Talented Ladies Club - Interview with Sahira Mullins - CEO of The Work Wardrobe
Investment banking recruiter Sahira Mullins was on track to be a director… until she fell pregnant with twins. Find out how she’s since turned her frustrations at the lack of workwear options into a new business.
What’s your career background?
I spent seven years working as a headhunter, the last five of those specialising in investment banking technology. Towards the end of my career I was managing a team of eight consultants and on track to be a director. This was of course until I had the very welcomed surprise of finding out, I was pregnant with identical twin girls.
How did your career change after having children?
My daughters are still very young – they turn two in January. I live in East Sussex and made the decision that returning to a sales environment which usually meant being in the office 8-8 was not feasible.
I wanted to spend my time with my daughters, whilst they were young and felt returning to the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf, was not an option. Plus, part time in those environments are seldom an option.
Where did the idea for The Work Wardrobe come from?
During my years of working in the City, I always felt I had to look the part for my role. I would on a daily basis, interact with MD’S, CEO’s, Directors etc… I was young and looked young and felt I needed to look the part to be taken seriously.
I’d continuously be frustrated with the lack of work wear options in the local shops and some of the online market places had clothes that I didn’t consider office appropriate. Leopard print doesn’t usually bode well in serious sales pitches. Not forgetting that these market places sell all types of attire and I’d end up leaving with items from the sale, a new black dress, shoes I just had to have…the list goes on.
I also didn’t have time to scour the shops and I certainly wasn’t going to come back from my non-existent lunch break with shopping bags! I worked in a male dominated environment and didn’t want to feed in to the stereotype.
It was then I went searching for an online store, where I could just solely shop for office wear. I found none. That’s when I decided to set up The Work Wardrobe. An online store where you can shop a variety corporate brands, in one place.
We offer you advice on what to wear and why to wear it, different options for different sizes as no women is the same and events any one can come along to, where you can meet other like minded women and hear other stories from speakers which may inspire you. The website is not just for a shopping experience but a platform to empower women.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I hope I’m not the only one, but I feel that all mothers go through that time where their newborn is not a newborn any more. You go through somewhat of an identity crisis. You miss your old life, being busy, being driven but you love your new baby and you don’t want to leave them.
Of course not everyone has the option of not returning to work, but I just felt that this idea, which was born out of necessity for me, had to come to fruition. It was my time to help other women where I didn’t have the option.
I came up with the name, as I felt it was clear and ‘does what it says on the tin’, bought the domain and used my connections from my past in the tech industry to help me build the site. I then used my previous skills and started pitching to potential brands.
The response was very positive and I’ve met some wonderful women along the way. We are still expanding our brand collection but I am very happy with all our partners on board.
What’s your USP?
We are an all-in-one solution for online workwear. All our brands are ethically minded and made in the UK. There are a few other similar offerings out there but they operate on a dropship basis, which I feel just doesn’t help the customer. You don’t want to shop on one site, only to receive your order from various businesses, all with different delivery times, returns policies.
All the stock on our site is kept in our warehouse, meaning you only get one delivery with all your items. Busy women need a solution and we are hoping to be that.
We also have a function on the site called “The Look Box”, in which you enter your credentials and choose from a list of looks, such as The Interview Look, The Promotion and The Travel Look etc.. One of our personal stylists then gets in touch to create this one-off look for you. This is at a concessionary price to what it would be if you purchased the items individually.
Who’s your target audience?
Women. No age demographic. Women come in different shapes, sizes and experiences. Our items are premium but it’s not to say a 20 something woman wouldn’t shop with us as they could be looking for investment pieces.
It’s open to all women who want to feel confident and in turn excel in their day at work. We have niche brands as well as regular. We are hoping to span out to maternity wear, tights, books, all the little things one forgets when shopping for work clothes.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We launch at the end of this month with a launch party in November In Canary Wharf, which has generated a lot of interest.
We are also using the usual social media platforms and will be holding events in investment banks and law firms etc, where women can come and let their hair down, have a look at the pop up stalls from our brands and also hear talks from successful women entrepreneurs.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Juggling nearly two year-old twins while trying to focus on the site. When I have a calls I need to make, I either have to work them around nap times or schedule them in the evenings.
It’s much better now as they go to nursery three days a week, but the beginning was hard. Hopefully this will make me sound human and help other women/mums who are thinking of setting up on their own to think it’s possible to do with children. It makes you a mumpreneur, I like to think.
And your proudest moment so far?
There have been many along the way: securing new partnerships, getting the site up, getting content loaded, but I think launching will be the proudest moment!
Why is work so important to you?
I lost my father at a young age and my mother had to work very hard to keep me and my brother going. She was our mum and our dad. If I can be as good as a role model to my daughters as she was to me, then I’ve succeeded at life.
Who inspires you?
All the brands we work with; none of them come from a fashion background. Like myself, they all worked in the City and decided to follow through with their ideas. Now we work together. They are so generous with their advice, contacts, dos and don’ts and without them I’d be nowhere.
How do you balance your business with your family?
My partner also runs a few businesses so he is very understanding. As for the girls – nursery. For now, on the days they aren’t at nursery, it’s a mummy day and my attention is on them. When they go to bed, however, I’m back on my laptop.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
Believe in yourself and you can achieve anything. Also, connect with as many people as you can, even if you don’t want to go to that event. GO. Its like the gym, you don’t want to go, but when you do you are so pleased with the results.
By Hannah Martin on November 10th, 2017