Creating a legacy in any business depends on the zeal of the entrepreneur. Not every person is able to leave something relevant behind for future generations to learn from. In essence, a legacy is who you are and what you make of the opportunities that knock at your door. Anything that you build over time says a lot about you and it becomes a distinguishing factor, especially in business. A lot of people remember you by your work and the kind of impact you make.
Pertaining to this chain of thought, one individual casting a profound light in the fashion industry is Nancy Zeffman, Co-founder of Cucumber Clothing. How is she setting a benchmark in the industry? Let’s find out in this exclusive interview with CIO Look:
Kindly take us through your journey to becoming a proficient leader.
The foundation of the Cucumber happened organically. I love to work out, as does my Co-Founder Eileen Willett. We also love to wear our gym kit and found ourselves hardly changing out of them as the material used are so comfortable, crease-free, and easy to care for. They keep us cool and dry as we go about our busy lives, whether that’s trail running, downward dogging in hot yoga, jumping for the ball in basketball, walking the dog, or popping to the local shops.
Our light bulb moment came when we realized there must be a way to reproduce this, but with a material that looked as gorgeous as it felt. We wanted to replicate all the qualities of our gym kit, but in more stylish, everyday luxury pieces that we would want to reach for time and time again.
It took about two years from having the idea to reaching the market. This time was spent researching the market, materials, and making up samples (and testing them), fine-tuning our designs, photography, and setting up our website, plus so much more, in time for our first capsule collection that launched in September 2017.
How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to entice the target audience?
Our clothes are part of balancing a busy lifestyle. We use the latest technical fabrics that feel soft and luxurious, that are super easy to care for and style them into flattering designs for all body shapes – we go up to a UK size 20 in some styles.
How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?
Our customers are women looking for a solution. Our fabrics are long-lasting and require minimal care. We care about how we create our products and consider every step of our production to minimize our environmental impact. We are building a Cucumber community where we encourage customer engagement and offer an exceptional level of customer service.
What are the vital traits that every businesswoman should possess?
I think that to launch a brand takes three main characteristics; determination – if you want to go for something, you have to give it your all and see it through; organization – there is always so much to do, and not all of it can be done at once; which leads me onto prioritizing – and this means in a personal capacity too. You have to learn to prioritize yourself sometimes so that the business can be supported by two mentally and physically fit and happy co-founders.
As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?
We have had to learn some hard lessons along the way. For example, quite early on, we decided to outsource our fulfillment (picking, packing, and shipping to the customer). We pride ourselves on excellent customer service – we personally answer every email and actively encourage feedback. Fielding out this part of our business was nerve-wracking as this was the first time, we had no control over part of our customer’s experience with us. We were horrified when we began receiving complaints of wrong garments received, double order sent, and boxes marked ‘shoes’ (we only make clothing)! It was a month-long very expensive experiment with endless firefighting, but it underlined to us the value we place on customer service.
Have you in any way contributed towards the cause of women’s empowerment?
We make luxurious clothes every day. Our clothes empower women by using the latest ultra-modern performance fabrics that work to dissipate sweat and odors away from the body to leave the wearer feeling cool, uncrushed, and confident to get on with her day. We marry technical, high-performance fabrics to cleverly cut-to-flatter designs that function optimally and always feel amazing next to the skin.
Clothes should do more than just dress a body. Our clothes breathe, they cool, they stretch but don’t crease; they move with your body; they are easy to care for and are made locally, ethically, and sustainably. Our all-in–one style was created to fit seamlessly into every woman’s wardrobe – dress up, dress down, sleep, stretch, work, train, travel. Cucumber is an effortless dressing that keeps you feeling fresh 24/7.
What kind of support was required and gained, by you, while emerging as a business forerunner?
Launching a brand (on a shoe-string budget) and setting up a website are one thing; driving traffic to it is quite another. We have had to really put ourselves out there and shout about our brand to anyone who will listen.
In terms of support, we have been lucky to have attended some courses run by the London College of Fashion, which helped us hone our business plan and gave us the original confidence to launch. During Covid, we have been receiving excellent help from the London Growth Hub, which supports SME’s and in turn, the DIT (Department of International Trade). These are all amazing free support networks that have helped us navigate the ever-changing landscape of the business world.
We are also part of various female entrepreneur forums in the UK that have provided support and encouragement.
What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?
We have been expanding into luxury spas around the UK and have also been involved in various pop-up events which have worked very well. Despite the uncertain situations due to the covid-19 pandemic, we believe we can build on our existing wholesale customer base. We are also expanding overseas and are stocked in a sustainable concept store in Amsterdam, as well as a French on-line store.
We are hoping to grow in this area, whilst also constantly reviewing and upgrading our website to offer a fantastic shopping experience online.
We hope to be established as the premier fabric-led fashion brand for women in the UK; will have a firm foothold in countries where we have already started to make in-roads, namely the US, Australasia, South Africa, and the Middle East.