Nothing keeps Leila Gregory down for long, and after shuttering one business, Leila pulled herself up by her bootstraps and leveraged her 30-year strong retail experience to open her own independent brand Belle Modelle.
Since 2014, Belle Modelle has gone from strength to strength selling a variety of colourful accessories and homeware products; and while many other businesses reeled from the pandemic, Gregory took her business to the next level by launching her very first colourful fashion line last year.
On the inspiration behind Belle Modelle, Leila says: “My mission is to try and inspire real women to embrace who they are and experiment with clothing that is more colourful than they might usually wear.” Indeed, one look at Belle Modelle’s joyful knitwear pieces and you will immediately understand the brand’s raison d’être, and the vibrant spirit of the woman who created it.
In this latest Girl Bosses of Great Britain interview, we catch up with the bubbly, stylish and inspirational Leila and chat about fashion, sustainability and the secret to running your own business.
She says, “Running your own business is not an easy ride, you may wonder why you even started, but that burning desire inside will keep you going. Be sure to learn from your mistakes — it’s not a bad thing to fail as it’s part of becoming successful.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, what inspired you to star Belle Modelle?
After leaving school, I found myself working in retail where I have remained for over 30 years. I started in the cosmetics industry, I have also worked in marketing, fashion and interiors. Having stepped out of retail to have a family, I then made the decision to embark on my very first business which combined a tearoom, cocktail lounge and restaurant with a space selling clothing and furniture. This was a huge personal learning curve as sadly the business had to close in less than a year – but nothing keeps me down for long! It wasn’t long before I was planning my next business venture with even more determination to succeed.
Could you tell us more about your mission to “inspire women of all shapes and sizes to embrace stylish, colourful clothing?”
As someone who has spent many years feeling conscious of my body shape, I feel that I can relate to women who may be unsure of stepping out of their comfort zone. I have found that wearing colour can truly make you feel more confident about how you look. So, my mission is to try and inspire real women to embrace who they are and experiment with clothing that is more colourful than they might usually wear.
Belle Modelle has been selling various accessories and homeware products since 2014 but 2021 marked the very first time that you have launched your own womenswear line. Why was 2021 the perfect time to launch?
Belle Modelle went from strength to strength and experienced rapid growth online during the lockdown. I also felt that I wanted to offer our customers something different to other retailers, so in 2021 the time seemed right to finally launch my own collection.
Could you tell us a bit more about the design inspiration behind your womenswear line?
I am well known to be a lover of stars so it seemed obvious that our first knitwear collection included stars in the designs. I also wanted a range that was comfortable, easy to wear and flattering to all shapes and sizes — and of course colourful!
How important is sustainability to Belle Modelle – could you tell us more about the concrete ways you are promoting sustainability in your business?
Belle Modelle monitors its supply chains to ensure that it upholds ethical and sustainable practices at every stage of the process. All our packaging is 100% recyclable. We still have a way to go on the sustainability front, but we are continually working on ways to improve and are keen to include more eco-friendly designs (like our super soft Chara bamboo scarves) in our collection.
Who is the Belle Modelle woman? Could you describe her in three words?
Bubbly, stylish, fun
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur so far?
Brexit and the pandemic have made sourcing materials and keeping to delivery deadlines challenging. Lots has been out of our control but we are confident that this will ease in 2022.
What’s next for you and Belle Modelle? Any exciting new projects in the pipeline?
We are excited to be able to expand our own brand range, with a spring /summer collection that features lighter weight versions of our highly successful Knit 21 range. Summer knits, easy to wear trousers and pattern clashing dresses. We hope this year will also see us take on new brands and explore the possibility of opening at least one other store!
What advice do you have for those looking to take the leap and start their own businesses too?
My advice would be to take the risk and step out of your comfort zone! Success doesn’t happen overnight and you need to invest the time. Running your own business is not an easy ride, you may wonder why you even started, but that burning desire inside will keep you going. Be sure to learn from your mistakes — it’s not a bad thing to fail as it’s part of becoming successful.