Lulu O’Connor recently heard a sound dreaded by all fashion-lovers. “It was that heart-breaking rip which means you’ve just torn your favourite pair of jeans,” she says. But O’Connor didn’t read her denim the last rites - in fact, when we meet, she’s wearing the same pair with an invisible patch over the tear.
The 31-year-old has just founded The Clothes Doctor, a start-up based in Earls Court offering an online alterations, customisation and repairs service. Garments are picked up by couriers on any London doorstep, taken to seamstresses in Cornwall and then returned ready for wear. Turnaround time is less than a week and clothes arrive in environmentally friendly, reusable canvas bags - no horrid plastic sleeves here.
O’Connor’s interest in clothes was born in her teenage years when she committed “all the fashion crimes - a lot of tiny crop-tops and big platform wedges”. After studying economics and management at Oxford, she worked as a retail analyst at Credit Suisse and then Goldman Sachs. “I was studying the evolution of ecommerce,” she recalls. “There has been a constant stream of people thinking ‘X won’t work online’ and then someone finds a way. It started with clothing. Think about jeans - you want to touch them and see the fit - people have got past that.”
Why is it that so many entrepreneurs have Goldman on the CV? “I hate to sound like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but there’s a very entrepreneurial culture. My bosses built up my self-confidence and there’s no micromanagement - they just say, ‘Go make that part of the business better’.”
After Goldman, she had a stint at a hedge fund before quitting in February 2017 to launch The Clothes Doctor. She chose to base the workshop (a converted barn) near Redruth, where under-employment is high. She put an ad in the local paper for seamstresses, hired the two best who run the workshop while she mostly stays in London, found web developers and then hit “go”.
Alterations and repairs remains an unmodernised, fragmented industry. O’Connor hopes, rather than taking market share from independent tailors and seamstresses, she will help spark a revolution where clothes are fixed not binned: “People don’t necessarily know what can be done - you can get your moth holes mended and your cashmere will look as good as new.”
Transparent pricing is key. Shortening trousers costs £12, replacing a zip is £11. “One of the frustrations I have going to seamstresses is they’ll tell you the price at the end, and you think ‘woah, it’s £80, but I guess I’m here now’,” she says. “And prices in London are hugely variable - the drycleaner might charge you £8 for a basic repair of a pocket, but somewhere else might charge you £40. You don’t know before you go in, which makes it intimidating.”
She also hopes it will empower customers not to feel they have to buy garments in their size: “When I shop online - which is the only way I shop because I hate going into shops — if something isn’t in my size, I’m now comfortable buying it one or two sizes up, because the seamstresses can fix it in a couple of hours.”
In the long run, O’Connor wants to team up with online luxury boutiques, so that when an item is sold out in a customer’s size, they can buy it big and then add Clothes Doctor to their basket to get it taken in. She is also looking into body-mapping technology to achieve the perfect fit.
Her expansion plans are ambitious: the workshop can house up to 12 seamstresses, she is planning an express service with a three-day turnaround and Clothes Doctor’s first fundraising round is likely to be towards the end of this year too.
O’Connor also wants to move into fixing leather goods (which requires a more industrial-style machine than they currently have) including handbags and shoes. There’s a major incentive to hurry that development along: O’Connor has a puppy - Otto, an eight-month-old Cavalier King Charles - with a penchant for pumps. She laughs: “I had a lovely pair of pale pink Reiss sandals and my dog chewed the sole off.”
Written by Rosamund Urwin, read the full article here.