I really do try my hardest to stay impartial with these interviews but oh my gosh I want everything Bethany Rowntree’s business has to offer.
From the dresses covered in constellation prints, rainbow sequins, and tropical flowers to scarlet Pom Pom shoes, shirts laden with avocados and fruit and hand knitted wool jumpers; Studio B shines a spotlight on the very best independent labels out there (with a healthy dose of ‘millennial pink’ branding chucked in for good measure).
Having launched the site just twelve weeks before we met; ran her first event collaborating with the likes of Mean Mail, Café Miami, Southern Wild, Shoreditch Nails and Push PR the night before this interview took place whilst juggling a house move with her boyfriend and Mabel the dog at home; it’s Friday 8th December 2017 and over a coffee at Megan’s in Parsons Green, I sat down with one, I quote, “exhausted” Bethany to find out what went on behind the scenes to launch my new favourite site.
SC.SD. In your own words then…!
BR. Ok! So Studio B is an online retail platform for womenswear but I work with independent, newer, more niche brands so we have some designers on there that just make jewellery, some just make silk scarves; some just do knitwear but the whole idea is curating them together and putting them into one place so that it’s easy to shop. It’s curated in the sense that it all goes together too.
SC.SD. It really does! What inspired you to work with those particular designers and the idea in general?
BR. Hmm… it was kind of just about what I liked when I started! I’d worked for years in fashion and always liked shopping but I got sick of going to all the same places. I couldn’t afford where I worked for starters (!) so I’d go for trends in H&M or Topshop but if you want something that’s different or a bit more special it’s hard.
When you want to know the story behind what you’re wearing, where it’s made, how it’s made, that kind of thing, I started thinking ‘where do I go for that?’ I know there’s premium high street like Whistles and Reiss but I like stuff that’s printed and has lots of colour…
SC.SD. Like your sequin, rainbow…
BR. The dress?!
SC.SD. Oh my gosh the dress! It’s my dream. You can use the best emojis for that one.
BR. I know! It’s like a mermaid! Stuff like that though. It’s a statement piece but it lasts. It’s perfect for Christmas and New Year but I’m going to wear it to a friend’s wedding next summer too. It’s more about a style than a trend so I’ve tried to find pieces that all work together and I’ve styled them and try everything on for Instagram so you can see what to pair it with…
SC.SD. Do you take all of those photos in your garden?
BR. Yeh! My neighbour must think I’m so weird…!
Having juggled a part-time job at Mulberry with her degree in ‘International Fashion Marketing’ at Manchester Met, Bethany started her professional career in fashion as a buying and merchandising intern in Mulberry’s London Head Office. After four years at Mulberry, she moved to Matches Fashion for multi-brand experience, jumping ship to Anya Hindmarch a year later…
SC.SD. Was your intention to always move to London?
BR. Kind of! I guess I always knew that if I wanted to do something in fashion I’d end up here. There were a few places in Manchester but it was more the likes of Boohoo and Missguided…
After Mulberry I wanted to try a multi-brand because I’d never done it before so I went to Matches but I didn’t really like it – there were just too many brands. It moved so quickly and if things hadn’t sold in “new in” within two weeks they were just left… That’s when I started thinking about the smaller brands – what happens to them? They just got lost on the website because they’d only push the big brands…
SC.SD. If you’d started thinking about the concept for Studio B at Matches, what made you go to Anya Hindmarch instead of pursuing your idea for the site then and there?
BR. I don’t know really! I think it was the classic, ‘what am I going to do without a job? What am I going to do for money?!’ It’s hard to get out of that routine so I think I just thought, ‘this will be my last job, I’ll just see how it goes and if that doesn’t work then I’ll stop and try my idea.’ As soon as I went to Anya though – even though I’d moved up in the ranks – it was basically exactly what I was doing at Mulberry… I just felt like I’d done it already so after about a week of being there, I decided it’s just not for me anymore. I started going to interviews but ended up declining those too. I just realised I didn’t want them so then I started thinking, ‘what do I actually want to do?’
I’d kind of been working on the idea for Studio B while I was there because I’d either be really busy or doing absolutely nothing! There were some nights where I’d just be sat waiting for it to turn 6 o’clock so I could go home… it was so unmotivating! And it was in an old stable block too with tiny windows with bars on at the very top so it was so dark…
SC.SD. Like prison basically!?
BR. Exactly! Especially in winter! So I just started looking for brands on Instagram because that’s where I’d seen a lot of them and started putting together a business plan. What would it look like? What is the aim of it?
SC.SD. So quite informal then?
BR. Yes! Every time I thought of something I’d just write it down on the laptop because otherwise I’d forget… I started putting together a mini presentation for myself of all the brands I’d found too. What price point are they? What do they do that’s different? Does this go with this?
I was doing that for ages but then I eventually started thinking, ‘if I stay here I’m never going to leave, I won’t have the time to go and meet these brands or tell people about it’ so my boyfriend just said, “you need to quit!”
At the end of 2016, aged twenty-eight, Bethany left Anya Hindmarch to launch Studio B.
SC.SD. Sometimes you have to just walk away, take the hit and spend a few months laying the groundwork don’t you?
BR. Absolutely and then you have to make it work because it’s a case of ‘I can’t afford it not to!’ It’s not like I’m taking money off the business now but I can’t afford to spend money on it for it to just sit there and do nothing…
SC.SD. Absolutely! What did it feel like when you left knowing you weren’t walking into another stable job?
BR. It was weird because people keep asking you where you’re going but you’re not going anywhere else! I obviously told the people at work that I was friends with what I was up to but everyone else I just said, “oh I’m just having some time off just to figure out what I’m going to do…”
For the next eight months, Bethany got to work on laying the groundwork that underpins her brand and site…
SC.SD. How did you fill your time in the eight months leading up to the launch?
BR. It sounds like a really long time doesn’t it?!
One of my main things was branding… I wanted to put together a pack to send out to brands that said, “this is what it’s about, this is my aim, these are my brand values.” I’d never done branding before so I didn’t know where to start and I tried to do it myself at first but it looked like shit so it was a case of, ‘no, no, I need to hire someone!’
You think it’ll be so easy! There’s all these websites out there, they look good but I didn’t realise how much goes into it until I set this up! My friend’s, friend’s, friend ended up doing it and even that took about six weeks after all the back and forth…
BR. No, she does a bit of freelance work on the side of her job so she doesn’t charge a huge amount at all! Because we got on and we had similar tastes anyway, she just got what it was all about. I wanted it to have colour in it but it was before this whole “millennial pink” thing started and I now I’m like, ‘for god’s sake, it’s not supposed to be that’ but then I thought, ‘no, I’m keeping it! I love pink!’
BR. After the branding was done, I just spent my time doing loads of little bits like looking into packaging. I felt like before I committed to the brands I had to sort out the finishing touches so it wasn’t until the end of February that I started actually contacting people. At first I was thinking ‘what if no one replies?!’ but people have been so lovely…
With Rewritten joining the site first followed in quick succession by East London based Jessie Harris and Paradise Row, Studio B gained its first designers early on.
SC.SD. What did it feel like then they said “yes”?
BR. I think I was excited!
SC.SD. That helps..!
BR. Haha! It just validated that it was a good idea because before you’ve told anyone about it; it just lives in your head. When they said they were interested, I’d go and meet them at their studio and see how they work so there was a bit of back and forth but again it all takes time which I didn’t realise at first…
Then in May I got them to all sign a contract so it was a bit more legal I guess. It covers things like ‘these are the terms, these are the conditions, please use this delivery service’ etc… A lot of the brands don’t actually sell anywhere else other than their own website and Studio B because they’re small so it was just a case of keeping in touch with them until the website was built…
Bethany’s business model is split depending on the brand. Whilst she buys some brands upfront like a regular wholesaler, others ship directly to Studio B’s customers and she takes a percentage from the sale…
BR. One of the designers, Rixo, live down the road from me so I just go round their house to buy their stuff… although they bought an office last week so I won’t be doing that anymore!
SC.SD. I love hearing about what goes on behind the scenes!
BR. It’s so interesting isn’t it! Their brand has blown up now and they’re so, so lovely! They’re stocked on Net-A-Porter too but they just said, “this is exactly the kind of site we want to be selling on” so they gave us more flexible terms!
When the designers ship directly though, it means I’m not buying any stock upfront. I couldn’t afford to do it all the time…
SC.SD. And I guess it helps with storage too?
BR. Oh my god yes and it works well for them because a lot of them are so small, they don’t really do wholesale and a lot of the stuff is made to order too.
SC.SD. Did any brands reject you or have reservations about joining the site in the early days?
BR. Erm, some wanted to see the website before it was built but not really. I was quite surprised that it went as well as it did but again they’re all quite small or new themselves. I think the branding and website massively helped though! Some of them had said they had been approached with similar ideas before but it didn’t look good whereas this just worked. I also think meeting people in person and actually getting on with them helped too!
On Wednesday 6th September, Studio B went live…
SC.SD. Let’s talk about how you prepared for the launch?
BR. So originally, I was aiming to launch in July…
The website was on time but I was waiting on bits of stock that I’d ordered and then I needed to get it all shot but I couldn’t afford to keep doing shoots as and when everything came in so I had to just wait and do one big bulk shoot. That pushed it back into August and then I found a really great photographer – again someone I love now but didn’t know before.
People kept saying that it was going to cost thousands to launch this business and I kept saying “no it’s not.” I didn’t have thousands! I just asked people for advice and because of where I’ve worked, I knew creative people and most of my friends that live here also work in fashion so that’s been good.
Anyway after it was all shot, I had to actually upload the items to the site and it’s so easy to do now but there were over two hundred products to upload which is actually quite a lot! I didn’t realise how long that would take. Adam – the guy that designed the website – was like, “it will take you three minutes per product!” but it definitely didn’t take three minutes per product! It took me weeks!
BR. For every product there’s about five images and then you have to write the description and I didn’t want to just copy them offline because I wanted it to be in the right tone and because it’s all online I wanted it to be as descriptive as possible and be quite honest! Although I think I should change that because I have a jumper on there that’s so nice – it’s a mohair blend – and I’ve put, ‘sometimes you need to wear something underneath it’ because I don’t want people to buy it for it to be too itchy or return it because what’s the point? Postage is so bloody expensive too!
I’d never used Photoshop so I had to learn that too… Now I know it’s easy but I massively struggled at the time.
SC.SD. It’s so good that you can admit to that though because those little bits always add up and take more time than you think but you’ve learnt now and it gets easier…
BR. Yeh! Someone that’s a website pro will probably read this and think, ‘you idiot! That’s so basic’ but I honestly didn’t understand it!
SC.SD. What happened on the day of the launch?
BR. Well for weeks all I’d been doing was getting up at 6 and starting straight away until 9pm, uploading and writing descriptions and then saying to Sam, my boyfriend, “it’s just never going to be done!” So then when it eventually was ready it was so weird! I just sat there thinking, “oh my god what do I do? Do I just press ‘go live’?!”
I’d started posting some of the pieces I’d be selling on Instagram before the launch and some people bought it before it went live which I thought was great because I didn’t know what would happen when it went live. What if there were no sales? I’d just be sat there like ‘oh god… what do I do now?!’ Anyway, I just decided to press the live button in the morning and I’d actually booked a hair appointment that day because I hadn’t had my hair done in ages. I thought I’d treat myself and take some time to sit back…
SC.SD. Watch the millions roll in…!?
BR. Oh yeh! My boyfriend told me I shouldn’t go and I was like, “why not?! I’ve been sat here all week in my pyjamas! No one’s actually going to buy anything” but I had to cancel the appointment! Not because there were loads of orders but because there were so many people commenting on Instagram and you want to reply to them all and then orders started coming through and it was suddenly a case of, ‘what do I do with them? Oh yeh, I need to post them!’
A few weeks after the site went live, Bethany organised a launch party for Studio B. With press, independent magazines, influencers and family and friends present, it was a good opportunity to celebrate her work so far…
BR. When I first started planning I aimed to have the party on the night of the site going live but some guys I met with told me to do it a couple of weeks later because I won’t have time! I thought I’d be fine but quickly realised they were right. All the little things like getting drinks sponsored, music sorted, stuff like that – what’s relevant music for the brand!? All these questions!
The guys that launched Earls of East London – which is a really cool candle brand – had just opened this new space and I really loved the style of the building… Anyway they had a bag on display from Paradise Row who I stock so that’s what gave me the idea to ask them if I could use their space and they were really keen on it because they wanted to start using it as an event space anyway…
SC.SD. Amazing! So was it just a case of working the room all night?
BR. Yeh! I was talking all night! It was so much fun and a lot of people said it was so good to actually see the products up close too.
With a total of seven orders on the day the site went live, I was intrigued to find out how business is doing three months in…
BR. It’s so mixed. Because it’s still quite new I’m still trying to work out where the orders are coming from. I hosted my first event yesterday with Mean Mail and Shoreditch Nails so I’ve had a really good week of orders this week. I don’t know if it’s because people have been talking about the event or Christmas is coming up… The Pool have been really good at featuring my stuff though and Who What Wear and Refinery 29 which helps…
SC.SD. That’s amazing! You’re so active on Instagram so what role does that play in your marketing?
BR. I feel like I have to be because I think that’s where most of the sales have come from. It takes so much time though! I need to work on Facebook too because a lot of people have said that they’ve done really well off of it and it targets older customers who might not have Instagram. Although I do actually have one customer who’s in her fifties on there and I love her! She’s called Maggie, she’s a stylist and she’s followed it before the site launched. She’s bought a lot and tells her clients which is really nice because I’ve built a relationship with her now.
But yeh, I do feel like I’m missing out a bit on Facebook because I haven’t really spent much on marketing; I’ve just been doing it myself. Instagram is growing slowly though which is good and no there’s not 10,000 followers but people have said to me that that doesn’t necessarily mean more sales… The people that do follow interact, a lot of people ask questions and I love that.
SC.SD. Are you ever tempted to just take one of everything for yourself?
BR. I haven’t taken lots of stuff because I feel like I shouldn’t…
SC.SD. I feel like you should!
BR. I want to so bad but I’m running out of space! To be fair though, I do need to wear as much as I can because people ask me where things are from a lot so I have tried to get a few extra bits for me here and there! That genuinely does help because sometimes people randomly stop me on the street and ask where I’ve bought something…
SC.SD. Let’s talk about the not so nice stuff… what’ve you found to be the hardest part of this journey? Any points where you’ve wanted to just up and walk away?
BR. YES! It’s been a lot harder than I thought. I don’t know what I was expecting to be honest. Doing events like last night is amazing but when I was setting up I was already exhausted, you get emails from people asking loads of questions even though you’ve told them already, there’s so much packing on either side of the event but then it’s amazing when it comes together and you get to meet people in person. We didn’t get as many people as we’d been expecting though. It was raining all morning and loads of people said they were sick and I’m now sick; then the Victoria Line was suspended and some people got stuck on the tube. Outside factors like that can really set you back but then I got lots of messages apologising and saying ‘please host another one’ so you have to try and stay positive!
It’s also exhausting! Some of my friends have helped at the events and I think that’s helped them to understand it more because they see what goes into it; but I do think others think I’m doing nothing because I’m not ‘at work’, when in reality I’m doing way more now than I ever did! I don’t stop. This sounds ridiculous but I don’t have any time for regular life stuff at the moment!
SC.SD. This is me right now!
BR. I know! Even silly things… Like I’ve got so many weddings coming up and I was supposed to book flights for one of the weddings months ago and I still haven’t! I haven’t got Christmas presents yet even though it’s two weeks away. A part of me misses having that spare time but it’s completely different because I’d be sat at my desk watching the clock everyday utterly bored.
I would have done all my Christmas shopping, I would have booked my flights for the wedding, I would have organised everything I was supposed to do because I would have been bored with nothing better to do. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had spare time..!
SC.SD. I hear you on that! Let’s talk moments that make it worth it… What’s been your proudest moment since launching?
BR. Ooo I don’t know! Probably the actual launch knowing it was real now! It’s hard though because you never think you’ve fully done it – there’s always something else to do – but getting it to that point was a real high! I remember on the night, I’d not had a shower all day, I hadn’t eaten, I’d just been sat there trying to answer everyone’s messages and constantly checking the site to make sure that it was all working so Sam and I decided to go out for tea, dinner sorry (!) to celebrate. I had a shower, put some makeup on, put a dress on and just felt really good for the night and proud of myself but then it was back to work the next morning!
We were also featured in Emerald Street – that was great to see! I met the Editor, Kat and she was so lovely and supportive and helped loads. Just meeting people has been really good and building those relationships. I’ve made so many new friends through this!
SC.SD. Let’s round up with some quick-fire questions! Favourite quote?
BR. I really don’t like all these Insta quotes but there was one the other day that said, ‘What if everything goes right?’ I’m always the person that thinks it’s going to go badly so I like that one! It helps!
SC.SD. Definitely! What about if I asked you to describe yourself as a business woman?
BR. Oh god, I don’t think of myself as a business woman!
SC.SD. Well you are!
BR. I am aren’t I!? Ok, I think I’m quite proactive, I think I’m nice…
SC.SD. That helps!
BR. Haha it does! I’m quite critical too though so I think I could be doing more than I am and I could be doing it better but I physically don’t have the time to do it at the moment!
SC.SD. From an external perspective, I think you’re doing pretty great! Last one then, where do you want to be in ten years’ time and can you see yourself still running Studio B?
BR. Oh my god that’s such a long time! I’ll be old! I definitely still see Studio B in the picture but I’d like to have way more brands on board including more European brands. I want to get to the point where I have a team on board too so I can go on a trip around Europe and meet those brands and build it that way!
I’d also love to have a studio too that became my office, the buyer’s showroom, I could host events there… I think it’s important to collaborate too like last night’s event so more of that; especially with women in business. I think people are keen to do that more now. Everyone started from somewhere and everyone’s trying to grow so it makes it more exciting to build it together and share your audiences… Oh and in ten years, I’d also like to have an independent department store…
BR. Yes! Only a small one, maybe a bit like what I imagined Liberty’s to be years ago, but smaller and at my price level. I’d of course stock Studio B’s brands but also other independent brands with a point of difference, like Mean Mail in the cards department, I’d have a small local café such as Café Miami, they’d be an interiors section, a florist… I just think it would be so cool! Keep it at the same level as Studio B is now so it’s not ridiculously expensive but just make it a nice space where people want to be!
SC.SD. I can so see you doing this…!
BR. And then hopefully it’ll mostly run itself and I’ll run off to the countryside to buy my country cottage with lots of out buildings to start my Studio B themed holiday cottage business! Think Soho House style interiors but more affordable with a bit more pink, colour, patterned tiles and taxidermy! Haha! It’s so hard to find affordable places for a country weekend away that aren’t granny inside! Oh, and I’ll be surrounded by my fleet of Mabel’s living the dream!
SC.SD. That’s going in the interview so I’ll hold you to that! Ten years’ time, a department store, a country cottage business and a fleet of Mabel’s…
BR. Oh god, the pressure’s on now!
With boxes of stock waiting to be unpacked in her bedroom from the previous day’s event and orders to run to the Post Office before it shuts in half an hour, we say our goodbyes there and Bethany dashes off into the cold, winter night…
(That sounds a tad dramatic I know… in reality she just walked out the door!)
From figuring out on the job how to work Photoshop and resize images to underestimating the time it takes to shoot each product and write-up every description online; it’s Bethany’s efforts in laying the groundwork that I will take from this interview most, as it’s that attention to detail that makes Studio B a site that stands out from the crowd.
Using a kitchen table for an office, her bedroom as a stockroom and drawn upon the advice and skills of industry contacts and friends; she’s proved those that told her the site’s launch would cost thousands to be wrong and created a business that echoes her personality to a ‘T’ (or in this case, ‘B’) as a result.
Plus, she manages to laugh her way through the lows – no mean feat when you’re up to your neck in the shambolic start up months, with a relentless ‘to do’ list that makes life admin the least of your priorities!
Having been recommended to me by the babes at LFA last October and shared a few chatty emails back and forth with her prior to this chat, between you and me I had pretty high expectations about Bethany’s character before we met…
Kooky, kind-hearted with beyond exciting plans for the future (anyone else hoping the Studio B-style country cottage business opens sooner rather than later?!), I can safely say in no way did she – nor her story – disappoint.