Retail

Published: August 27, 2020 | Updated: August 27, 2020

“We’ve been through the mill” says fashion queen Sunny but remains upbeat and positive

Sunny Bird with her daughter, Sophia: “With no previous experience in the fashion industry, to say it’s been a steep learning curve would be an understatement.”
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Lockdown has been a hard-enough challenge for well-established businesses.

But for Sunny Bird, and her fledging start-up fashion brand, well the phrase ‘baptism of fire’ doesn’t come close.

Sunny, 40, started working on her new fashion brand, the Perfect Dress Company, two years ago.

It launched in March this year and immediately came face to face with the biggest crisis to face the retail sector – and country – since, arguably, the Second World War.

Sunny said: “With no previous experience in the fashion industry, to say it’s been a steep learning curve would be an understatement – and that was before Covid-19.

“Just with the dresses themselves we’ve had problem after problem.

“From factory fires destroying hundreds of dresses, having to find new factories, then our fabric arriving faulty, and grading issues with the fabric.

“All in all, we’ve really been through the mill.”

At the end of 2019, after two years of perfecting the perfect dress, Sunny was ready to get the brand ready to launch and had been working with a website design agency.

But suddenly all went very quiet.

“I was getting so frustrated, I was being ghosted by my web developers!,” said Sunny.

“I was getting nearer and nearer to being ready to launch but didn’t have a website anywhere near ready.

“After some very bizarre calls and emails, I realised that the company had gone out of business.

“I then had to start over again and find a new web developer who was willing to take over someone else’s half-finished project, could work with a modest budget, and turn it around pretty quickly.

“Somehow we managed to find someone who fitted the bill.

“I had initially planned that from design to launch, it would only take 12-18 months, and at this stage we were already at two years.

“Needless to say, my budget had been hit very hard with all the factory disasters and the website’s mounting costs.

“But I still had a lot to do.

“It was things like packaging, postage, labels, return forms that I had left to do – with hardly any money left to do it with.

“I knew I had to get it right, the price points for the dresses were £89 upward, the packaging needed to reflect the premium quality of the dresses – no scrimping allowed, but also no budget left.

“Luckily, a friend of mine recommended BBX, a business community, that really supports start-up brands.

“They gave us a £5,000 interest free credit which we were able to spend with printing suppliers to get all of our packaging needs and things like business cards and compliment slips too.”

The Perfect Dress Company officially launched in March and gained a large amount of exposure thanks to celebrities wearing the dresses and a plethora of media coverage.

Sunny said: “We were really lucky that a few celebrities such as Michelle Mone and Josie Gibson were snapped wearing the dresses, and also Lorraine’s stylist, Mark Hayes, featured one of our dresses on his Instagram TV.

“We were featured in the likes of Grazia, the Mail Online, the Mirror Online, and Drapers, all of which gave the Perfect Dress Company some great exposure for its debut.”

But, unfortunately, all of this was to be short lived as just one week later, lockdown was announced.

“The team and I had worked so hard to get the brand ready to launch by March, and we had one week to be proud of what we’d done before the rollercoaster started again,” said Sunny.

“As most of our dresses are occasion dresses we knew that we wouldn’t be selling many of these when people didn’t have events to go to.

“This was a real shame as the photoshoots we’d paid over £10,000 for at the beginning of the year featured Ascot and bridal style photography that just wasn’t relevant in this new climate.

“As soon as it became clear that lockdown was going to be our ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable, we focused on a range of more casual dresses that we would have done maybe a year or so down the line, but actively fast-forwarded so that we could offer women clothing that they could wear now.

“We also worked on expanding our jewellery range, which again we brought forward rapidly.

“We’d seen a surge in sales for our existing jewellery range at the beginning of lockdown where women wanted to treat themselves to something nice but didn’t need a special occasion dress.

“With so many people furloughed, and many worried about cashflow, we also added an interest-free payment plan option onto our website.”

“Although the future is still relatively uncertain, we’re somehow remaining positive.

“We’re doing our very best to listen to what our community wants and to adapt our offering to suit.

“We were also very lucky to win a competition run by Sky Ad Smart to help small businesses during Covid-19.

“We received a free advert for the Perfect Dress Company worth £10,000 which was incredible.”

Sunny, who is also the owner and Managing Director of Bournemouth-based Sunny Bird PR, added: “I always knew that launching my own fashion brand would be hard work, and it really was.

“So much harder than I imagined actually.

“And then the unexpected challenges that lockdown brought us made the journey quite exhausting and overwhelming at times.

“I really do feel that we have done everything we can for our business and our customers.”