Shaper: Rachel Riley

Show aired on 9th July 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
A classic from Ella Fitzgerald, I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. Thank you very much for joining me. I hope you know the drill because this is the place, if you don’t know the drill I am going to tell you anyway, where you can hear the people who is shaping the world of music, specifically jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a Business Shaper and my Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is the iconic Rachel Riley; she is the founder, the owner and the managing director – three things in one how about that – of the fantastic Great British children’s wear brand – recently seen on the royals if you hadn’t noticed as well as other well-dressed young people around England and other parts of the world. In addition to hearing from Rachel you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. Eliane Elias is in there, Eric Bibb is in there and so is this one from Mr Marvin Gaye.

Another classic there, lining up like buses here aren’t they on Jazz Shapers. That was Mercy Mercy Me from Marvin Gaye. I am very pleased to say as I said earlier that Rachel Riley is my Business Shaper, owner, founder, managing director – three for the price of one – of the Great British children’s wear brand which is called Rachel Riley which is lucky because I don’t have to remember that one as well. Rachel thank you very much for joining me.

Rachel Riley
Thank you very much for having me.

Elliot Moss
Do you remember when you thought you were going to run your own business and set your own thing up? And if you do, how did it come about?

Rachel Riley
I started very simply. I knew that I wanted to do something and I loved making things and I knew that there was a gap in the children’s market when I had my own children and I made things for my own children and my friends and family and people around me asked me to make things for them. It started in a very simple way. I think when I started my business it was, it really was a cottage industry and I probably did think that I would like to make it into something bigger but I would never have presumed that at the beginning.

Elliot Moss
Now apparently you were into kind of making stuff from a very very young age and you know, I’ve got four children, I always have to remember it’s four. I think you’ve got three.

Rachel Riley
Yep.

Elliot Moss
Kids love making stuff but most kids then stop and the playfulness disappears. For you, why did it carry on because I think you are in to knitting and embroidering and sewing and so on?

Rachel Riley
I did. So just moving back, I think that one of the, even though I’ve got a degree from Cambridge, one of the kind of most important exams that I could have taken was my needlework and dressmaking ‘O’ Level which I was only allowed to take because I insisted, I was very determined that I wanted to do it because it was something which was really fun for me and it was because my sister was allowed to do art that I was allowed to do needlework and dressmaking. I have to say because I was in the A stream at school they said ‘no it’s not for children like you, you have to do the more…’

Elliot Moss
It’s beneath you.

Rachel Riley
This is more… they encouraged more academic subjects whereas actually what I feel today very strongly about is making things is incredibly rewarding and satisfying and so I am very proud of being able to use my hands, here are my moving my hands.

Elliot Moss
She is gesticulating a lot. And you are wearing a lovely, another one of your numbers. This is one of your…

Rachel Riley
This is one of my dresses and…

Elliot Moss
…dresses, roses and things.

Rachel Riley
Yes, well we use…

Elliot Moss
Are they roses?

Rachel Riley
…Yep red roses and…

Elliot Moss
Just checking.

Rachel Riley
…we design our own prints so I love you know, the manufacturing process of print, printing and then embellishment so embroidery, hand smocking, hand work anything which has got a craft element and in fact the reason why I like things which have a craft element is because my favourite kind of time of children’s clothes is when a lot of the children’s clothes were made at home so that in the 20s and the 60s a lot of children’s clothes were made so they had that craft element. So things like you know, embroidery on a collar or things that had just home embellishments.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my artisan here, my craftswomen Rachel Riley, the founder of the Rachel Riley children’s wear brand. Time for some more music, this is Wes Montgomery with classic number three today and it’s Tequila.

That was Tequila from Wes Montgomery. Rachel we were talking before about A stream kids aren’t allowed to do the crafty things when they are in school. It sounds like you wouldn’t have taken no for an answer anyway I am guessing but you mentioned Cambridge and you studied Social…

Rachel Riley
Social Anthropology.

Elliot Moss
…Anthropology. Social Anthropology. At that point did you have a clue what you were going to do with that degree as useful as it would have been?

Rachel Riley
I knew that I wanted to have a degree and I was very pleased and felt incredibly privileged to have been offered a place at Cambridge so I was very pleased of being there. By that time I was already making things so I remember making, having you know, lovely kind of plaid skirts with straps and whatever so that I could actually turn up for the first day with a, with a wardrobe of things that I mostly made myself.

Elliot Moss
But what I want to… there’s another bit of this which is you became a model and… is that right? Or had you, how old were you when you started modelling?

Rachel Riley
I actually started modelling after my first year at Cambridge and that is because we had very short terms and very long holidays so we all went off to try and get jobs and to earn money and I was lucky enough to find myself with someone who, umm, we managed to find a flat to rent in Paris and because someone had suggested that I could be a model I went straight along to the modelling agency, turned up, asked if they would take me on and they said yes and within a couple of days I was working for Elle and other very lovely prestigious magazines. What was really interesting about that is in the first day’s work I then had earnt the equivalent of what I was trying to earn for that summer so actually anything else was over and above and I brought a sewing machine and a typewriter and other things. I was still a student but when I went back to University in October the modelling agency had said to me they didn’t think it was a good idea to go back because actually you know, it was going really well and I could be you know, a model and there was longevity in that. I knew I wanted to get my degree so I went back to University, did my second year and then in between the second and third years I went to Tokyo for three months and worked as a model there. But what was great about the agency then is that they would guarantee you a certain amount of money so that you knew that you were financially secure to work over the summer and what I understood from having spent that summer in Paris and then the next summer in Tokyo is that having a birds eye view of the fashion industry and actually seeing what the fashion industry was like and I think that you know, at the time I didn’t realise it but as a model you… the door is open for you to be able to see how fashion houses work so that was really interesting.

Elliot Moss
And beyond the seeing how fashion houses work I imagine again you are at Cambridge, you had obviously, you were in the A stream as you said. I imagine it wasn’t as stimulating as some of the thinking you were having to do at University during the year and it hasn’t… well you’ve gone into business, you’ve gone and done that. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of smart models but for you was it just about the money or was it because of the fact that there was this insight into the fashion world?

Rachel Riley
I think it was probably both. I think it was, you know, I was a student and so we needed the money and I felt lucky enough to have been able to earn money in an industry where actually I really enjoyed the whole fashion side of things and I still do. I think that the whole… it is something that is of interest to me. Remember that when I graduated the choice was to you know, having studied social anthropology I could have gone to work in the Museum of Mankind or found something else you know, in that area. I had already started within the fashion industry so that was actually what I was excited about going towards and when I left University I actually took a year off to go and work in Paris as a model and again just to spend in fact the next few years really seeing, again as an insider into the fashion industry.

Elliot Moss
So there’s the message, you basically have got to work at how you become a model if you want to work in the fashion world in the future because it’s a really good way of earning money and getting lots and lots of tips which has obviously helped Rachel as she has developed her own business. Much more coming up from her, that’s going to be after the latest traffic and travel but first before that is I hope a set of words which will be wise for you and your business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. If you’ve missed any of the previous two hundred or so programmes – I can’t believe we have done that many but I think we have – then iTunes is your destination. Rachel Riley is my Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say and she was talking earlier about being a model and earning money but much more than that, getting an insight into the world that she really wanted to be in which was the fashion world. So I’ve got this sense of this very highly intelligent person, this person who managed to go ‘I’m a model and I am wanted’ which is wonderful but then beyond that you obviously started playing with the notion of your own business. I think you set up your own business in ’94. Is that right? It was over twenty years ago?

Rachel Riley
It was twenty years ago and it started in a very gradual way so I actually opened my first shop in 1998 but I started doing, it was before…

Elliot Moss
Stuff.

Rachel Riley
…I started doing stuff and making it for people and very quickly – my husband’s a photographer – so what we did was once… I started off knowing that I was wanting to make things, people were asking me for things. I had three children and made things for them so it was kind of a way of you know as it were, advertising on them. People would see things and ask me for them. When I set up my own business I decided to run it, you know, obviously as a business and to do with a mail order catalogue so Daniel and I took the photos together, we printed it up into a smalli0- catalogue, then obviously not really called that anymore but…

Elliot Moss
A place where you can buy stuff now whether it is on line or off line. It doesn’t really matter.

Rachel Riley
And we also call it a ‘look book’ but at the time it was called a catalogue and we printed that out, made it look beautiful and actually sent it out to all our friends and family, colleagues, people who I knew. They sent it out to their friends and within one season I knew that we had a business because of the demand.

Elliot Moss
Well this is what I wanted to ask you because I remember interviewing Bill Amberg here and Jo Malone and both of them talked about they kind of knew they had something because people liked the stuff they made for their friends and family. If they hadn’t have liked it and they were just wrong, because some people get it wrong like that. Would you have carried on do you think or did you need that approval from friends and family and that real, you know, the creation of demand?

Rachel Riley
Well if you don’t have a demand you don’t have a business so I needed to, I wouldn’t have carried on, I would have carried on doing it personally if I hadn’t had a business for it but as it was I wanted to run it as a business and within a very short space of time we had a lot of press and that was very helpful because that made us, it created a demand.

Elliot Moss
In terms of the kids because I don’t know how old… how old is your oldest?

Rachel Riley
They are young adults, 25…

Elliot Moss
Twenty five?

Rachel Riley
…26, 25 and 23. Yes.

Elliot Moss
Oh okay. You don’t look old enough I have to say but you don’t that is ridiculous. You’ve got twenty year old plus kids. In the early days I imagine you worked around the children and being a mum and is that why the business took a little more time to progress than maybe someone like a man that would have taken?

Rachel Riley
Very definitely because I think that women run their businesses in the way that suits them. I know that I have grown my business very gradually and in the right way that suits me and my business. Of course for the first whatever, fifteen years maybe or probably not even that but I would work around the children and I remember even when I started running my business, Wednesday’s I didn’t work because my children were in school in France and on a Wednesday they didn’t go to school so we would do, you know, music class, art class, ballet and fencing and other things.

Elliot Moss
And things that just make me go, you are the perfect mum as well – it is ridiculous. Stay with me for more from Rachel Riley, business woman and mum too, fantastic mum too. Both possible although probably having to balance one as a primacy over the other at certain points in time – it sounds like that anyway. Time for some more music, this is Eliane Elias with That Old Feeling.

That was Eliane Elias with That Old Feeling. Rachel, this business as the children got older you were able to switch your focus a bit more towards the business. Obviously and if people don’t know, the latest hit has been with… well many people a member of the Royal family and it was I think Prince George was wearing your stuff. When those things happen are they enormous moments or were there bigger moments before and it is just that that’s the culmination of all the other things that you were doing. I mean how does it work for you?

Rachel Riley
Obviously they are very big moments just because of the press response. You know, I feel very proud of the fact that Prince George has worn our things on several occasions. I think probably the first official engagement was the most well, they’ve all been exciting but that was the most unexpected because just to see the whole international coverage he is a high profile baby and I think he had never been on you know, the cover of Vanity Fair and wearing our things it was just so lovely. He was on the GQ 50 Best Dressed Men List and I think they had never had a baby…

Elliot Moss
I am still waiting for that call by the way. It hasn’t happened.

Rachel Riley
So seeing the press is extraordinary, it’s interesting to see.

Elliot Moss
In terms of satisfaction levels for you though, what buzzes you now? You know, you are in your second decade of your business. I imagine that’s a buzz but is that the biggest buzz or are there other things that make you happy still?

Rachel Riley
I will, I just…it’s important to say that actually I get a buzz whenever I see children wearing our clothes and if I am you know, walking down the street and I see someone wearing something of ours or the other day I walked into Selfridges and someone was walking out and we crossed and she was wearing one of our dresses or if I have, I can bring pleasure to one of the mums who might come into our shop and just say, you know, ‘let me show you a picture of my daughter she just looks so gorgeous in your things’ – it is always a personal satisfaction.

Elliot Moss
And the other quick bit of personal satisfaction. Is it the making bit? Is it the bit where you go ‘hold on a minute that’s what the prints going to look like, that’s the texture, that’s the design’ I mean in the creative process is there still huge satisfaction?

Rachel Riley
A lot of satisfaction and in fact obviously that’s… I am a maker so that’s the, I would say you know, my favourite day has to be a design day but actually remember I only spend maybe a month out of every six months designing a collection and the other five months running a business which I also get excited about. You know you have to make sure that you, you know, we, you know are planning budgets and you know we, nearly half of our business is in the US. You know I go to America, we have a showroom there, we sell to Belegarth Goodman and Sachs and other department stores there. It’s not just about the design side, that’s obviously important and you have to have the right product but it is also about running a business on a day-to-day basis.

Elliot Moss
She looks young because she is just really happy basically and everything excites her which is what’s coming through. Final chat coming up with Rachel plus we will be playing a track from Eric Bibb; that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Eric Bibb and North Country Far with Danny Thompson and the song was called The Happiest Man In The World. I am with one of the happiest women in the world coincidentally, that’s lucky isn’t it and that’s Rachel Riley just for a few more minutes. You have really grown a successful and iconic business as you said, almost half your business is in the US. I think you are sold in ninety countries or something crazy.

Rachel Riley
Actually a hundred and ten stockists but in over several countries but about 40% of our business is in the US.

Elliot Moss
Okay. In that time you must have encountered bumps along the way. You’ve said you love things and you know, you are enjoying all the bits. I imagine you have had help, advice? Who have been the people that have been key to you in that period?

Rachel Riley
I said I loved what I do but I haven’t said there haven’t been bumps along the road. There are always things that you have to overcome and I’ve been very lucky to work with a business advisor who I respect greatly and who has got an enormous amount of experience in the field. His name is Manny Silverman and I am very lucky to have been working with him for the last seven years. So he has really helped me focus not just on the you know, on the design side and the product side but also the strategy and he is as sharp minded as anyone I know so I am always very focussed.

Elliot Moss
Is that the key? The intellect or is there something else because chemistry must be really important in this? Or is it that the content of what he has got is just, is good enough and everything else goes away anyway?

Rachel Riley
Chemistry is important in everything so in life but he is very focussed and he has got lots of experience and I am very lucky to be able to use that experience within my business.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the international expansion, was that intentional?

Rachel Riley
It is, it is definitely intentional.

Elliot Moss
I don’t mean to say that you didn’t have strategy but you know, things evolve don’t they and then…

Rachel Riley
Well also you have to go to the markets where people like what you do so that helps. In America I feel that they are quite formal for certain things so they do like dressing up and we do a lot of occasion wear so they come to us for that. There is definitely a strategy behind it and even now we have a strategy, we know, you know, I know which areas I want to go and that’s important for me. You can’t just kind of float around and just say, you know, I’ll pick up where the wind blows, you know, the direction the wind blows me in.

Elliot Moss
I mean we are part of an amazing country and things have changed over the last few weeks. You are exporting the Great British brand which happens to be clothes and your thing. What is it that works for you? Is it, do people look at your clothes and go ‘ah that reminds me of a period of time in Britain’?

Rachel Riley
I think that obviously in Britain we are creative so that is important and also I think that what people come to me for is those kind of traditional family values whereby the clothes that I make are classic, they are – it’s about the children. It’s about the children, I mean all children are beautiful so it’s having very you know, simple pretty things. Often people say that they come to me for clothes that they can photograph their children in because then it means that our kind of styles don’t go out of fashion, it’s not specific for an era, it is just, you know, making children look beautiful which is important for me.

Elliot Moss
Going forward. Next five, ten years Rachel Riley’s vision is? Just continue, more of the same, beautiful clothes for beautiful kids?

Rachel Riley
We have just taken on agents in the UK so I would like to expand our base in the UK and International expansion is important because I feel that we’ve got a product that people like and I can export. So that’s important for me.

Elliot Moss
Listen really good luck. You are a trail blazer in taking this Great British clothes brand that you have created abroad and please keep doing it and you look lovely as well so if you see the pictures that we will put up on the Web you will also see this fantastic dress that you are wearing. It is called a dress, I always get confused between dresses and skirts – I know now.

Rachel Riley
Dress.

Elliot Moss
Dress. Good. Just before I let you go, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Rachel Riley
I have chosen Knock On Wood by Eddie Floyd. It is the 1967 version. I like classic and vintage pieces so I wanted to take something from that era and I also feel exceptionally lucky to be able to do what I do every day.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you Rachel. Thank you.

Rachel Riley
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Eddie Floyd with Knock On Wood, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Rachel Riley. Someone who has always enjoyed making things and has stuck at it because it just gives her so much pleasure. Someone who has done a fantastic job of combining being a mum with also growing a business and someone who today enjoys all the aspects of the business, probably because she just absolutely loves that product and the output and the happiness it gives the kids that wear her clothes and their parents. It is all great stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meantime though stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Rachel Riley is the owner and founder of Rachel Riley, a British luxury brand for children. She studied at Cambridge University and worked as a model in Paris, New York & London before setting up her own company twenty years ago, when she had children of her own, as she likes to hand sew, embroider and knit.

Rachel’s design philosophy is rooted in her traditional lifestyle and draws inspiration from the forties, fifties and sixties with fine tailoring, hand smocking, hand embroidery and vintage-inspired prints designed by and exclusive to the brand. Rachel Riley designs, manufactures and retails clothing and accessory collections four times per year for boys, girls, babies and ladies.

In spring 2014, Prince George wore a Rachel Riley sailboat smocked dungarees on his first Official Engagement, seen worldwide.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelrileyglam.

“I made things for my own children and my friends and my family, and people around me asked me to make things for them. It started in a very simple way.”

“I could actually turn up for the first day with a wardrobe of things that I mostly made myself.”

“I get a buzz whenever I see children wearing our clothes.”

“Well, if you don’t have a demand, you don’t have a business.”

“I think that women run their businesses in the way that suits them.”

“You know, I feel very proud of the fact that Prince George has worn our things on several occasions.”

“I said I loved what I do, but I haven’t said there haven’t been bumps along the road.”

“You have to go to the markets where people like what you do.”

“…our kind of styles don’t go out of fashion. It’s not specific for an era, it is just, you know, making children look beautiful – which is important for me.”