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04.11.2019- In Conversation...Freya Swainson, Co-Founder, Curated Goods

When I was out and about in Richmond a few months ago, I happened across a gorgeous new addition to the town's shopping scene- Curated Woman. Sat next to longstanding Richmond favourite Curated Man, this sister shop is a real gem- full of beautifully selected fashion from brands including Meadows, Samsøe Samsøe and Grenson, as well as exclusive prints from Andrea Kollar and ceramics from Kara Leigh Ford. I could have easily made my way home with the whole shop, and have been obsessed with the autumnal inspiration on display on their Instagram since my visit. Eager to find out more about how this beautiful shop sprang into existence, I sat down with Freya Swainson, Co-Founder, to chat all things Curated Woman:

Tell us a little bit about how Curated Woman came into existence...

My partner Henry's father set up the menswear shop in Richmond (then called ‘Lizard’) almost 40 years ago. When his father made the decision to retire in 2016, Henry took over and renamed the shop 'Curated Man’. The wives and girlfriends of our regular male customers would often comment on how nice it would be for them to have a women’s equivalent in Richmond, as they so loved the buying selection and quality of the brands we stocked. However, at that time, I was not yet part of the business and although Henry is an extremely good menswear buyer, he did not feel confident when it came to women's collections. I came on board in 2018, ending my career as a wedding planner after nearly 8 years and this, along with the premises immediately next door to our men's shop becoming available, gave us the push to take the leap into womenswear and Curated Woman was born!

What sets Curated Woman apart from other high street shops? 

We’re a small independent business for a start which I think gives us a distinct personality. We’re aren’t just another faceless big chain store. The business has stayed in one family for such a long time and many of the local Richmond residents have known Henry for many years (he first started working in the shop as a teenager alongside his dad!) and now with the presence of Curated Woman, myself also. 

We have no large visual merchandising team or company protocol to follow when it comes to creativity and to our approach to what we buy and from which brands, and so the look and feel of our shops, particularly Curated Woman, have a personal touch and don’t necessarily follow the rules. 

If I don’t feel like using mannequins in my window display, I don’t - I might just lay pieces out flat or have them draped over a bench. If I want to do an entire feature window focusing on only 2 colours, I will. I’m not worried about the need to fill the window with a variation of product in the hope that the more there is on display, the more likely I am to increase sales. I am more interested in creating a vibe that inspires and intrigues. I think this makes us stand out on the high street, particularly when it comes to our window displays, but also with the feel we have created for the interior of the women’s shop. As well as being stylish and feminine - in the words of our customers - it also has a 'lovely welcoming feel’. 

We are also the UK’s only, and in some cases, first ever physical stockist for a number of our brands and suppliers, particularly our artwork and pottery. I think that’s really exciting for our customers, especially as discerning as those in Richmond, to know that what they are buying, no-one else will have or may even have heard of!

Why Richmond? 

It has been home to the menswear shop for nearly 40 years and has a unique clientele that is both creative, stylish and astute. It’s such a beautiful, historic town, certainly one of the prettiest we think. It’s such a pleasure to walk along the river on our way in to open the shop every morning and we find that it is also a perfect middle ground between Surrey and central London.

What’s the reaction been like since you’ve been open? 

Overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Customers are constantly expressing how pleased they are to have a shop in Richmond selling something ‘a bit different’ and from new and as yet unknown brands to them. The high street in Richmond has suffered quite a bit in the last few years, with a number of shops, including independents, closing down or moving out of town due to extortionate rents or inflated business rates. Knowing this, we find that the local community are very keen to support the businesses that are still hanging in there, and often my customers refuse to buy my brands online or from department stores, but come to Curated Woman, wanting to spend with me instead which is so lovely to see! I have a number of regular customers now, who pop in to see me once a month or so wanting something to inject a new piece into their wardrobe. My stock deliveries come in waves and so people are always curious to see what new items have arrived.

I’ve got space in my wardrobe for three autumn and winter essentials- what should I pick up from the shop?

A great boot - something hard wearing and weather hardy as well as being stylish. Our Grenson Nanette boots are a perfect example of this. They’re also ridiculously lightweight and aren’t too fussy so they won’t date.

A statement coat - something heavy and well made. I can’t stand a lightweight, cheaply-made coat, they don’t sit well and they go lumpy over time. I would also recommend considering something with a slightly different silhouette to the usual. We’re loving the cocoon shape of our Folk Cavi Coats - just enough but not too much. I also love a coloured winter coat. Navy and black will always been timeless and so serves as a smart purchase moving forward but we’re seeing some absolutely to die for shades of mustard and emerald this season too. The kind of coats that turn heads and have strangers running after you in the street asking 'where did get that amazing coat?!”

And finally, a nice chunky knit - personally, I’m a bit of a knitwear addict but I do think that you just can’t go wrong with a lovely chunky jumper. I like unusual, not traditionally autumnal colours; dirty lime or a creamy yellow. They pop so beautifully under a dark coloured coat. I also enjoy a bit of texture, a waffle knit or ribbed roll neck adds interest to an outfit.

Above all, when you’re adding new pieces to your wardrobe, I think its so important to buy quality - something that will last. The slow fashion movement is long overdue and I feel the only way to balance buying less with still adding new pieces here and there, is to buy investment pieces.

What top tips would you give for shopping more sustainably? 

The same as above, shop quality, spend just that little bit extra for an investment piece that, cost per wear, will end up being great value for money and ensures that - with the slow fashion movement in mind - you aren’t excessively buying clothes. I would also encourage customers to buy from brands that produce in Europe, as the material and factory standards are much higher even at the base level. Much of the wool used by our brands this season is Scottish likewise many are moving towards organic cottons that are sustainably farmed. We’re also careful to choose our denim responsibly as the water wastage with cheap denim is appalling.

And any advice for anyone looking to set up their own business? 

Setting up your own business is very daunting and should be well thought out before going ahead. I did quite a bit of research before we started the process. I was in communication with a number of the wives of our regular customers, who were only too happy to help, answering my questions about what they considered too expensive, what they were prepared to splurge on, what they looked for when it came to sizing etc. I also quizzed some of my friends who had worked for retail chain stores in the past, asking what shopping patterns they saw, what type of clientele bought what. I also spent time looking at the women walking around in Richmond - what they were wearing, how they styled it etc.

Once you’ve done as much research as you can possible do and have asked all the questions you can think of in advance, then it’s really just a case of going with your gut. If you truly feel that you can commit (and trust me, it’s a 24/7 commitment) to making something work and have an instinctively good feeling about it, then I think that that will push you to succeed. At the end of the day, you only live once and although setting up a business is a risk, provided you’re not taking a huge gamble and ignoring all the warning signs, it’s worth taking the leap of faith.

Thank you Freya for your time and wonderful answers!

Visit Curated Woman at 12 Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1TN / 020 8948 1383

(Image credit: Curated Woman.)


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