Business Leaders | Jade Robertson, Little Lies Clothing

Business Leaders | Jade Robertson, Little Lies Clothing

Founded by Jade Robertson and husband Stuart, Little Lies, the independent, online fashion and lifestyle boutique, has been building into one of Perthshire’s most creative success stories since its launch in 2015.

The Perthshire-based company may have appeared as a ready-to-rock, perfectly formed idea but the groundwork had been a decade in the making. Inspired by her love of ‘70s fashion and music icons, and shaped by her student years at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow and her experiences working in the event, theatre and music industry, Jade’s singular vision of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle platform provided a clear, bold and vibrant brand message from the outset.

In the eight years since, the brand has become synonymous with quality fashion and lifestyle pieces and boasts a customer base that spans the UK, America, and until recently, Europe. In 2021 Stuart joined the business full time as Managing Director, allowing Jade the time and energy required to execute the launch of their first own-label clothing collection in her capacity as Creative Director. The company now boasts an annual turnover of circa £2 million but Jade and Stuart’s ambitious plans are only just beginning. Little Lies is targeted to reach £10 million turnover and 100% own-brand stock by 2025, and in doing so will become one of Scotland’s largest, independently owned, fashion labels.

Q1. How did Little Lies start?

As a teenager I was obsessed with ‘70s style and the rock stars from that time and as far back as 14 I was making and altering my own clothes. I staged my first fashion and music event, Rock The Catwalk, when I was 17 and over the four years that followed we raised £50,000 for charity – so although the company officially launched in 2015, the creative direction of the business, its heart and soul, has been around for years.

My studies at the Royal Conservatoire and work in backstage production fuelled this rock and roll passion but when it came to my wardrobe, I struggled to find what I was looking for. I wanted quality, well-made clothing that I could wear for years to come – we call it future vintage at Little Lies – but all the High Street offered was fast-fashion, festival clothing that was designed to be worn once and thrown away and I didn’t have time to trawl charity shops regularly.

I knew there was an opportunity and I’d thought through various business models before telling Stuart my idea – in the car on the way home from a gig, of course! Once I had it in my sights, I knew exactly how the brand would look and feel, and with Stuart’s business background we were confident we had the combined skills to make it work. We invested a few thousand of savings each, a friend helped build the website and I studied YouTube tutorials day and night to hone my e-commerce skills!

Q2. How quickly did it grow, and what were your major milestones?

Well, we outgrew the spare bedroom pretty quickly! We went from £12,700 in year one to £50,000 in year two and then from there we doubled and tripled year on year; by the end of year four we were at £500,000 and in year five we broke the million-pound turnover mark.

Our first move was to a bigger house, and we started doing pop-ups in farmers’ markets, at large company headquarters, tattoo conventions and events, but within a couple of years we’d outgrown that too. In September 2017 we made the move into retail premises with a large basement that housed the online business.

The shop was a very different experience. Having that one-to-one interaction with our customers helped brand development hugely – for instance, talking directly about issues around sizing and fit gave more detail than an online form ever could. However, it was also distracting; it was easy to listen to individual preferences instead of looking at broad data and that’s not commercially viable when buying for a market.

In January 2020 we had outgrown the retail unit and had drawn up plans looking at three different models: stick to traditional retail, stick to online only, or move forward with a hybrid model. By March, we were in lockdown and after the initial shock – are we going to lose it all? – we threw ourselves back into the online model and our decision was made.

Covid gave us the time we needed to stop and think. Working from the kitchen table again showed us how much we could do when we weren’t running two businesses and we came out of it stronger, leaner and more focused. I loved the shop, and I learned a lot from it, but now, I can’t believe how much time I spent hoovering and dusting instead of focusing on growing!

In August 2020 we moved into the distribution unit and Head Office space at Glencarse. We thought we might have to sublet to meet the rent but instead we had shipping containers in the car park and my mum tagging band T-shirts to keep up with demand!

A year later, we leased the unit next door giving us 3626 ft2 for the Little Lies HQ, and an additional 3950 ft2 for our fulfilment warehouse. At that point, Stuart left his job to give his full attention to Little Lies.

We’ve not stopped since! We’ve launched our own label, which has meant recruiting a product development team with designer and photographer (more on page 6) and won Business of the Year at the 2022 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards.

Q3. How did you go about changing your operation to facilitate the increase in sales?

Stuart’s business background informed a lot of our early decisions and from the outset we’ve worked hard to establish solid foundations, always thinking about the processes and structure of the business to ensure we’re financially efficient and looking after the workplace wellbeing for all members of the team.

Getting this right has helped hugely; of course, we’ve had to tweak and upgrade various elements along the way but that joint skills base – me on product development and attention to quality and Stuart on operational and financial strategy – has allowed us to expand organically. It remains our key strength.

Q4. How have you maintained your vision and ethos as the company expanded?

Maintaining the core vision of Little Lies has never been difficult because it was never about a corporate identity, it was an extension of my personality and passion – Little Lies has grown with me.

Since we launched, we’ve got married, had a baby, and renovated two houses. I’m a different person, with different needs and wants for my wardrobe. I’ve been every size from an 8 to a 14 and I have a much deeper understanding of women’s bodies because mine has changed. I think our customers appreciate that.

We’ve always focused on customer care; I want people to have an experience when they receive their Little Lies package. From the outset all our wholesale stock has been repackaged into Little Lies branded tissue and labels, with a note from the team. This attention to detail plays a big part in connecting with our customers – it felt less churned out than other online boutiques – so when we launched our own brand, we had a loyal customer base ready to go. Over the past 12 months, 57% of our customers are returning.

Q5. What’s next for Little Lies?

We’re planning to supercharge the business! Our ambition is to grow to 100% own brand and make good on our promise of selling only Future Vintage. To do this, we need to get the positioning spot on but with 8 years’ worth of data we’re confident we can get this right first time. (More on page 6)

Strategically, we need to grow our audience; we have 90,000 followers on Instagram and 250,000 followers across the board but that needs to be millions to make our dream a reality.

Find Out More:

The launch of their first Little Lies own label collection in spring 2023 followed a significant period of change for Jade and Stuart, which included team development at senior level and the single largest reinvestment of profits since the company’s inception.

Bringing onboard a Design & Product Development team, headed up by Lauren White, who previously worked as a womenswear designer across various High Street retailers such as Toast, Urban Outfitters and Whistles, was the first step on this journey, and Jade and Stuart have continued in this vein, with photography, styling, content creation and marketing all done in-house from their base in Glencarse.

Stuart commented, “Our aim of moving to 100% own brand in five years was frustrated due to covid, Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis but in 2022 we made the decision to reinvest a significant share of profits in order to move our ambitions forward.

“There is a significant difference, moving from a boutique model whereby you buy in stock, mark it up and resell it, to an own-brand model where you are responsible for everything from designing and manufacturing to brand positioning. Margins are greater, yes, but the lead time on your investment is longer.

“We’re currently onboarding suppliers to ensure we can deliver on quality and consistency – how it washes, how it lasts, potential volumes – and until that’s in place we’ll continue to offer our boutique items. We’re currently at a 25% boutique and 75% own brand split but this will close gradually over the next two to three years.

“As well as meeting our production and manufacturing standards, we need to know that the people working on our designs are treated well. This means we’re working with independent auditors to give us assurance on fair wages, holidays, and environmental conditions. There’s a lot to consider.”

Whilst the decision to launch their own collections should impact positively on the bottom line, it has been as much about the brand ethos as it has about profit. Jade’s love of style was sparked at an early age – her auntie, Eve Graham, the Perthshire singer who rose to fame with the New Seekers, was a significant influence – and for her, clothes have always told a story and she was passionate about pre-loved long before it reached the sustainability headlines.
“There is a substance to the Little Lies brand that has allowed us to stay true to ourselves. It’s not rock and roll gimmicky, not a costume. It’s more about shape, colour, and icons. I wore one of my auntie’s Top of the Pops dresses to my prom and the idea that we could be making the vintage clothes of tomorrow has always excited me. Buy now, love it for years to come.

“Having full control in-house means that we can offer a better, more inclusive product that is right for the market today. When I was sourcing, I would wish it had a better neckline, thicker straps, a different hem – I always wanted more. It’s everything from ensuring, to offering, a full sizing range of 8 to 24 – the demand is there and continues to grow. We want Little Lies to be at the forefront of the market for everyone.”

As well as satisfying their own ambitions, Jade and Stuart are committed to creating opportunities for young creatives in their home region of Perthshire.

Jade continued, “When I was starting out, I was frustrated at the lack of creative opportunities in Scotland. I saw young people move to London and Manchester when we needed and wanted them here. As Little Lies grows, so too will the jobs and learning.”

Stuart agrees: “We want to attract talent to the area. Having our roots in Perthshire is important for us for both personal and business reasons. We want our daughter to grow up here but it’s also a central location for distributing across the UK and internationally.

“We’ve spent eight years with our heads down, working hard, but this is our time. Up until now, we’ve self-funded the business, but this may change as we look towards the future. Developing a board of directors, looking for investment – these are all on the horizon, I’m sure.”

Although both Jade and Stuart started their Little Lies journey with years of experience between them, they have had to develop new skills and business acumen including how to show up as leaders of a brand.

“When we started, Stuart was in full-time employment as a mechanical engineer, leading a design team working on innovative tech for Apple and others; this gave us an income but he travelled a lot, and in those first two years most of the major decisions around finance and legals were made over video-calls or between his trips.

“Meanwhile, I was running Little Lies from the spare bedroom. I did everything from curating collections, to uploading web images, running the social media, photography, pricing, dealing with customers, and all the picking, packing and shipping. We turned over £12,700 in year one and the learning curve was steep!

“Now, we have 14 employees, and this is only going to grow in line with the business as it develops.

“Leading the team has been one of the greatest challenges. We were so clear in our vison and ethos but, along the way, we’ve had to ensure every person recruited buys into those same principles. We now have a warehouse team, product team, marketing and content creation team and they all need to play their part in delivering on the Little Lies promise.”

In early 2023 Jade and Stuart joined the Accelerator Course, run in conjunction with Perth & Kinross Council and Elevator. The six-week course is designed for high growth start-ups and existing businesses in Perth & Kinross and focuses on the fundamentals needed to fast track business.

“One of the key benefits to us was getting out of the office! Making the space together to work on the business instead of in it has been productive. It is easy to become insular when you are focused on working hard and networking among other like-minded businesses all looking to grow brings fresh perspective to how you’re approaching things.”

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