I was introduced to Renée via Gaëlle Tuffigo, founder of The Expand Approach, and prior interviewee for @mastersofmany . There are lots of reasons I found this interview exciting. Firstly, Renee works in two of my most loved industries, fashion and food. But, more importantly, she has a brilliant can-do attitude about trying something new, and she’s a great example of what makes an entrepreneur successful – through sheer will and determination, rather than purely experience and connections. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.
As a side note, when we did this interview, Renee was in the final stages pre-launching her new vegan yoghurt brand, but since then she has successfully launched and is now stocked in Daylesford, Organico and various food markets across London. Full details are at the end of this piece.
Tell us about what you’re doing now / your multiple careers / new venture?
Five years ago, I started a womenswear label (Antithesis) with someone that I met at university. I was studying fashion design and she was studying fashion entrepreneurship, and we realised we wanted to do the same thing. For me it was very important that it was ethical fashion, and for her it was important that it was a multi-functional label. We teamed up, I was the designer and she was more on the business side.
We launched in September 2012, and we had the label for four years. In summer 2015, for various reasons, we split, as we were going in different directions. She gave me the choice to continue it on our own, but for me it was a brand that we had built together. It was a bit like making a baby, I didn’t want to be a single mum I guess!
When you start a business, it’s a long time before you can pay yourself. I started freelancing as a pattern cutter for all sorts of people – students, start-ups, companies – and that was going well. I was doing three days of pattern cutting and three days of working on the label. My client base grew and grew, and demand grew. When we stopped the label, that was when I decided to convert my freelance services into a business.
I launched London Pattern Bureau in October 2015. It was the same thing as I was doing before – pattern cutting and sampling. I would do seamstress work before, when I was asked, but I wasn’t totally happy with the quality, as I wanted it to be perfect. I decided to hire a freelance seamstress to help me with the sewing. That was part-time at the beginning, and then in March 2016 I got my first employee, and now I have two full-time employees and a contractor, and it’s going really well.
There’s a big demand for pattern cutting and sampling in London. The fashion industry has a lot of start-ups, lots of people start their own fashion labels, whether it’s womenswear, menswear, or we’re seeing a lot of children’s and baby wear recently, also beachwear, yoga – you name it, we’ve done it! It’s only been a year as a company, but 5 years for me as a pattern cutter. I don’t do any technical work now, I’m more of a project manager, so it’s different work. I do client meetings and supervise the projects, but I don’t get involved in the hand making of the patterns. It happened gradually, I didn’t really notice it happening.
It was always my main income, but it had been a part-time role before. I’m very happy with this business, but it was always a way to pay the rent, and a way to stay in this country. I’m Canadian, so the type of visa that I’m on requires me to have employees, for a minimum of 12 months each.
I had the idea of making yoghurt at about the same time as I left Antithesis. I don’t really remember exactly where the idea came from, but I am vegetarian, going into veganism (particularly at home). I’m trying to reduce my dairy intake for ethical and medical reasons. There’s lots of non-dairy milk available, but if you’re looking for yoghurt, there aren’t many options. There is soy yoghurt, which is not very good, and then there is coconut, which is good, but very strong flavoured, and also quite expensive. I went on blogs, and tried to research how to make my own.
It hit me, that it could be my new business. Instead of selling clothing, I could sell yoghurt. The idea kind of grew in my mind for about a year, and then I tried to do it. I incorporated the company in March, and then I’ve been incubating. Because it’s a whole new category and product, I’ve had to start from scratch. It’s been a long process, but now I have a website running, and I’m hoping to launch in early spring. [The brand has since launched] It’s all getting rather exciting, finalising the recipes and packaging and all of these kinds of things.
Because it’s such a new industry, and one you didn’t have experience of – have you had help from people who are in that industry?
I have a friend who is in the food industry. She has a supper club, so it’s been good to speak with her. But I would say, that you don’t necessarily have to have experience when you do something new – it’s just about research, going to networking events, and reading books. I read a book called ‘Start your own part-time food business’, I went to a masterclass about starting your own food business, I went to a food founder festival a few weeks ago.
I think once you get into it, you realise that there are lots of events out there, and it’s just about meeting people and talking to them. There are great things on Facebook too, for example, the Food Hub is incredible. Sometimes, I just go there to read peoples posts, their questions and answers. It’s amazing to see how generous people are with their information.
It sounds like you went straight from university to launching your own business. What made you take the leap to take an entrepreneurial route vs. applying for jobs?
We graduated, and for me I’d always wanted to have my own label. It was my dream since I was 13, so I was just following my dreams. The best way to do it is when you don’t know what you’re missing in terms of income. Being Canadian, I only came to London to study, but sometimes life happens in a different way. My business partner was a Londoner, so we decided to try it here and see what happened. I guess I follow my intuition, rather than my logic.
In each of your businesses, how long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture? Were there key moments where you realised you were doing the right thing?
For the fashion label, it took about eight months from the moment we graduated to the moment we launched. For a consumer product, it’s a very long process, doing the research and the materials, developing the product and the production before you launch, so that people can buy it straight away. For London Pattern Bureau, it was a lot quicker, because I already had my clients, the tools I needed, and the people. It was just changing how I invoiced, so it was a very seamless transition.
How are you planning on launching the yoghurt brand?
I’m not planning on doing production straight away. The idea is to start very small. The first six months will almost be like a pilot project, as I still have to run London Pattern Bureau. The idea is to have two days a week, plus the weekend, and going to a market and selling jars, and then re-ordering. I found a producer in France, who has been doing it for five years. He trained me how to make it, but we realised it would be more cost effective, as he has all of the equipment, for him to make it and send it over.
How often have you felt like your projects weren’t going to work and you had ‘the fear’?
The projects were very different. For London Pattern Bureau, it’s a service company and there is a demand for it, so it’s almost running by itself. I don’t have to do a lot of advertising, as people come to us quite organically. It’s therefore a relatively stress free, stable business.
The name of my yoghurt business is ‘La Cremérie’, which means a dairy in French. Of course, it’s ironic, as there is no dairy in the product, but it’s a place you can go to buy dairy alternatives. I have a lot of doubts, I have never done this before, I have no experience in the food industry and it’s all completely new, but I think you have to go ahead with your intuition and try it, as I’d rather regret having done something, rather than not having tried it.
What do you find difficult about your job / managing multiple jobs?
London Pattern Bureau is what currently gives me an income, so it’s what takes priority, although that frustrates me in a way, as my heart is in La Cremérie. It’s new and exciting, but I cannot ignore my other business.
What I try and do is have very specific days. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday’s I go to our studio in Bermondsey, and most of the day I spend only on the pattern cutting business, with client meetings and supervising projects. And then in theory Monday, Friday and the weekends I spend on La Cremérie, often working from cafes to help put me in the right mind set.
Of course, they sometimes overlap. I have a couple of hours every day that I need to do admin, emails, and invoicing for each business, but as much as possible, I try to keep them separate.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I think that friends and family are an enormous pool of support and encouragement. Whenever I look at the stats about vegan products, it shows that there is a big boom of dairy free products coming out and it’s a big trend, so I have to remind myself that it’s the right time to do it and to stick to the plan, and not listen to the chatter in my head.
What or who do you find intimidating?
Definitely the big brands, for example Alpro. They’re massive. I would say that their soy flavour isn’t great, but they came up with a lot of flavoured options which do make it tasty. I would still say that with a lot of their ingredients, you still have no idea what it is, with stabilisers etc. When you see big companies that are well established in the market, you do wonder if you have a place on the shelf with them, because you feel so small in comparison.
Is the intention of your brand to be all natural?
Yes, basically our plain yoghurt is three ingredients – water, rice and ferment for biotics. In the other flavours, there is fruit, or herbs, but no added sugar, no thickener (rice is a natural thickener).
What makes you feel good / powerful?
I would say that getting customer feedback is the most rewarding thing you can have. Every time I finish a project with a client (for the pattern making business), I get them to do a review on Google, and it’s brilliant as it reminds you that you’re doing something that people appreciate.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
Our clients always say that it’s just what they’re looking for, and it’s how they’d imagined the garment, and for me I don’t need anything else. For fashion designers, their designs are a dream, and to bring their designs to life, it’s very rewarding.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Definitely legacy, I think my main drive for La Cremérie is to try and make the world a better place by encouraging people to reduce their dairy consumption. I watch a lot of documentaries, and I’m very well aware of the environmental impact of dairy. I think that trying to educate people about the consequences of their diet can make a very big impact on the planet.
How do you define success now?
Success is not measured by my salary. I could make a lot more working for a company. For me success is being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I have complete freedom, even though I have staff and have that as a commitment. I can choose whenever I take holidays and be flexible with my schedule.
Where would you like it to get to?
I’m trying not to plan too much in advance – with Antithesis we had huge plans and it didn’t work out, so now I’m trying to be more realistic. If La Cremérie really kicks off and takes a lot of my time, I could potentially try and find someone to replace me at The Pattern Bureau, but I’d have to see how it goes. For La Cremérie I’d like to do markets for six months, and then try to get into high end retailers when I’m confident with the product. Start with the UK, and then we’ll see!
How do you start your day?
I have multiple e-mail addresses, one for personal and one for each business. That helps to compartmentalise my work. I have a very clear schedule and that helps me. I have an hour at the beginning of each day to deal with any urgent emails for all of the businesses, and then I can focus the rest of my day on the business I’m supposed to be working on.
How do you come up with new ideas?
For London Pattern Bureau, it’s not a creative job, it’s very technical as we work from people’s designs. The creativity comes from La Cremérie, as it’s starting a product from scratch. Experimenting with new flavours is something I really enjoy, and I’m working with a graphic designer for the logos and packaging, which is really pleasant.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I changed career plan every year when I was young, but from 13 I was set on being a fashion designer, but now I feel like it’s time to move into my new passion, which is food.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
Don’t think about it too much, and just do it, try it out. If it doesn’t work, try something else. If you just follow your logic, you’ll never do it, so just take a leap of faith.
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I’m very happy with how things are going, although sometimes I’m torn between two businesses, so my best-case scenario would be that I could work on each of them completely, without having any other worries – so having a clone would be great.
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.
To find out more about Renee’s businesses, go to: