The story of leaving a big City career

“There were so many days where I thought, is this the rest of my life?” says Natalie Brossard, co-founder of new online retailer Luxx Lab, as she takes a seat.

“Another week doing exactly the same thing! I knew all the kind of the conversations I was going to have with everyone, it felt like I was in a trance going to work and coming back, you start to feel like a hamster on a wheel.”

Reminiscing about her former City career seems to give Brossard an increased vigour for business as she and her co-founder, Anouchka Bala, begin to talk about their joint venture.

Brossard has joined the growing ranks of employees leaving big City corporates to become entrepreneurs. But while many of these keep one foot in finance, Brossard has leapt further from the nest with her online luxury fashion store.

“I live, breathe, eat, sleep fashion. I was strong at maths which lead me into a career in finance, but it just never floated my boat the way fashion does,” she beams.

Brossard and Bala were inspired to start their business when they identified a fundamental lack of choice among the existing ecommerce fashion stores. The pair met through a mutual friend on holiday in Cannes in 2009 during the Film Festival and quickly realised they could create something together.

“We were both in long-term careers but felt there was a niche in the fashion market which hadn’t been catered for,” explains Bala. “We found there was a real gap in the market for a highly-curated, boutique fashion range that was accessible to everyday consumers on a global scale.”

Essentially, the pair planned to create a shop they themselves wanted to shop in, and set about researching the market to see if the idea was viable. Thanks to the proliferation of retail websites the girls were able to cherry pick the best elements from market leading sites and create a master plan.

“Although we were both making a huge change, we are incredibly risk averse,” says Brossard. “We spent enough time working on the foundations to ensure whatever direction we ended up taking, we had double and triple-checked that it would work, sleep on it, then say, ‘okay let’s do this’.

“It saved us from making costly mistakes. We developed the idea to the point where we knew exactly what we were doing and what the steps were before either of us quit our jobs.”

In January 2012, Brossard quit her fund management job at Orbis Mutual Funds and Bala said goodbye to her role as MD of music branding company THE:HOURS. Their aim was to launch Luxx Lab at the start of London Fashion Week, nine months later.

Brossard was able to come up with a uniquely detailed brief for the web development team. She knew exactly what they wanted and provided them with pages of instructions for what she wanted from the site, both from a visual as well as a functional perspective. Sweet music to the ears of any developer:

“The site that we have today is completely true to the original brief, we were so focused from the start we were able to pull it all together in nine months and meet our launch date of mid-September,” says Brossard. “There have been no major changes from my initial brief, only constant tweaks to improve the quality of the website and our customer service and satisfaction,” she adds.

The site offers a range of designer products in two categories: Luxx for the high-end pieces and Lab for the more contemporary, experimental pieces. Each piece has been hand chosen by the pair with an emphasis on high-quality fabrics and finishes.

A good idea well-executed – in time for London Fashion Week when the world’s design industry turns the spotlight on the UK capital – but Brossard and Bala’s journey wasn’t without its challenges.

“We launched with 25 designers, pieces of their collections on the site for sale, handpicked by us,” explains Brossard. “We really needed to start off with this number of products but pulling that collective together was quite challenging.

“We had to pitch to designers with just a website deck initially, and say ‘This is what it will look like and this is why you should work with us.’ Some clicked with us and the idea straight away, but others were more difficult,” she says.

Brossard and Bala insist that they would never have a brick-and-mortar store. One of the reasons is their determination that Luxx Lab be a global brand. But launching on an international scale from the get-go threw up its fair share of obstacles too.

“We not only wanted to reach out to a global customer base but we also use designers from all over the world,” says Brossard. “The big challenge for us was to make the ordering and shipping process as seamless as possible for both suppliers and buyers.”

Arranging the logistics and making sure that the back-end of their website was automated to alert not just Luxx Lab in London but designers all over the world,of a sale was a time-consuming process and something the pair just couldn’t afford to get wrong.

“It becomes especially difficult when you are a start-up and you can’t guarantee volumes to logistics companies who offer rates based on weights per month – it was really hard to gauge,” says Bala.

The hard work and numerous nights glued to their laptops and iPads, testing and testing again, paid off. The logistics worked out and the site went live to the public on the scheduled launch date without a hitch. With the site up and running, the girls are now focused on growth. They have just put their second London Fashion Week behind them – at which they were pleasantly surprised by how many fashionistas and designers knew and esteemed the Luxx Lab brand.

Now it’s time to expand, explains Brossard: “The next focus will be on raising funds, we have self-funded to this stage so we will be seeking seed capital next.

“We are lucky because I have experience with the fund raising process, which is coming in handy when raising funds for my own business now. We have secured two investors so far and we probably need another couple. At the moment Luxx Lab is just the two of us, working 15 hour days and to get to the next stage we need to grow our team to about ten.”

With that, they get up and glide gracefully to the door in their towering high heels. They are off to meet designers in Shoreditch and will then return to the office to get on with writing more editor’s product notes – their humdrum corporate pasts long forgotten.

Gabriella Griffith is a business journalist writing for various titles in the UK.

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