Caprice’s first foray into business took place in 2000. She was at the height of her modelling career, a media darling and the star of her own documentary, Being Caprice. Conscious of the transience of fame, however, she decided to capitalise on her celebrity and launch a lingerie brand.
"I knew that my modelling days wouldn’t last forever," says Caprice. "I thought, if everyone knows my name, I have to turn it into a business. So, I asked myself: what would people buy into?"
She laughs: "Of course, lingerie."
Celebrity-licensed products are all the rage these days. But in the early noughties, these joint ventures were unheard of. "There was no such thing as a celebrity endorsing a lingerie line at that time," explains Caprice. "It was just me with this crazy idea. I didn’t know how to facilitate it. But back then, Terry Green was head of Debenhams. He was a modern guy and the store was doing well, so I hit him up with this crazy idea."
Green, of course, leapt at the opportunity. He signed a license agreement with Caprice to produce a line of branded underwear. Caprice had very little input into the range: "I was just this celebrity going from party to party," she admits. "I wanted them to do everything. They came up with the look for the line, they manufactured it and I got a royalty.
"The first collection was massive. It was ginormous," she says. "But they hadn’t done their homework. We didn’t know who the target market was or which products were popular. The second line took a nosedive. But by the third season, we were up and running. I would look at weekly sales figures – I was adamant I needed the information – and I just saw the numbers growing and growing. I thought: oh my God! I’m making these people filthy, rotten rich. I could do this."
Caprice knew she wanted to go it alone. She carefully monitored the sales figures. She knew which blocks (styles of bra) were performing well, and which lines were failing. She kept an eye on costs and margins to see which products had the highest return: "They were making a pair of knickers for 67p and selling it for £10. It was just crazy," she says. It was a crash course in business for the supermodel, but, she laughs: "Being the schmuck I am, maybe it’s something to do with being American and believeing I couldn’t fail, I thought: ‘I can do this’."
In 2006, Caprice bought back her license from Debenhams. "It was painful for them: they were making huge margins. But I promised them exclusivity on my range and they didn’t want to lose me completely," she says. Using £263,000 she’d saved from her modelling career, she launched By Caprice.
"It was really tough in the beginning," she says. "This is a girl who had been modelling full time. I had no idea the hours, the stress and the money it would take to start my own business. There were two seasons where I nearly lost my business. But I learned some tough lessons. No matter how great your team is, they will never care about your business like you do. It’s not their money. When you become an entrepreneur, you have to do everything yourself.
"If I mess up, I lose money. So, I don’t mess up."
Caprice Bourret is an Ambassador for Enterprise UK, the national campaign to give people in the UK the confidence, skills and ambition to be enterprising – to have ideas and make them happen
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