Aside from the obvious ‘how to launch a business’ tips, management advice when it all goes a tad pear-shaped, and day-to-day life hacks that female entrepreneurs swear by these days; if there’s one thing that my experience launching She can. She did. has taught me, it’s that I’ve nailed the art of walking up to random strangers who are sat on their own in cafés whilst hoping for the best that they’re the woman that I’ve come to interview.
It’s International Women’s Day 2018 and I find myself standing in the middle of Nonna’s on Woburn Sands High Street, staring at the back of what I’m really hoping is Donna Tweedale’s head.
With short, tight curls circa 90’s for hair however – I was expecting the signature, poker straight do I’d come to recognise on Instagram – for about sixty seconds, I’m genuinely stumped.
Donna Tweedale. “I fancied a change so I got a perm last night! My husband didn’t recognise me either doll!”
Specialising in personal styling for the average woman, I sat down with the thirty-seven year old stylist over coffee and cake in March, to find out how she went about finding her ‘thing’ after becoming a Mum and the journey she’s been on since launching her business last spring…
DT. So a lot of my clients are women that have come to a point in their life where they don’t feel like they represent the women that they are anymore so I do personal styling for them which consists of wardrobe edits, personal shopping and styling!
With the majority of my clients, I travel to their homes and go through what they have already and figure out what does and doesn’t work. When you see the same thing every day, sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes to realise what you’re working with! Also, I think we’re all very self-critical about our bodies so for me to say, “that’s not what I see” and educate them a bit more on their body shape helps…
She can. She did. I’m thinking of Trinny and Susannah! I take it there are no mirrored wardrobes involved where you grab everyone’s lumps and bumps!?
DT. Oh my god, no! A lot of women still ask me that actually! “Are you going to make me stand in my M&S pants?!”
SC.SD. It was pretty brutal!
DT. I know! They did a lot for the styling industry and made women think more about things like shape and fit but the way they approached it was solely for TV which didn’t help.
I always make a report afterwards too that’s personalised for them which includes their own inspiration board and notes from our time together so they can refer to that going forward. Once they have that, they’re so much more confident shopping!
SC.SD. Are there any key rules that you apply across the board?
DT. There are some rules that I follow but because every women is so different, I don’t get too hung up on them. I’m all about shape and fit and proportion. I do sometimes work on colour and tone but I think there are so many rules that can broken; like yellow for instance. If I said, “yellow isn’t your colour” you’d go shopping and avoid it when actually there might be a tone of yellow that works for you or that you really love. So I try and avoid encouraging women to completely avoid something unless it really doesn’t work on their shape. Shape and fit are so much more important! Clients are always saying, “I love Holly Willoughby, I want to look like Holly!”
SC.SD. She’s my boyfriend’s number one too!
DT. Exactly! She’s always on “the list!” But it’s interesting because a lot of women mention the same celebrities and what those celebrities have in common is their stylist. Christine Lampard, Holly, Laura Whitmore, Emma Willis etc… are all styled by Angie Smith. She has a real formula and once you’re aware of that, you can see the common thread even though they’ve all kept their unique style.
SC.SD. You said that you’re really honest with your clients… how honest are we talking?!
DT. If someone’s wearing white skinny jeans when they shouldn’t be wearing white skinny jeans, I’ll say it but there are ways of saying it!
I’m very aware that for women to approach me in the first place and then to invite me into their home is a big step. They trust me so I never take that for granted. I’ve got a big responsibility and a lot of women really rely on what I say so when I do a report afterwards, I spend a lot of time doing it. There’s never any copy and pasting, it’s all individual and I don’t share them on social media because they can get really personal. Every woman has areas that they’re concerned about – even Kate Moss – so I’ll normally say things like, “I don’t think it’s the best look for you” rather than…
SC.SD. “Christ, your arse looks huge?!”
DT. Exactly! And I’d never throw things off the rail Trinny and Susannah style like, “what the fuck were you thinking here?!”
Our chat is interrupted briefly as Donna manages to miss her mouth trying to eat cake for the second time in ten minutes!
DT. How can I miss this mouth!? This is getting ridiculous!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about what inspired you to launch your business?
Though Donna studied fashion illustration at Bedford College and planned to go to university thereafter, when her circumstances at home changed in her late teens, those plans were put on hold.
DT. It got a bit difficult at home so uni wasn’t an option at the time and then I was one of those people that thought, ‘I’ll take a year’ but that turned into five! I’ve always been very visual though so I went on to do graphic design and marketing and to this day, out of my friendship group, I’m always the one my friends come to if they ever want advice on outfits and design…
Anyway, naturally we all went on to have kids and as my kids got older, I just noticed that so many of my Mum friends talked so negatively about themselves. I was constantly hearing, “I’d never be brave enough to wear that!” and I’d be sat there thinking, ‘why?!’
I’m not saying that you need your glad rags on all ‘Trendy Wendy’ going off to Sainsbury’s every day of the week but there are so many things that can help you feel like you’re clawing little bits of yourself back. I fell into the trap at one stage too though and felt like, ‘I’m a Mum therefore I must shop in Joules’ but it just wasn’t me. You can feel like you have to conform because you’re a Mum now but it’s not just Mum’s that want my help. Women that have gone through career changes often approach me or anyone that realises they’ve been wearing the same thing for ages and are just bored.
I live in a very small village and I still get the odd look at the school gates but I don’t care! I’m not outrageously confident, in fact I’m an introvert, but I know what I like and what I feel good in and I feel like a lot of women should give themselves more permission to do that.
That definitely inspired me to start thinking about turning this into a business but I felt like I needed a bit of paper to validate that I could.
With that, Donna enrolled on a seven month course at The London College of Fashion graduating with a diploma in personal styling in February 2017.
SC.SD. It gives you credibility doesn’t it?
DT. Exactly! And I felt that I had helped enough friends before trying to make it a business that I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.
I remember when I was coming to the end of the course though, my Tutor said, “what do you want me to say?!” and I said, “I want you to tell me I’m good enough to charge people for money!” He was like, “obviously you are” but I needed to hear that! In the same way that the women I work with need someone else to tell them it’s ok to wear something, I needed to that I was good enough to do this professionally.
SC.SD. You launched last May so talk me through how you prepared for that…
DT. I had no idea what to do! I started looking at what other stylists were doing though and realised what I could do differently. I really want to maintain that I’m achievable for your average woman because a lot of personal stylists do have massive budgets and say things like, “you need a minimum spend of £2000” but who has that!?
I also had a big think about how I was going to present myself! At the beginning I tried to make the website sound really professional but then I realised I am a bit sweary and I don’t say the big fancy words so I just typed it how I say it! Everyone that’s contacted me since has said, ‘I felt like I knew you before I met you’ so that’s nice.
SC.SD. People appreciate when you’re being genuine though. Especially when these women invite you to their homes; they want to know who they’re inviting!
DT. Exactly! I’m not for everybody and I totally get that. It’s a really close relationship and it can be like therapy sometimes. People get emotional because they’ve wanted to do it for so long or it’s gone much more in depth than they thought it would… maybe I should do a therapy course too!
SC.SD. Little add on!? £50 extra and you get to vent!?
DT. Exactly! I’ll bring the rail and my couch!
DT. I created the website myself on WordPress which took ages and I got a friend to proof read it because she’s a teacher so she called me up on all my grammatical errors!
I didn’t want a photo of myself on there though because it felt too personal but I’d come across an illustrator and loved her stuff. I sent her a photo of me and she turned that into a really simple drawing so I just used that as my logo and branding.
Though preparations for the launch ran smoothly at first, Donna hit her first low point when she discovered that she had to change the name of her business on the night before she was due to launch.
DT. I’d had a blog called ‘Crayons in my muimui’ and so just thought I’d transfer the name but it was brought to my attention that it crosses copyright rules and I hadn’t considered that! I didn’t think it’d be a problem for little old me! Anyway, I’d announced that I was launching on this day and at 2am the night before I was frantically trying to think of another name and then I eventually decided to just name it after me!
I had no one else to ask and my husband is so not creative! He’s a scientist and I’m the complete opposite. I’m like, “I just draw stuff!”
SC.SD. Opposites attract though, right?!
DT. Exactly! The kids have got him to help with the maths homework and I make the amazing costumes for world book day! Anyway, my name it is!
SC.SD. How did you get clients on board initially and have your marketing methods changed at all since?
DT. Word of mouth I suppose. I thought initially it’d all come from Instagram but actually most of my clients are on Facebook and come through recommendations. I enjoy Instagram but I don’t post any client work on there as it’s so personal so I don’t need it.
SC.SD. Let’s get the lows out the way? Apart from the launch setback, have you faced any other hurdles since your business went live?
DT. I didn’t come off Instagram but I felt like when I first started, I was searching for acceptance from other women in the industry. I wanted them to like me and fashion can be a bitchy area…
SC.SD It’s definitely got a reputation…
DT. Exactly! I wanted to do my own thing but I also felt like there was a clique and I wasn’t in it. It’s my own fault though! If I went to events, when anyone asked what I did I’d be so self-deprecating and say things like, “oh I’m a stylist but nothing major!” Anna (Cascarina, Founder of Little Flea Kids) kept saying, “stop saying that!”
Now, I know that I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m ok at what I do and that it’s ok to be doing this. I’m doing it because I want to do it and the only people whose opinions count are the women that I work with. After realising that, I’ve got a much healthier relationship with Instagram, it’s great for inspiration and I don’t compare myself now.
SC.SD. What about the good bits… have there been any standout moments since launching that have made you feel extra proud?
DT. See just pressing the button and watching it go live was a big deal for me. I had bunches of flowers from friends saying, “we’re so proud of you for finally going for it and for finding your thing!” Having them recognise that it was a natural thing for me to do reaffirmed that it was the right decision to do this.
I also hosted a small styling event in my area with about twenty women and I don’t do public speaking at all but I was determined to host it. My son helped me set up after his guitar lesson and I said to him, “I’m feeling a little bit nervous actually” and he was like, “I had to read my poem in front of my class today Mum and I have thirty-two people in my class. You’ve only got twenty people coming to yours!”
SC.SD. So brutal!
DT. I know! He shot me down so badly! He genuinely was like, “what is all the fuss about?!”
SC.SD. There’s no fear when you’re in primary school though is there?!
DT. None! But you get into it don’t you? I’d asked everyone to bring things along and I wanted to make sure everyone got some attention and time if they wanted it and when it was over, getting messages from them saying things like, “I’m viewing myself totally differently” and, “thank you so much! It makes sense now” meant so much.
Sometimes I feel like I trip over my words in person. I’ve always been much more visual so when I send them over their boards, they always say things like, “it’s like you were sat here talking to me!” I find that much easier than walking into a room and being like, “everybody look at me!” You can see people work the room, get their goody bag and go sometimes and I’m still standing there sipping my first lemonade thinking, ‘oh there’s so and so, she’s amazing, but I’m not going to say “hello” because she’ll think I’m a dick!’
I was at an event the other day and someone said, “it’s ok if you’re an introvert. Don’t feel like you’ve got to go to networking events and get in everyone’s face and say, “HI I’M DONNA AND I’M A STYLIST!” That really helped.
SC.SD. You’ve mentioned that you wanted to remain accessible for your average woman so let’s talk pricing… It’s a service based business, you’ve had to put value on your time, how did you approach it?
DT. I found it really hard…
SC.SD. Talk to me!
DT. No one has said I’m too much. If anything, it’s the other way round.
With reports costing £80 and wardrobe edits costing £220, Donna has found pricing one of the most challenging aspects since launching.
DT. It was £120 when I first started too because I felt like I needed experience before I could charge more. I remember someone telling me that I should value my time at a certain amount an hour and I was sat there thinking, ‘wow, that’s a lot of money! I don’t think I can ask for that.’ I do find it awkward talking about money and valuing myself and putting my business hat on but I sent some emails to the women I’d worked with and almost every one of them came back with, “you are way too cheap!”
With that in mind, in January 2018, Donna announced across social media that her prices would increase from a set date onwards.
DT. No one said, “that’s a bit greedy!” Instead I got, “that makes perfect sense! Still think you’re a bit under though!” Maybe I’ll address it in a couple of years…
SC.SD. Or months!?
DT. Or months! But it’s making sure it’s still achievable because women think they have to have thousands in the bank before they come and see me when it doesn’t have to work like that! I work to different price points. For example, say you want a classic camel coat. We could go to Max Mara and spend a couple of grand, Zara do a really good quality wool coat for £90 or we could work somewhere in between and look in Jaegar or Jigsaw…
SC.SD. Let’s talk about your support network throughout this whole journey…
DT. My husband has been amazing in that he doesn’t put pressure on me. When I have to go out to meet clients, he doesn’t make me feel bad for that or if I overstretch myself and work too late – my mind annoyingly always decides it wants to work between 11pm and 2am – he gets it!
My best friend Claire has been amazing and so supportive too! Even when I say, “you’re not paying for that” she still does and she helps me with my marketing in such a nice way – I don’t like it when it feels like I’m being told off!
And Anna has been amazing. When the kids were quite little, I did a lot of work for kids’ editorial and kids’ style and I still write content for Little Flea Kids magazine. I don’t think she realises quite how much she’s mentored me but she used to be a stylist and kept saying, “it’s such a natural progression for you!” I’d always think, ‘but I don’t live in London. I live in a village on the edge of Cambridgeshire’ but her saying that made me think about the styling reports and made me take it seriously.
Things like the Hub and Instagram too though. Seeing other women juggle much more than I do helps me to realise that I’m ok and if they can do it, I can do it and I want to do it well.
SC.SD. You’ve described yourself as an introvert. How do you think that’s helped you with launching and running your own business?
DT. I think I have moments where I have a sudden splurge of confidence and it’s usually about how I feel in myself and my outfit that day! When I had kids, I was massive. Ewan was nearly 10lb and I definitely embraced the eating for two (!) and it wasn’t necessarily a weight thing but I did feel very disconnected from myself. I’m not naturally very confident so when my clients aren’t sure about something, I never force it. I understand that building confidence is a process. I remember when I was younger, I was so lanky and so much taller than everyone and did ballet so I was tiny and I’d hunch over to try and make myself smaller and Mum would squeeze my hand and say, “stand up taller and embrace it!” I was a bit too, “no one understands me” with the sweeping hair!
SC.SD. I think we all went through the sweeping side fringe stage..!
DT. Exactly! I wish I could go back and tell that girl to embrace it! I always find it interesting though that some of the quietest and most self-aware people I know have the wackiest wardrobes… it’s almost like war paint.
SC.SD. Beyoncé / Sasha Fierce?!
DT. Yes! They kind of hide behind it…
SC.SD. A good outfit is so powerful though isn’t it? What’s your advice for any woman reading this that has an important business meeting coming up? Say they’re about to pitch to investors or they’re about to pitch for a new client for example…
DT. I think the most paramount thing is that everything fits and fits you well. There is nothing worse than being worried about a VPL or shoes rubbing. You need to feel good. Think about it beforehand – even if it’s just five minutes the night before while you’re brushing your teeth – plan it!
Also, I’m very aware of my cycle and I don’t think we talk about it enough in business! Clue is a game changer! You put all your data in and it pre-empts your sex drive, sleep, periods, everything!
Immediately, Donna’s phone is out because I want more info!
DT. So I’m about to enter the PMS stage!
SC.SD. “Everyone stay away!”
DT. I screenshotted it as an apology to my husband once! Honestly though, I just feel so out of control sometimes so I’ve made sure that I don’t book any clients around that date because I’m not the best version of myself. It’s not that I don’t want to risk screaming at people because I wouldn’t do that but I’m just not feeling it!
SC.SD. I need to listen to this because there have been a few days since launching this where I’ve gone off to meetings in pain because I’ve come on that morning! I’ve tried my hardest to concentrate but I just want to curl up in a ball!
DT. Exactly, you just want to eat all the carbs! So now if I host any workshops or visit clients, I avoid that time. It works both ways though. I always let my clients know that I expect them to try outfits on so if they’re not feeling good, don’t book me at that time because they won’t enjoy it.
SC.SD. That reminds me of a time I spontaneously got my bra fitted in M&S once and completely forgot I hadn’t shaved my armpits! That’s going to make me sound like a gorilla – I’m not I promise – but it instantly puts you on edge doesn’t it!?
DT. Haha exactly! And you remember the feeling of not enjoying it! So going back to your question… If you want to feel comfortable then don’t go overboard and don’t squeeze into anything at the last minute. Obviously you can inject a few subtle trends and layers that you can add or remove depending on the weather but comfort is key.
SC.SD. Quick fire… favourite quote?
SC.SD. Donna, it’s International Women’s Day! Our Instagram feeds are full of them!
DT. I know, I know! Ok, got one. It’s very cliché but ‘everything happens for a reason!’
SC.SD. An oldie but a goodie!
DT. When significant things have happened in my life, at the time they’ve felt horrendous but actually, everything has slotted into place since.
SC.SD. Even things like your business name having to change at the last minute. From an outsider’s perspective, your name sounds much better than the original.
DT. Exactly! It was totally the right thing to happen.
SC.SD. Style icons?
DT. I’ve got so many but I am a little bit obsessed with Emma Willis.
SC.SD. She is the dream. What about women that inspire you?
DT. My Mum! I’m so grateful for the way she bought us up and the values she installed in me; she was always there. She made a really bold decision a few years ago that had repercussions but she stood true to herself and what she needed at the time and I really admire that!
SC.SD. Love that! Last question then… where do you see this business going?
DT. I feel like the only person getting in my way is me so I just need to suck it up, do more events, put my business out there and go for it! I always get good feedback from clients and guests at the events and they make me feel good so it’s to just keep going!
I feel like my friends really appreciate that this is what I do now. I’m not just talking about shopping and I feel like there’s been a shift in their mind-set towards it all and other people taking me seriously has helped me to take this more seriously too.
Some people might think that hiring a stylist is a self-indulgent thing to do but actually we spend really valuable time together, get down to the nitty gritty of how they see themselves and I genuinely care! Even months down the line, if I see something that I think would suit an old client I’ll send it through to them and then I get all these ads come up on my Facebook and Instagram that won’t suit me and I’m sat there thinking, ‘why is this popping up?’ and then I realise it’s for them! I just want to help as many women as I can!
SC.SD. I love ending on that question because it always ends with cheese!
DT. “I just want to believe in myself and help as many women as I can!” Done!
What I love about Donna is that – all cheese aside for a second – she genuinely does.
There is a tendency to underplay what we do as women – I think all of us have been guilty of that at some point in our lives – but I could tell as we spoke that Donna’s not just learning to see the value in her work but she’s learning to see the value in herself and what her character alone offers too.
From learning to embrace that she’s an introvert because it helps her to empathise with clients; overcoming the tendency to compare herself to others on Instagram by focusing on her company’s uniqueness; to having the sense to take control of her hormones by avoiding the dreaded meeting/period clash (note to self: ‘learn from this Fi’); though she’d be the first to admit she’s learning as she goes, she’s doing so with a new sense of self and purpose in tow.
And despite lacking confidence 24/7, she’s not afraid to do things that scare her every once in a while.
Proving that it’s never too late to retrain in something that you’re genuinely passionate about, Donna’s a woman in her element now that she’s found her ‘thing’ and a bloody nice woman in her element to boot.