secured a place at Cambridge University.

At the end of her first year a friend offered to lend her an apartment in Paris for the summer. Needing a job, she walked into a model agency who signed her on the spot. This was 1981 and she featured in over 20 television commercials and remembers how much she loved working with Sarah Moon, responsible for the infamous Cacharel and Anais Anais 80s adverts.She spent her second university summer modelling in Toyko, giving her financial freedom and an opportunity to learn what the fashion business was about, which would prove useful in later years.

On graduating, she returned to Paris before agreeing to spend a year living and working in New York. The day before she caught the plane to America she went for a casting with her now husband, the photographerDaniel Jouanneau, best-known for his Chanel perfume bottle shots. He signed her for the Marie Claire job and the rest is romantic history.

She went to New York but he came visit. She knew she wanted to be with him so returned to Paris where they married, had a child, bought an idyllic house in the Loire valley and set about home making, gardening and “making babies” – adding another boy and a girl to their family.

“Every child had the perfect wardrobe that I made for them,” she told me, “and my friends were always asking me to make stuff for them.” She designed a small collection in 1994. Her children modelled the samples, Daniel photographed the catalogue, she made the clothes by hand – and the orders came in.

People who are enterprising cross bridges and deal with challenges when they present themselves and Rachel is no exception. With orders too small for French factories, she set up their own studio and pattern cutters in her house. She employed one seamstress part time but by the time the second season arrived there was so much demand that she had to employ three seamstresses full time. Two of them still work for her 20 years later.

Women, including Rachel, often build businesses to suit them. Wanting her children to go to school in London, the family left France and opened a shop in Pont St in 1998. During term-time the family lived above the shop and the children went to Hill House School, 100 yards up the road.

Anya Hindmarch and Agent Provocateur (owned by Serena Rees and Joe Corre) were neighbours. Anya, Serena and Rachel used to meet for tea and sandwiches at Drones on the Pont Street parade and shared many of the same customers. David Beckham or Madonna would come by and shop at all three stores.

She signed a second shop in 2000, started doing trunk shows in the USA a year later and now stocks all over the world with offices in Hong Kong. From humble beginnings, these days the company sells 60,000 items a year for children and babies – and women. She told me her goal would be to grow her business enough “to put an advert in the middle of [TV series] Mad Men.” I’m quietly confident Betty Draper would love Rachel’s clothes, both for her and her children.

Childrenswear used to be the poor man of fashion but with the anticipated baby boom this year and the arrival of a royal baby, Rachel is well placed to maintain her habit of “not being very good at not growing”. A habit to be proud of – and the future looks rosy.

Not only has the brand grown every year since launching in 1994 – sales were up 14pc last year – but the royal baby looks likely to put children’s fashion on the world stage. She’s prepared for it by creating a heritage collection launching in July: princess dressing up outfits for girls and guard uniforms for little boys. Silver sparkle party shoes complete with a sparkling crown. I saw the shoes – and frankly I wish she made them in my size.

Rachel has built a very family-orientated business true to her style. She embodies an eclectic, romantic mood that takes obvious inspiration from the forties, fifties and sixties: fine tailoring, beautiful hand smocking, hand embroidery and vintage-inspired prints. A treasure trove of whimsical, magical and wonderfully innocent clothes that in its 20th year, is still going from strength to strength.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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