Over to you Vivien:
I didn’t actually come from a traditional millinery background. I have just always had an eye for design and a love of beautiful and interesting shapes and forms. I think this shows in our brands’ style of millinery, not having a classical framework of how a hat should look has maybe given a degree of freedom to our collections. I encourage innovation and experimentation in terms of materials and shapes. I’m very fortunate to have run a close-knit design/maker team from our Wiltshire Countryside atelier, with whom I have worked with for a number of years. We’re quite intuitive with one another now. It can take time to develop a connection like this with a team but we certainly benefit from being on the same wavelength.
Each season we sit down and begin our creative brain storming process. Everyone contributes with suggestions on what direction we should take. At this stage, there are no rules in our studio, accept to be as creative and expressive as possible. The next stage is to begin thinking more commercially; cutting down the number of designs, making sure only the strongest pieces make it into the collection. It’s simply not enough to look beautiful. They have to be lightweight, balanced and secure.
I wake up, and make myself a cup of red bush tea (I quit caffeine 5 years ago!) and take out ‘Dash’ (my working cocker spaniel and one true love) for a walk in the forest, which is on my doorstep. I love having miles of untouched pristine forest (quite literally) on my doorstep and always make a point of going for an early morning walk first thing. This clears my mind, helps me find perspective and prepares me for the day ahead.
I then head straight to the studio, which is a 15 min, drive away (I’m lucky I don’t spend much of my day commuting!). The atelier is 2 miles up a tiny country lane. It’s remote but picturesque. Our company headquarters is based within the stunning New Forest countryside, and forms quite a big part of the Vivien Sheriff brand DNA.
We then have our morning group meeting with all the team in the studio (we have 12 full time members of in house staff). I put a strict time limit on these meetings (no more than 30 mins) to maintain focus and energy and not get sidetracked micro managing every last detail. I run a very horizontal company structure. Everyone’s opinion is welcomed. I believe that having interdepartmental crossover helps creativity and innovation, for example our designers may will offer up marketing ideas or content for social media campaigns. As a team, there are so many crossovers in our roles and it wouldn’t make sense to run a hierarchical structure, plus it’s just not in my nature.
I will always put some time aside each day to meet with my accountant so we can go over cash flow and forecasts. Although I sometimes find this slightly tedious (sorry Therese!), it’s so important to try and stay a few steps ahead in such a seasonal business as millinery.
Around about midday, I hide myself away in my office and open my laptop for the first time! I don’t like to get stuck into my emails very first thing, because you then tend to spend the day being reactive firefighting rather than cracking on with the bigger picture strategy, which I set out to achieve first thing in the morning.
After lunch, I will have a meeting with my design team. This is the most enjoyable part of the day, I can be creative and think laterally. We have a separate room within our atelier, with a huge whiteboard. We stick up images, pieces of fabrics and materials and even quotes, to get inspired and decide creative direction of each collection. It’s also used for planning what designs we are assigning to what collection or project. We have a number of collections and projects running a what time, so vital to maintain a good overview of what design is going into what collection, or what design we are attributing to which key customer (to make sure they’re snapped in the press with a similar hat to another client!)
Skype call with Marketing Manager, and son. Jesse is based in London so takes care of lots of the key meetings. We will usually have a quick Skype call around 3pm to update me and other team members on projects such as key brand partnerships. Today, he’s working on our press day that is taking place at Browns Hotel in Mayfair (who have been the most wonderful brand partner, and let us use their most beautiful Suite for the day). I go into London at least once a week for an event or meeting. The journey is really quick from Salisbury train station and I love having the city within touching distance, while also being able to easily escape back to the serenity of the New Forest at the end of the day.
Private customer appointment. One of my fantastic girls can often handle these fittings, but today we have a key client who has asked to see me personally. She needs a hat for a society wedding and is bringing in her outfit. I will look for a style that suits her personality, this particular client is quite flamboyant shall we say, so I’m thinking a headpiece over a traditional shaped hat. Along side the bespoke commissions, we have a lot of styles in our showroom that are ready to wear. In the run up to Ascot, things get somewhat hectic as you may be able to imagine. Luckily our production coordinator is good at keeping a record of who is wearing what to where, to avoid any cross over and two of the same hats showing up at the same wedding!
Home time. I’m eager to head home to see my daughter and husband. I’m very family orientated person so I often invite my dad over for dinner as he lives a stones throw away in the next village.
Quick check of the emails to see if there is anything urgent from another time zone (Australia and the USA are our best two overseas markets).
Chamomile tea then bed!
You can read previous A Day in the Life stories from some wonderful and inspiring female entrepreneurs, business owners and creatives here.