5 Minutes With Kate Halfpenny, Founder, Halfpenny

Running her eponymous haute couture brand from a humble boutique in Bloomsbury, London, Kate Halfpenny's gowns have been worn by a growing list of celebrities and fashion icons alike. With the recent launch of her "Black Edit" capsule as well as a store expansion, the Retail Gazette took the opportunity to profile her for this week's '5 Minutes With'.

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Halfpenny

First and foremost, congrats on not just the launch of The Black Edit, but your store expansion!

It feels truly wonderful, super exciting and I can’t believe I have two boutiques on Woburn Walk, I always felt very lucky to have just one.

What brought about the decision to expand your retail estate?

It wasn’t through choice but we had outgrown our space at number 10, so it was a gift when number 9 became available. We wanted the design space and production to stay in the vicinity and we couldn’t have dreamt we would find so much space so near by. It’s so great as we can run between the two in seconds. It makes the day more productive and brides love looking in the atelier and seeing the magic happen.

Can you explain the inspiration behind The Black Edit?

The Black Edit is a decadent, bold collection of exquisite dresses and separates, fusing contemporary styling and distinctive silhouettes from my bridal collection. With my obsession for wearing black and only rare opportunities to work in dark colours it is super exciting to release this edit for everyone to wear.

Tell me the Halfpenny story.

I did my degree in fashion specialising in bridal wear and have always been obsessed with the drama and the magic around a bridal gown. The brand launched in 2005 and through its very fast but organic growth the boutique was opened in 2013.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

Opening the boutique at No.10 was a significant stepping stone for the Halfpenny brand. To find an intimate retail space for an equally small business just proved how much Halfpenny London had grown into something far greater and more sustainable. I also pinch myself at some of the epic mega stars that have worn the brand.

You have quite a nice list of celebrities who have worn your clothes.

It’s incredible, I always feel very humble and can never quite believe they chose me from the world of choice they must have. I get as much joy though in a daily basis from the incredible brides we dress in Halfpenny London and seeing how beautiful they look in my gowns on their special day. These images last a lifetime and to be part of that is a gift. I’m so very lucky to have the option to dress everyone.

What plans do you have for Halfpenny in the next few years?

Over the coming years we’re looking to expand and open more standalone Halfpenny London boutiques, in addition to growing the wholesale business whilst continuing to develop the bridal/ready-to-wear collections.

Tell us a bit about your role as founder of Halfpenny.

My role is to oversee all creative elements of the business, I design all of the collections myself, source all the fabrics and sign off each campaign/photoshoot. When I’m not doing this, I host bridal appointments in our boutique as there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing my brides in my dresses.

In what ways can the luxury retailers succeed in the UK’s challenging retail market?

It’s essential that luxury retailers offer a good variety of styles if they are a multi-brand store, but it’s difficult to give advice to boutiques as they all offer something very different and unique and represent some amazing brands. It’s all about service and great product at the end of the day.

Tell us a bit about yourself personally, and your background before Halfpenny.

Prior to bridal, I spent 20 years as a costume designer and stylist working on campaigns such as Marks & Spencers and L’Oréal alongside dressing some true style icons that we all know and love.

Career highlights have been winning best costume designer at the British Advertising Awards, I was so sick that evening and I wasn’t going to attend and I got a frantic call from my agent saying ‘you are coming tonight aren’t you?’ I threw on a dress and made it to receive my award. I felt so very special.

I also won best British bridal designer the year I opened my shop. It’s so exciting to be recognised in the industry.

What got you into the retail sector in the first place?

I designed Emilia Fox’s wedding dress back in the early 2000s and it was the demand from doing her dress that started my wedding business in 2005. This desire for something unique, special and British accelerated the demand for my retail business.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

The fact that my collection is incredibly diverse and there is a dress in my boutique for every woman.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Making dresses affordable. I get so carried away with expensive fabrics that cost hundreds upon hundreds per metre and it is a good challenge for me to produce my designs at a more accessible price.

And the most rewarding?

How grateful the brides are and how happy they are in their wedding dresses. Knowing that I’ve made a difference to someone’s special day is beyond anything else.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Do your research and be sure that your location and position is relevant to what your selling. I was lucky because I’m a destination store so footfall wasn’t important for me, but footfall has generated a lot of revenue. It’s quite alarming how much revenue it has generated by people who just stumble across us in Woburn Walk.

Make sure you have a product that there’s a gap in the market for, and don’t be put off by competition – competition is healthy.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

I think it’s about having a sustainable product, being able to continue to service your customer with an offer of excellence when the market is at its weakest, followed by offering the best.

Any last words?

It’s worth mentioning how important it is to hold your own in a saturated market. Due to my training background, I’m a huge fan of sourcing new fabrics, learning interesting techniques and staying ahead of the game. In bridal it’s not about the trends – but about being unique and timeless which is a really fine line. My latest occasion wear collection The Black Edit features styles from my archive which remain just as relevant today as they were when I designed them years ago.

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