Interviews

How the first tailor in the history of Savile Row aimed exclusively at women found success

7 min read

20 October 2015

While Savile Row has seen an increasing number of female tailors join its illustrious ranks, we talked to Gormley & Gamble founder Phoebe Gormley, who has taken this trend a stage further by becoming the first tailor in the history of Savile Row aimed exclusively at women.

The BBC’s outspoken economics editor Robert Peston recently caused a furore by asking why TV presenters should wear ties. Peston might not be keen on smart business attire but suit sales have been rising over the last decade – for men and for women. 

Meanwhile, whereas women were once limited to the role of sewing linings and buttonholes, the last few years have seen many become tailors themselves. The split, these days, between male and female apprentices is approximately 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Perhaps the most famous example is Kathryn Sargent. After becoming the first female head cutter on “The Row” in 2009 following an apprenticeship at Gieves & Hawkes, Sargent founded her eponymous firm three years ago.

Gormley & Gamble has taken the trends further by aiming exclusively at women. Founder Phoebe Gormley dropped out of Nottingham Trent University where she was studying costume design. She wrote her business plan at the age of 19 and launched her company at 20.

Since the age of 15, she has worked on Savile Row and Jermyn Street every summer, although she made her first suit when she was just 14. She said that being underestimated by many of the male tailors on Jermyn Street, allowed her to pick up some top tricks, as her colleagues didn’t see her as a threat.

“I was always envious that all the best cloths, cuts and customisable options were available for men,” she said. “I wanted some of that for myself and when I went looking for it – found nothing. So, I took the bull by the horns and did it myself.”

It was the cost of university that persuaded her to leave before graduating. “I just didn’t feel that I was getting my money’s worth, with most weeks having no more than one to two hours of contact time, I was simply bored out of my mind. So much so that I drew up a business plan,” she said. Instead she used her tuition fees as needed funding for her business.

Clients have come from family, friends, colleagues and mentors. “Everyone seems willing to help entrepreneurs with a vision and I’ve been lucky to meet some incredible people,” she said.  She’s now made clothes for CEO of Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia and a Spanish princess that, because of the traditional tailor’s professional discretion, she can’t name. Gahdia bought four three piece suits on Gormley’s first day in business and has since set up a direct debit for a suit every month.

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However, her youth and lack of experience presented Gormley with some significant hurdles when she first started the business. “I based my business plan on a manufacturing quote from some suppliers in London,” she said. “When I moved down [from Nottingham] and started requesting samples, they then decided that actually I was too young and had no business experience so they couldn’t trust me as a reliable client. I had to re-start and find new suppliers that valued immaculate quality as much as I do. It was a huge set back, but I couldn’t be more grateful that it happened, as our suppliers now are literally incredible.”

Today Gormley & Gamble offers an appointment-only service in the City, on Savile Row or at client’s homes or offices. Her suits are produced in Europe with Italian, Scottish and British fabrics. “Absolutely no polyester,” she said. They’re made-to-measure and are with the customer in three weeks with prices starting at £400.

Gormley is currently in the MassChallenge accelerator programme, which connects high-impact, early stage startups with mentors, partners and investors, while providing no-strings-attached support over a four month period in London.

Based on the same proven model as the MassChallenge Boston accelerator programme, MassChallenge UK launched in February this year and describes itself as “the largest and most diverse accelerator in London.”

During the four-months from June to October, startups have access to free office space, world-class mentorship, a top-tier community of MassChallenge alumni, education, training and networking events plus the chance to win a share of £500,000 in cash prizes.

Gormley has plans to develop the business and pointed out that her relatively low overheads offer a particular advantage. “The beauty of made-to-measure is there’s no stock – all we need is somewhere for people to get changed so we can take their measurements,” she said. “We can do that in a fitting room in New York, in Paris, in Hong Kong. Wherever we’re needed, we can be there.”

Clients’ demands are as varied as the company’s made measure clothes themselves. “We once had a client whose partner had a fantasy of her dressing up like an air hostess,” remembered Gormley. “We basically made her the British Airways uniform, it was great. She’s hilarious and whenever she comes in to order we always end up in hysterics.”

So who is Gamble in the company’s name, clients sometimes ask? In fact he or she doesn’t exist. It actually relates to Gormley’s decision to start her own company, which is a gamble that appears to be paying off.

Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss Real Business’s First Women programme:

Drawing on ten years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit  designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.