It takes an extremely determined person with endless creativity and drive to be able to build two businesses at once, and that’s exactly the vibe I got from Lauren Manville when I was lucky enough to squeeze in an interview with the talented stylist a couple of weeks ago to chat about the first of those businesses, Lauren Manville Style. As a designer, Lauren’s experience is extensive for someone who didn’t initially study it, with her designs appearing in ASOS, Urban Outfitters, Topman, and on many a celebrity over the years. It is her background in speech and language therapy however, that makes the styling business she launched last year so much more than just that. Since hearing Lauren speak at the International Women’s Day event at IdeaSpace back in March, I’ve been desperate to interview her about her unique business, and why, for her, styling is so much more than just picking clothes.
Let’s dive right into how you started your business last year! What steps did you take?
I officially became a business on October 9th, so very recent, but I started doing this early last summer. I’d had the concept for a year before, and I sat on it and just thought about it. It took me a little bit of time to decide that this could be something exciting, and then I started trying it out, getting some testimonials, putting a website together, working on my business plan. Then I just thought “Let’s register this company and get going!”
Were you trying it out on friends at the time, or did you have clients in the beginning?
Some were friends, some were friends of friends, as well as other people who I didn’t really know, but I just wanted to see if I could do it. I’d styled before and I’d designed before, which meant I knew how to put an outfit together, but I then studied how to do colour analysis, which meant putting that into action. It was good being able to try it out on lots of different people, and different ages as well, I thought that was really important.
Tell me more about your background in therapy and how you came to do what you do now.
I qualified as a speech and language therapist, and I worked in quite a few different areas within that sector. I started off working in a mental health hospital, I established a speech and language therapy service working with women who had learning disabilities and were quite violent, so I got a real reality shock as it was one of my first jobs, but actually I learned that there are so many things that can happen to people, enormous things that can affect people’s way of thinking and confidence. I worked around people with learning disabilities but also people with schizophrenia, severe epilepsy, people who had been and were going through a lot. I then worked in a neurology team, so anything connected to the brain was my thing. I worked with stroke victims, brain trauma such as head-on collisions or motorbike incidents, brain tumours, acquired brain conditions and some really awful acquired conditions like motor neuron disease, where I worked on communication and comprehension. I also worked on swallowing and eating, because basically speech and language therapy deals with everything in that area, and the muscles and nerves that are involved in speaking are the same involved in eating and drinking. Sometimes you would find yourself in intensive care working with someone to help them swallow. It was very full-on, but amazing.
I used to really enjoy working in the stroke unit. I used to love doing language groups, but I didn’t let them know that it was a language group because I wanted to make it more fun, so I used to make it like a pub quiz, or something like ‘Name That Tune’, so they’d have to try and access part of their memory and help with word finding difficulties. Sometimes I would work with patients who had Alzheimer’s, and they would really struggle to remember who they were which was awful. I used to make quite specific impairment-based therapy for them, I would make them a ‘This Is Your Life’ book, so they would remember who they were. I always enjoyed the creative element, and I used to spend a lot of time putting really creative ideas together for these programs. I enjoyed targeting a specific part of the brain and trying to reconnect elements using residual function or finding alternative modes of comprehension and communication to work a way round the deficit and improve a person’s quality of life.
But the reality was that there was a hell of a lot of death around me, and it was terribly sad. I don’t have the ability to shut off which is what I really needed, and I found that I was worrying about everyone all the time, and I’d be going home at the weekend, calling up the nurses and making sure no one had died. I was just worried sick. So I had quite a dramatic moment where I slid down a wall crying, not thinking that anyone was in the therapy office at the time, and I was just sobbing on the floor. I’d just walked into a room where somebody had died, and was trying to start their speech therapy before realising that they were already dead, and it was just so, so sad. It was also a really young person that had died, so it felt like death was surrounding me all the time, and I just had this moment of thinking “I don’t think I can do this”.
You really had one of those memorable, life-changing moments. What did you do next?
I rang my sister and she said “OK, in a dream world, what would you do?” and I said “In a dream world I’d be a designer”. Since I was a kid, from about age six, I always had notepads filled with clothes and outfits I used to draw, and I used to do catwalk shows for my mum fashioning a towel into different outfits. I would sit with my grandma for hours from being a very little girl, and sort through her closet, she had the most incredible memory for a bargain! She’d tell me every story of every bargain, like “and then when I got to the till it was a further 15% off!” and she was so excited, so that was kind of instilled in me. I’d always wanted to be a designer. My sister said “what if I can get you some work experience?”, and I decided I just needed to know if I could actually do it, because at that moment it was just this pipe dream. I’d only just qualified and been in my job for about 15 months. I’d also already done a history degree before that, and it had taken me a little bit of time to figure out what I wanted to do. But I thought “I need to just try and see if I can do it”, so my sister got me some work experience for a couple of weeks working for a company who supplied to the high street.
It was when ASOS was quite small, and they just had exponential growth all of a sudden. It was out of the blue really, and I was there relatively early in that process, and started working for this company who supplied to ASOS. ASOS was their main brand, and they also did some for Urban Outfitters, Topman, and a few others. The first week I was just packing boxes, being a tea girl, and I was wondering if I could carry on because I only had a tiny bit of time off from work. But on the last few days the boss said to me “We’ve had a request in from ASOS and Topman to do some designs”, and he asked me if I could work with this other girl who worked there and come up with a few ideas. I was like “Absolutely! Yes!”, so I came up with them and was really excited, and then my time was up there, the designs were submitted and I went back to work, and that was that. Then amazingly about 3 weeks later I got an email saying all my designs were accepted, and asking would I be interested in coming in as an assistant designer part-time. I knew that I had reached a point in my role at the hospital where I couldn’t do it anymore, so I said yes.
I rang my sister and she said ‘OK, in a dream world, what would you do?’ and I said ‘In a dream world I’d be a designer'”
Did you leave the hospital right away?
I went part-time at the hospital working in the community team, so three days a week doing speech therapy, and then 2 days a week working on the designs, plus on the weekends I did designs as well, so I actually did a 7 day week! I did that for six months because I just needed to see if I actually did love it as much as I thought I did. I had done a Master’s Degree and I didn’t want to be in a job for a couple of years and then just say “OK, on to the next!” I was very lucky because during the six months of doing both roles, I knew I loved it, and by the end of it I found that even when I was with clients or patients I was kind of designing in my head.
Amazingly at the same point that I’d reached this conclusion, so had the design company, because when I started there were only about 4 people in the company, and ASOS was quite small, and in that six month period when I was working part-time ASOS went boom, and the demands were more and more, and so they then asked me to be a full-time menswear designer. I left speech therapy and became a designer, and I was mainly working for a brand that was part owned by ASOS and part owned by the company that I worked for, called Reclaimed Vintage. It was amazing as we did really well. You’d see the clothes on the X Factor, and we had people like Harry Styles wear our stuff, it was so exciting. You’d be walking down the street and you’d see all sorts of people wearing our stuff, it was brilliant. At the same time they also asked me to be the Accessories Designer, and the Jewellery Designer, so I was doing quite a lot at the same time. I was sourcing jewellery from China and from everywhere, I was always on the run, I loved it.
You must have been so busy! Did you feel you were taking on more and more as time went on?
Well in that short time I kind of went from Assistant Designer through to quite high up really quickly, so by the end of the time I was working there, I then was offered a role as a sort of Head of New Projects, Senior Designer and Head of Collaborations. It was a really small team so you wore many hats! I did a lot of collaborations with different people. Around the same time Topman came to my boss and said we have a gap in the market, literally a gap in our store, can you fill it. My boss came to me and said “you can come up with it all”, so I said yes. But if something wasn’t working you had to get rid of it and you had to move onto the next, you had to learn to adapt really quickly, not be too precious about your designs, and learn how to evolve, develop and discontinue as quickly as possible, because you’re messing with someone’s money, and you were very aware of that.
I ended up creating this whole brand for Topman, and it was just super exciting. I designed this really contemporary streetwear brand which was so far removed from the vintage inspired stuff that I’d done with Reclaimed Vintage, that was really fun and featured quite a lot in Oxford Circus flagship window. It was in a Years & Years video, it was on Britain’s Got Talent, a few things. It was getting a bit of interest and was doing quite well, but after that all happened I reached a point where I felt like I’d learnt an enormous amount, but I’d never really studied my profession. I’d always been someone who’d been quite studious, so I felt kind of uneasy, and when I left there I realised I was up against people from Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martins, all these people, so why were they going to pick me?
I realised that I had to go do quite a lot of different courses, so I studied a lot and went to do a course at Central Saint Martins. I studied construction, sewing, pattern making, lots of short, quick courses which were really focused, because I didn’t have a portfolio. While I was on these courses I got the opportunity to do some work with Pam Hogg, who was doing a couture show. I was kind of thrown into helping her with that. I had been a menswear designer but I’d always wanted to do womenswear, so that was great experience, and after I finished that I carried on with the courses. I was asked to help a friend with styling some shoots, and I did that for a while and realised I was good at it. Then somebody else asked me to style some stuff. It started to snowball, it was really exciting.
It sounds like you were having amazing success! What made you change direction?
While doing these courses and all this was happening, a couple of things happened in my life. One of them was my friend got cancer at a young age. She lost her hair, she used to have a really androgynous style but she just couldn’t do it anymore. Also one of my girl friends got the baby blues, her style had been really easy and laid-back, throwing on whatever, she did it in a way that was just natural, and all of a sudden she lost that. She’d lost that essence and she didn’t know how to do it, her body felt weird and different. Her spirit was still there of course, but her connection with it was lost. I’d always picked her clothes at uni, our rooms were opposite each other. She said “please can you just come over and help me?”. I told her of course and went round. She just felt pretty shit. We went through her clothes and I suggested outfits, and I hung around for a couple of hours and just made it fun. She phoned me the next day and said “This is it, this is what you’ve got to do.” She said “I feel different, you’ve made me feel better, honestly. You’ve done something. You’ve made me feel great and I feel like I can do this now, just because you picked my clothes”. Every few weeks I’d go for a coffee with her and she’d ask me where I was at with it, and I kept saying that’s just not what I’m interested in doing. I wanted to be designing. I needed to make it work because I had done speech therapy, and now I needed to do this. She said “I understand, but just trust me on this”.
Anyway, I was doing all these courses, and while that was happening my mum went through the menopause, and then she got cancer. She’d always had a real model figure and it had been easy for her to pick clothes, then she had to have an operation and her body changed. Going through the menopause too means that an enormous amount happens to women, and it is so ignored, it’s such a taboo subject. What women go through is quite brutal. It has a massive impact, everything from your skin to your body shape changes. So I started helping her and taking her to hospital. Then from one of the styling jobs that I’d been working on, a company called Solace London got in touch and said they had this job in Production and Design, and asked if I would be interested. It was only short term, but great.
Around the time that job finished, 4 or 5 months later, I was still sitting on this idea. I got married, came back from my wedding and about a month after I was in the running for a few design jobs. They kept asking me to do a number of different briefs, and then a Christmas collection, and then summer ideas until I’d practically designed the whole range, and stupidly I handed over all the designs. Once they had all my ideas they decided they didn’t have the budget for the jobs all of a sudden. They took my designs and ran with them, and it happened each and every time. I just had this horrible reality where I realised that my ideas are my currency, and I’m not going to give that away again. It was awful, I’d go into big name shops and see my designs. In the end I decided I was going to do this, and that’s when I started collecting the testimonials, putting together a website and studying colour analysis for Lauren Manville Style. I just thought “Let’s do it!”.
My ideas are my currency, and I’m not going to give that away again.”
How did you choose a price point for your services? That’s something that a lot of people find difficult when starting a service-based business.
I must say it’s hard. In choosing prices I did a heck of a lot of research, I looked at so many different styling businesses, as many as I could possibly find. I spoke to a lot of people, I spoke to my friends who were creatives to find out what their day rate was, then I spoke to my friends in editorial and fashion to find out what their day rate was. I was realistic and said “OK, well I’m not just doing styling, I also have the therapy background”. The most important thing I had to consider was that a lot of people who are stylists tend to just pick clothes, and I don’t do just that. I actually have a very specific service which means I have a lot of admin. I make bespoke moodboards for people, I put together outfits for people on interactive PDFs so you can click through to see what you like, I put together a colour palette for each client for them to keep. Even with colour consultation, it might look like just a 2 hour consultation, but it won’t ever be just that. It’s the travelling to and from, the consultation study beforehand, and the work that I do after, so it might be a couple of hours for the client but it’s actually a full day.
I’ve only recently realised that my time is actually really valuable, as is everybody’s time, and for a while I didn’t really know my worth. I spoke to this wonderful woman who helped me with marketing, and initially I had some prices that she suggested I double, even triple which I didn’t feel comfortable with but did increase my prices. She basically told me that I’m not just picking outfits and personal shopping, I can do colour consultations, I have a therapy background, and I’m a designer, so I’m actually bringing in the design element where I can think about what exact cut, colour and style will work on somebody, I can put collections together, it’s quite specialised what I can do. So I decided I needed to reflect that, and that was hard because I was so worried that no one was ever going to get it, but it is slowly building momentum, and I am getting more interest.
I do find that it’s hard when someone is showing an interest in you but there’s a good chance they can’t afford you. Part of me wants to say “Let me give you a discount”, but actually what would I be doing it for? It would be really lovely for her but for me, what’s it doing? It just makes me feel a bit devalued at the end of it because for doing a lot of work I’ve not got the money I should have, so it’s something I’m still grappling with. I think I’m going to develop workshops at really reasonable price points, then I’ll probably feel more comfortable about it all. From a business point of view those could end up being a bit more of a money maker for me actually.
You mentioned before that you studied colour analysis. Is that a course, or did you study it in another way?
I studied under a woman called Jules Standish. She is the senior lecturer at London College of Style, and she’s written books on colour and dressing, including ‘How Not to Wear Black’, and ‘The Essential Guide to Mindful Dressing’. She’s an exceptionally passionate and clever woman, she’s the kind of woman that Sky News will bring in to dress their team to make sure that they pop and that people will approach them. She’ll sometimes work in corporate environments in order to help improve motivation. She has an amazing understanding of colour, she’s fantastic. When I decided I was going to pursue styling, I was speaking to a woman who told me that anybody can be a stylist, but that I should do something else to stand out. I had the therapy and design background, but she still recommended that I add something else to my skill set, so I decided to learn how to do someone’s colours.
I was researching different courses, but I was trying to find out who was the very best. If you’re going to do it you might as well do it right. I found the London College of Style, but what I specifically wanted to learn wasn’t available, so I thought nothing ventured nothing gained, and I was a bit cheeky and got in touch with the head of the course. I explained that I knew how to style but I wanted to learn colour. I asked is there any way they would consider offering me private tuition for the day. They managed to get in touch with Jules, and told me that the only day she had free in the whole year was in about 5 days, which was bizarre. I thought “Umm, yes please!”
She’s so positive, knowledgeable and passionate, and it rubs off on you. From there I just kept practicing and practicing. I work with my clients to see which colours make somebody shine, make somebody light up, and I think it’s very important to teach the person I’m with how to do it, because it’s all very well me doing it but they will want to go away with that knowledge. I always make a point of asking which colours they think work for them, and try to get them to identify for themselves. Then I put together a palette around their ‘wow’ colour and outfits, because I want to be able to offer that little bit more, and that’s sort of reflected in my prices as well.
It sounds like you can offer people a complete style overhaul, which could be a life changing thing for some people. How has the response been?
I’ve had some really lovely responses from people. It sounds a bit embarrassing to say it but some people have told me it’s changed their life. I feel a bit daft saying that, but you know what? If it’s making somebody feel great, then that’s the most important thing.
Any stand-out stories that have had an impact on you?
Recently there was a woman who came to have me do her colour consultation on the anniversary of her divorce, and she’d always had this really awful association with that day. She said that she would always be feeling really low, but she told me “you’ve forever changed this day for me now, this signifies the start of a new chapter for me, I don’t need to keep thinking of it as the day I got divorced”. That was a lovely moment, and I just thought well if that’s helped her to step into this new chapter with confidence then how wonderful.
There was another woman who said she was always feeling a bit like a wallflower without realising it, and I didn’t necessarily make her step into the forefront or try to make her go out in bright orange, I wouldn’t do that, but by putting outfits together it made her feel more at ease with herself, more confident, and she said that when she walks into rooms now she feels different. When she’s in meetings she’s comfortable with putting forward her ideas. In terms of improvement, it’s like a quiet confidence she has. It all sounds so silly, but just getting somebody the right outfit can help them to step into themselves. Getting dressed is so much more than putting on clothes. You are projecting what you want the world to see, or what you want to represent, and if you are somebody who’s always in really dark, tent-like pieces, and you’re in a big coat and you’re hiding yourself from the world, you’re saying a lot with that, and I think actually, it’s those non-verbal cues that I always tried to pick up on in speech therapy. It’s telling so much without saying anything.
If you can just put together a slightly more structured outfit, a cute little shirt collar or even just a nice earring or something, it’s saying that actually, I value myself, I’m not indulging, I might not even be investing, this is just a bit of a rebrand, and I’m going to spend 10 minutes in the morning putting that extra effort into my outfit so that I feel confident for the day. There’s nothing worse than rushing in the morning and then feeling like you’ve not quite cracked it, and feeling insecure or a bit shy all day. I hate it but we all do it, and we feel a bit weird, not quite lifting your head up the same way or making eye contact as frequently. When you’re dressed for confidence, you are the best version of yourself, and you think “I’m ready to go, this is me”. I think you believe in yourself more.
Getting dressed is so much more than putting on clothes. You are projecting what you want the world to see, or what you want to represent.”
So what’s your favourite colour to wear?
Apparently my wow colour is green, so I’ve been trying to wear that more recently. My favourite colour, I really enjoy wearing this suit I have that’s a cross between ochre and burnt orange, and I really enjoy wearing yellow. It’s a joyful colour, it makes you feel good, it makes you feel happy. Every time I put someone in yellow, I love it.
How do we identify our wow colour?
It’s based on your skin tone, and when we do all the drapes we just look at what colour makes you wow, makes you pop.
How do you prepare yourself to feel confident? Especially when you are dealing with clients who trust that you know what you’re doing, you must want to feel your best.
Since I’ve been a kid I’ve been obsessed with choosing clothes, you’ve never seen somebody with so many bargains and outfits, I just loved it! I’ve never really felt massively unconfident about my choices. I’ve always had that quiet confidence about picking clothes, because I could just see it in my mind, and I could just make it work somehow. In terms of going into their DNA and making it relevant to each client, I guess that’s where I’ve been slightly less confident, because I know what will look good on them, but is that right for them? Will they feel their most confident in it? Will that suit their lifestyle? When you’re a designer, you’re taking on a brand’s DNA and designing for them, you have to learn that skill. There were tops I was designing that I was never going to wear myself and never going to buy, but then thousands of people did. You have to ask yourself “What is the DNA of this brand?” or “What is the DNA of this person?”. What is their make-up? Where are they in life at the moment?
Also when I do the colour consultation, I do a personality questionnaire with them. I get to learn quite a lot about somebody, and I think that’s great in terms of leading my suggestions. Are they going to wear a full mustard suit? Probably not. Do they just want to wear a super gorgeous scarf that suits their colouring? Yes! Will that be enough to make them feel special when they’re in an outfit? Absolutely. You have to get to know the client, and because I do therapy as well, I’m pretty good at figuring people out. Plus I do loads of research before I go see somebody. Before a personal shopping day I would have made moodboards and sent them over, and we would have agreed on a style. I never want to be cocky and say “I think this looks gorgeous on you”, because that may well be, but they might not feel it. So I do a lot of research, I do a lot of running around the shops and online research, and then when it comes to putting outfits together that’s quite innate, it comes naturally.
I guess it’s knowing the skills that I have that make me feel quietly confident about figuring out what will make someone feel gorgeous. Some people aren’t hugely confident and it’s not easy to say “I don’t like that”, and so I hope to make that as easy as possible by asking what they think of pieces and how they feel in them. Does it feel good or does it not feel right? And actually sometimes they say “I would never have thought of that”, and suddenly they stand differently and their posture is different, and other times it’s not. You must go with what feels right for them.
Any tips for us on how to dress confidently?
Different colours have different elements, so if you’re feeling a bit tired or knackered but you need to be peppy, stick on a red top which will inject a bit of energy into you. It’s going to lift your temperature but also lift your temperament and you’ll feel a bit more spirited. If you want to mingle with people and you want to be good at socialising, stick on an orange top, it’s really good for doing something like that. If you want to feel balanced and secure and calm then green is perfect, green is a colour that doesn’t need your eye to adapt to the frequency so it’s the most calming to your vision, making you feel secure. There are so many different colours that inspire different things.
I never ever used to wear purple, it’s a nice colour I just never used to wear it, and since I started doing colours I thought I might as well try wearing it. I saw this purple dress with some orange and black elements in it as well, bought it and I get complimented on it whenever I wear it. Yes it’s a lovely dress and a lovely colour, but I know I’m different in it. Purple has connotations with spirituality, self-confidence and is quite a regal colour, so it gives you a feeling of holding yourself in a different way. It gives you this sense of self-confidence. It’s really strange. And I find that when I wear it I feel great and I feel a bit stronger. I think that if you’re not feeling your best and you know a certain colour or outfit will lift you, go for it. If you’re feeling really rubbish and you can’t be bothered, enjoy it and embrace it, but stick a nice hoop earring on with it!
It sounds like you have a great balance now in that you can use your therapy background to help people, but in a way that’s not emotionally draining for you as well. It must be quite uplifting.
It really is. When I was just doing the designing, I missed it. I missed that element of being altruistic, I missed doing something kind and fun and nice, and when I was just doing the therapy I was too overwhelmed by it. My mum always used to say to me, “How can you leave those poor people?” because she knew I was a good therapist, but it wasn’t right for me. This way I’m able to work with people who might have been through awful, life-changing events like cancer, a divorce, a miscarriage, or just feeling generally shit, real life stuff. And actually it’s so nice that I can tap into those skills and make it fun, and help them tap into the new them.
If someone wanted to start a service-based business like you’ve done, what advice would you give them?
In terms of service-based businesses, you can always learn more. If you are your service, then you can always improve yourself, you can always learn. And network like hell! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as networking events before! Don’t be too proud to ask people for their opinion on things. Sometimes it can make you feel a bit insecure and a bit embarrassed, but just try. Be as organised as possible. And keep truckin’ on, trucker!
Are you happy for me to end the interview with that quote??
Ha, yes! Absolutely! Keep truckin’ on, trucker!
You can find out more about Lauren and her business at LaurenManvilleStyle.com, and read about her exciting, soon-to-launch fashion brand in part 2 of our interview, coming soon!