Holly Scarsella is a fashion PR turned entrepreneur and her 18-month old resort brand Pampelone has become one of Instagram’s favourite holiday-ready labels. Here she reveals how she built solid success in such a short space of time and what a week looks like in the Pampelone world.
The beginning of the Pamplone story sounds like such a cliche, but it’s completely true. I was going on my honeymoon, looking for some resort wear and I quickly realised there was nothing in between the high street and the high-end. You could go to Topshop or Missoni Mare, but there was nothing a little more special that wouldn’t break the honeymoon budget. Basically, it was only because I’d needed something and had done so much research that I found this massive hole in the market. Eighteen months ago I quit my job in PR and since then it has been a complete rollercoaster, so I’ve learnt to build a solid structure to my week to keep a really level head.
My Monday starts on a Sunday. If I take an hour or an hour and a half on a Sunday to plan my week ahead it always runs better, because I’m less stressed and a lot more productive. It’s not about spending hours working every weekend, it’s just putting a plan together and taking the quiet time to make sure I make the best of the week ahead. As a business owner I’m still doing a lot of different tasks on my own. I haven’t taken investment, I don’t have a million employees. So being able to plan is so important.
On Sunday afternoon I open my diary and look at what I need to achieve for the day and literally block out my diary. It’s basically a to-do list. Yes, there are meetings in there, but it’s mostly chunks of time booked out to achieve certain goals. Obviously there is a level of flexibility baked in there, but it allows me to make sure I’ve actually got time to do all achieve tasks, or else they can just end up getting lost in the detail of the week.
“I’m awful at procrastinating. That’s one of the hardest things about working for yourself. Procrastination is so easy, especially when you have a mountain to climb.”
There are four main areas that take up most of my time. The beginning of the week—Monday or Tuesday is usually devoted to sales and wholesale. That includes everything on the website from managing customer emails to ensuring it’s properly merchandised to reflect stock levels. Then on the wholesale side it’s meeting new clients, exploring different retailers, putting together packages for new retailers and managing the relationships with current retailers.
My second pillar is finance. I don’t have a background in finance at all, but it’s an area I’m learning is integral to a business. I’m picking it up very quickly and thankfully I really love it. Yes, I have accountants, but I don’t rely on them. You need to have a grip on your numbers and you need to know what you’re selling and what margins you’re making at any given time. I spend at least 3-4 hours a week working through my spreadsheets—usually it’s a Wednesday afternoon job.
Thirdly is design and inspiration. I’m obviously not a traditional designer–I don’t have an academic design background in design. But I do have a very clear idea of what I want. The construction of our clothing isn’t the most complex and even though I don’t sketch, I go to my factory with very distinct styles and bring a huge amount of inspiration pictures. I’m always, always looking for inspiration and especially at the moment because I’m designing my new Spring/Summer 2018 collection. I usually spend an afternoon a week, usually towards the end of the week on a Thursday or Friday, in the run up to a design round looking for inspiration. Closer to the collection, I block out weeks which are totally creative.
“I spend at least an hour and a half every single morning on social media. Because ultimately over 60% of our click though is from Instagram alone, which is crazy.”
Every season I fly to India and sit for a whole day with the pattern cutter at my factory making toiles. I’m literally hands-on, taking scissors to the fabric to get the exact shapes that I want. We’ll spend a day on the toiles, then on the second day we go to the fabric and trim markets. I’ve always got a very clear idea of what I want so my sourcing agent will take me to where we can find the closest match with my vision. On the third day we go back to the factory and put the two elements together. Then we sample and sample and sample. It’s a very collaborative process and the pieces evolve while we’re there.
The final pillar of my week is the marketing side of the business. For me that might mean going out to meetings with journalists, bloggers and celebrities, or putting together trends to send to publications. Social media is obviously encompassed in that time–I spend at least an hour and a half every single morning on social media. Because ultimately over 60% of our click though is from Instagram alone, which is crazy.
I’m awful at procrastinating. That’s one of the hardest things about working for yourself. The majority of time I spend in my office at home and one way I combat the distraction is by the way I plan my week. In my diary I might have assigned time between 2pm and 4pm to work on customer emails—and if I don’t do it then, it won’t get done, because I’m scheduled to the nines. That’s the only way I can keep a check on myself. My diary is constantly full of tasks–it forces you to be as productive as possible. Procrastination is so easy, especially when you have a mountain to climb.
Until about two months ago, I packed all of the orders myself. When the business started I thought it was going to grow really slowly and we’d have time to establish processes, so I didn’t get a logistics or distribution partner involved. I just thought the stock would come to my house, I’d pack it up and then pop it to the Post Office every day. Very quickly I was getting 40, 50 orders a day and it was overwhelming. I had to get up at 5am every morning and enlist my mum to help pack orders. We’d then go to the post office three or four times and then I’d get on with the day job–all the other tasks that I’ve mentioned above. I never resented it, because that was my business succeeding but I’ll make no bones about it: it is relentless hard work.
Weekend work for me goes in peaks and troughs. Over the summer obviously things go crazy and I tend to work more over the weekends. But it’s never sitting in my office with the door shut, it’s more about meetings, press trips and fun shoots. I’m always working in some shape or form, but I try and integrate it into the rest of my life. I do also make sure that I set boundaries and that I have to have time off and get away from my business. Even though I love working and it’s addictive, it’s also draining and exhausting. You can’t be the best version of yourself when you’re constantly exhausted. You need a fresh mind for fresh ideas.
“If a month goes by and I realise I haven’t cooked a dinner, I put so much guilt on myself and I feel like a rubbish wife. It’s not that my husband expects me to do it—far from it—it’s more like as women we have so many sticks to beat ourselves with.”
Finding time for yourself can feel impossible. As a women you’ve got to wash your hair and be presentable for a meeting which all takes time. Fitting exercise in is really tough and I’m really hard on myself about it, especially if I feel I’ve put on some weight or I’m not looking my best. Sometimes I’ll be really good and go to the gym all the time and I’ll feel really great, mentally and physically. But it’s just not always viable. When you’re up at 6am to start working, the question is can you really get up at 4.30am to go to the gym when you only got into bed at two hours before?
It just goes back to the age old question of, ‘can you have it all?’ I’d love to meet anyone who has it nailed and ask them how they do it. I don’t even have kids! But I do have a home and a husband who I love and want to spend time with and put time and effort into. But sometimes in the busy periods you just can’t do it all. At those moments I just have to stop and think: this is my one time, my one shot of making this business a success. Trying to be everything to everyone only adds even more stress and worry. If a month goes by and I realise I haven’t cooked a dinner, I put so much guilt on myself and I feel like a rubbish wife. It’s not that my husband expects me to do it—far from it—it’s more like as women we have so many sticks to beat ourselves with. Coming to terms with that is definitely one of my biggest challenges.
I grew up partly in the Essex countryside–we’re talking tractors not Towie—and partly in the South of France, so I went to an international school. I always loved living between the two. After studying English at University, one of my best friends lined me up with a PR internship. Instead of swanning off for the University summers, I was really focused on getting great work experience because I wanted to get a job straight out of my course. Every Easter, summer and Christmas holiday I interned and just built up a really strong CV of industry experience. Straight out of University I got at job at Eden Cancan PR and I quickly fell in the love with the pace. I was there for just over three years and it was fantastic. Being part of such a small department with incredible, flagship brands like Spanx (run by Sarah Blakely who as the first self-made female billion under 30 is such an inspiration for me) was such great experience.
From there I moved to another agency called Halpern and focused on fine jewellery as the lead on the Tiffany account. What that time really showed me was the power of marketing and PR. It trained me how to make the most of small budgets and how to be a little more creative, or even underhand with your thinking. I didn’t really love all the brands I worked across, but placing them in the right places and pitching them in the right way, I could help make them sell out. That was such a penny drop moment for me. I saw the power of marketing firsthand and I thought that if were ever to launch my own brand I could definitely make it work. The next move was to an in-house PR role at the jeweller Astley Clarke. That experience really showed me where the marketing side slotted into the rest of a business and the direct relationship it has with each stage of the process. I learnt so much from my time there and it was at that point I felt that I really wanted to start my own business.
“I’m extremely self-critical and very worried about people judging me. I didn’t tell anyone that I was working on the brand at first because I thought they’d make fun of me or think, who does she think she is?”
In the process of concepting the brand I was very nervous and careful not to tell anyone about it all. I’m extremely self-critical and very worried about people judging me. I didn’t tell anyone because I thought they’d make fun of me or think, who does she think she is? So I did a lot of work behind the scenes and in the meantime, I got introduced to a fantastic woman who was once the head buyer at Monsoon Accessorize. She has incredible contacts within the manufacturing industry and that was the only piece of the puzzle missing for me. I’d gone down the usual route of Googling factories, but it’s such an alien world for anyone without experience in it. With her help, advice and guidance, I was introduced to some incredible sourcing agents in India and one woman in particular who is now the go-between me and my factory. She works with some incredible brands from Zara to Zimmerman, so I had to pitch to her and persuade her it worth her time to work with me. I took a leap of faith, booked a flight to India and said ‘this has to happen’. Since then we have become great friends and Pampelone has gone very quickly from having very small minimums at the factory to actually being one of the more substantial retailers they work with.
When the business was incorporated and I was still designing, I still had my PR job–I needed to pay the bills. I also don’t think I was ready to 100% jump in. I handed in my resignation at the point that I placed the stock order at the factory and that was it. I worked a three-month notice and my last day was three days before the website launched. The question I get asked a lot is, ‘Could I manage to set up a company and work a full time job at the same time?’ And what I always say that if you’re going to go for it, you have to just go for it. I threw myself into my business, I worked 20 hour days–I think if you’re going to be in something whole-heartedly you have to put heart and soul fully into it. I live and breathe my business and I think a lot of the success is about that.
We launched three days after the stock arrived, very quietly thinking it would take six months or so before the brand would make even a small bit of noise. I sent pieces to all my blogger friends that I’d met over my PR career and was blown away by the feedback. I loved the collection, but I was terrified that other people would hate it. Instead, the feedback was immediately positive and by month three we had sold out of six of the nine products we’d launched with. We were already replacing orders.
I then started getting approaches from wholesalers. I hadn’t factored wholesale in the business plan for at least a year, thinking we needed to establish the brand first. But on the back of the success we had from the bloggers, press and sales, we got on the buyer’s radar. Eighteen months later we’re in 37 Bloomingdales stores, 97 Everything But Water stores, Shopbop and Veryexclusive.co.uk. In Australia we’re in The Iconic and David Jones two of their biggest retailers.
“If you’re going to go for it, you have to just go for it. I threw myself into my business, I worked 20 hour days–I think if you’re going to be in something whole-heartedly, you have to put heart and soul fully into it.”
When I design a collection all of my references go back to the South of France. I always used to love being on a secret beach somewhere and there might be a billionaire woman one side of me and on the other, a woman from a local village. But they’d both be wearing easy linen and looking so chic and effortless. In St Tropez there’s a linen market which my family used to go to once a week every year, year on year. I have so much linen I can’t tell you—everything is really cheap, really simple and not finished properly. But you just throw it on over your bikini and feel a million dollars. That aesthetic is what the Pampelone look has always been about.
My factory has very high ethical standards which is really important to me. I’d always thought that it would be a ‘nice’ to work with an ethical factory, but it wasn’t until I went to India saw what a non-ethical factory looked like that I realised how key it would be to the business. It was a real shock to be honest and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the conditions the workers were working in. I visited a lot of ‘non-ethical’ factories and there are some massive global retail brands manufacturing there. Honestly now I’ve seen the conditions, it has really made me think twice about buying from those labels. My factory is one of the best and adheres to really strict ethical standards. Lunch is provided by the factory and it’s industry renowned for its conditions. It was a very big decision from a financial perspective. When you choose to work with an ethical factory you are compromising on your profits–I could be making three times as much money as I am now. But it wasn’t something I was willing to consider.
I always want to be doing what I’m doing now in some capacity. I know from a personal perspective that I’d love to start a family, so fitting that into the puzzle is one of the challenges to face over the next years. Pameplone is my little baby and offers so much opportunity not just from a business perspective, but on a personal level. It’s opened so many doors and allowed me to meet so many amazing people. I look at my mentors and see what their brands have done for them and their family lives and while I know it will always be a struggle, I can see there are real rewards to reap, especially with the flexibility that running your own business can offer. I want to open in new territories, open standalone stores, grow the brand and be very much a one stop shop for your holiday. So I’m going to just keep my head down, focus on growth and design and hopefully one day get there.