It would appear that entrepreneurship runs in the Yates family.
While it may be mother and daughter duo, Karen and Ellen Yates who are behind the brand Taylor Yates, the inspiration to create a business of their own goes back much further and stems from the influence of Karen’s grandmother, Alice.
Here Karen and Ellen share with The Style Edit the story of their business, the importance of giving back and their overall goal for the business.
How did Taylor Yates begin? Where did the idea for the business come from?
Karen: I grew up in Lancashire in the North of England, and thought I was destined to work for other people, but my life has taken me from Warrington to London to Northern Ireland and from working for a large manufacturing company to running a family business.
I realised that my Nana, Alice Wells, had showed me another way. She started in service in Yorkshire in the 1920’s but went on to run two or three businesses from her home. We spent every summer there as children and sometimes I accompanied her on buying trips to the wholesalers, Mr Leeman’s in Manchester. She was tenacious as well as being fiercely independent and I have hopefully inherited some of her hard working northern grit.
It takes determination, resilience and a lot of hard work to be in any business today and I was reminded of the strong Lancashire women that guided me and gave me the freedom to choose. The bags are fittingly named after those great women in my family.
So how did we get here? A t-shirt business, a lecture in ethics in marketing and a changing world where people need brands to be more transparent. The realisation hit that I was looking for something that was missing in the market.
“It takes determination, resilience and a lot of hard work to be in any business today,”
What fuelled the decision to use the family name as the brand name?
Ellen: Building a social good business was always at the heart of what we wanted to do, what we now call our working title was Bags of Respect, the initial idea being every bag we sell will give back to help a woman somewhere in the world. The purpose still stands but as we developed further it became apparent that Bags of Respect wasn’t going to work for us.
When Karen got married, Karen’s old boss at Desmond’s used to refer to her as Mrs Taylor Yates so when it came to working on a new brand name, Taylor Yates was put into the ring. We both instantly loved its authenticity – Karen’s maiden name was Taylor and her married name is Yates and my full name is Ellen Taylor Yates.
We both felt confident that as a brand Taylor Yates could communicate the understated luxury vibe that we were looking for.
Tell us about the brand’s role in giving back and why this was so important to you in building your business?
Ultimately we would like to replicate the 1-for-1 model pioneered by Toms Shoes so that every bag we sell helps someone. As a start-up with very little funding this hasn’t been possible yet so we created our “Beautiful Purpose Lunch” and in November 2017 we raised our first £1000 to #sponsorasister on a year long program with Women for Women International. In 2018 we had our second lunch and raised over £900 for a group of local girls within the Building Me Foundation who we will be working with the help build confidence, aspirations and start their own business.
How would you describe each other’s personal style?
Karen: Ellen is almost 22, she has a natural ability to put a cool look together. She is always open to try new looks and trends but already understands what suits her and what doesn’t. At 5’10” with blonde curly hair, she tends to stand out when she enters a room which she doesn’t always love, however she did just buy a black boiler suit and black and white snakeskin boots, back in the day we called them flying suits and I loved my purple one! I think her style is always current with a bit of an edge.
Ellen: Mum has a wardrobe spanning 30 years that is full of classic staples that never go out of fashion. It ranges from designer to high street but it is all along the same lines of understated cool. Recently I wore a jewel toned velvet cowl neck dress for a formal event that Mum had bought 20 years ago and it is great that we can share clothes even if she does steal my coats a lot.
What does fashion mean to you?
For us fashion is about expressing your own individual sense of style that isn’t always led by the most recent trends. We love taking inspiration from Instagram for new looks and working out the pieces we would wear during the craziness that is London Fashion Week. Having said all of that, we believe that fashion is about having the confidence to wear what you want, when you want to.
“Fashion is about having the confidence to wear what you want, when you want to.”
What are your current favourites in the collection?
Ellen: My favourites are Mini Mavis in Storm and the Agnes in all colours!
Karen: To be honest, it is really hard to pick! A sample of each of the first collection used to live in my hall which meant I could pick a new bag everyday. Alice, Mavis and Doris are firm favourites from the first collection in Plum and Black. Agnes in Storm is what I am currently carrying and I can’t wait for the new Frances and Elsie to arrive to try.
What are your respective backgrounds in fashion?
Ellen: I am currently studying for a degree in Fashion Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and am now spending a placement year working on Taylor Yates full time before I go back to finish my degree.
Karen: I started out with Jaeger in London and then spent 15 years developing and selling product to Marks & Spencer, based in Northern Ireland, this gave me a good rounding in how to source, design and develop products. It was a fab job. I sometimes even got paid to go shopping in Paris.
Can you tell us about that initial conversation in deciding to start a business together?
Ellen: The initial idea was to create a product range of nine items every woman needs from a handbag to a purse, a lovely notebook and the perfect cashmere scarf. The first product we explored was the handbag, we realised that there was very little available that we loved and wanted to buy. We decided this was where we should focus, we wanted create a range of soft, beautifully made, understated, luxury handbags and the idea grew from there.
It may sound clichéd but it was literally a chat around the kitchen table, Mum was throwing out ideas and said ‘do you think we can do this?’ I said ‘yes, why not?’ And off we went.
What was the goal for the business from the start?
To build a brand that creates beautifully made, understated, luxury products that we would want to own.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of building this business?
When you design and create a product or collection from scratch it’s very personal. We weren’t totally prepared for how we would feel once we had launched the first collection. We felt really nervous and worried that no one would want one even though we launched with a waiting list. Our friends and now wider TY family were amazing and two years on we still get a buzz every time someone tells us they love the collection.
“Two years on we still get a buzz every time someone tells us they love the collection.”
Who do you look up to within the fashion industry?
Yves Saint Laurent and Loewe are two of our favourite brands from a product and brand point of view plus younger brands like All Saints, The Row and Rag & Bone, all of these brands are brands we aspire to.
What has surprised you most about launching and running your own business?
How much time and headspace it takes up! We knew it would be tough and there is no such thing as an overnight success but the tenacity and patience required in the first 18 months was really tough going. Having said that, we have had huge support from family, friends and new connections and being invited to London Fashion Week in February 2018 now feels like a pivotal moment.
The biggest surprise has been our new home in Makers House at the Designerie in Bushmills. We opened on the 4th August 2018 and totally underestimated the power of customers being able to walk in, see and touch the product.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting the business?
We totally underestimated the time and money required for research and development before launch.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
There is no such thing as an overnight success. In the accessories world, Mansur Gavriel is seen as an overnight success. In one of our darker moments we scrolled to the very beginning of their Instagram feed to learn they had visibly been plugging away for at least three years before their “overnight success.”