haysmacintyre hot seat: 30 minutes with Keely Deininger of Angel’s Face
For the latest hot seat interview with Anjhe Mules of Lucas Hugh please click here.
An occasional series featuring haysmacintyre’s contacts and clients who are leading developments within the creative, media and technology sectors.
On this occasion we speak with Keely Deininger, designer and owner of Angel’s Face, a Kent-based label specialising in children’s tutus and clothing. Launched in 2007, Angel’s Face began with the idea to offer iconic tutus delivered in a vintage-inspired hat box. Now with over 400,000-tutus sold worldwide, Angel’s Face features in over 400 boutiques and department stores across 73 countries, and has expanded its line to include knitwear, denim and most recently, coats. The popularity and diversity of the brand shows through its top performing countries including the United Kingdom, China, Italy and Greece, and with steady growth in the Middle East.
In this interview, Keely speaks openly about her struggle with dyslexia, overcoming those who doubted her potential, achieving her dream of becoming a designer and travelling the world. In 2018, Keely received the NatWest’s Everywomen award for the inspirational woman running a business trading for ten years or more.
What led to Angel’s Face being founded?
I was working as a director for a Marks and Spencer supplier and had returned to work full time six and a half weeks after my first son was born and then ten weeks after my second son was born. When I had my daughter, I felt I could not give the business the same focus, but I couldn’t just be at home looking after my children without an artistic outlet. I thought it was time to give a little more time to my family and that starting a business would keep me sane, whilst staying at home. The aim was to still be me and not get lost in my kids’ lives. Designers are strange creatures that need to create just as much as they need food and air.
Tell us about your background and your journey to success?
I was enthusiastic and enjoyed school until I got to grammar school. I soon got lost. There was no way I could remember all the words in biology, physics and chemistry, never mind spell them. I was told I had to try harder, that I needed to concentrate, the usual “if only Keely would apply herself,” but I was applying myself. I spent the next five years looking out of the window dreaming about being a designer and travelling the globe. I had been sewing since I was eight years old. I worked in a petrol station so I could pay to buy fabric. Every evening that I was not working I would be sewing. I would finish school at three o’clock, then buy the fabric in the market and be cutting it out by six o’clock. No one in my family could eat until I finished, as I needed the dining table!
I applied to Art College to study fashion and textiles, where I was told I would struggle with the work load. As I only had two O-Levels, they would not even look at my portfolio or at any of the garments I had made.
Did this deter me? No! I’ve only ever wanted to be a designer. It was my dream. I asked at the local college what course was the equivalent to three O-Levels. I had two and needed five to get an interview for the following year. I enrolled in that business studies and work experience course. One year later, I was accepted to a fashion and textile course. I then went on to specialise in fashion. I started my first job as a designer in London the week I completed my fashion course. At 23, I landed my dream design job and was constantly travelling between Singapore, Hong Kong, the USA and Europe.
My next goal was to become a director by age 30. I was quite adamant about what we should and shouldn’t be doing. For example, saying that working women want Lyrca in their suits as they want them to fit right. I spent the next ten years growing the business from £14m to £75m. By the time I had my third child I was ready for a new challenge.
What advice do you have for those seeking to build success and a business?
Research what you are doing, know your product, competition and your industry. Know your numbers and decide what you are going to excel at in that market. Concentrate on quality, as this is the one thing that will make you stand out. Do not spend money that you do not have. Plan, but do not let excessive planning get in the way of starting. I know so many people talk about starting a business, but fear of the unknown makes them put too many obstacles in the way. It’s not for everyone. You need to be bold and fearless, but most of all you need to be passionate about what you are doing.
What challenges have you faced in trading internationally and how do you see Brexit impacting this?
The only challenge is finding somebody who wants to buy your product. Whatever country you’re in, it’s just a matter of having the right paperwork. Dealing internationally is no different to dealing with the domestic market. All customers are different, just as all department stores are different. The main issue with trading internationally is currency fluctuation. We resolved this by selling our goods in dollars to anyone outside of the EU, so we could then use the dollars to pay our suppliers without changing currency. This brings us on nicely to Brexit. I never worry about things over which I have no control.
What has been your proudest moment in the business?
I don’t have a moment. I have lots of little moments. I am always proud of the young people who work for me. I love to see shy teenagers grow into confident, young adults who take charge of their career. There isn’t one moment that can capture it for me personally.
How have you built your team to ensure you have the right people in place in scaling the business?
I have built my team on local young people. I feel chances should be given to the people who have grown with me first. I know it will not always be like this, but for now it is working for me. We are very small with 16 people. There are no layers. There are no politics. When we are busy, that’s when it’s good.
How do you see the landscape of retail changing?
Retailing must change. The high street was challenged by large shopping centres, then by online retailers. In the last year we’ve seen our best customers come from smaller boutiques. They are creating a really nice experience and are curating a range that really gives their store an identity. They have learnt how to cherish their customers.
You have built this business without any external funding. What is your view on taking on external shareholders and does this feature in your plans for the business?
I do have a personal goal of getting to £5m without any outside money, and once I hit £5m, then I know I cannot achieve the next goal without any help. I’ll need somebody to take those business reins. For now, I am happy to steer my own ship, but there will come a time when we will need external money to expand.
What does the future look like?
I feel very positive about the future. There is a lot going on, but change is challenging, and I love a challenge. My motto is we are a “can do company.” I am quite excited to see what will happen. We have the best collection ever this season and hopefully we will grow.
Why did you start working with haysmacintyre?
I met Natasha Frangos at a meeting at the UK Fashion and Textile Association. I was very impressed with her as a speaker and felt that we should work with her, she is very into fashion and the market we operate in.