Imagine giving up a top job in banking to take a huge leap into the unknown. It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it? Heidy Rehman made history when she became the only top-ranking female stockbroker at firm Citi. She then bravely quit to set up her own ethical fashion brand.
Now the founder of Rose and Willard, Heidy, 44, has dressed celebrities including Michelle Dockery, Naomie Harris and Gemma Arterton. Here she chats to List for Life about how she made her huge career leap and what her advice would be to aspiring businesswomen.
1. Why did you give up being a stockbroker?
I had been a stockbroker for 14 years and I knew that I had always wanted to do something for myself. My father had his own businesses and he had often told me to work for myself. I had spent years analysing companies and a lot are started because people aren’t able to find something. I found that I couldn’t get the right workwear that I wanted, that was good quality and with the right fit.
A lot of people said I couldn’t do it because we were in a recession, but you know Microsoft was started during a recession. I was a top-ranked analyst, so it was a time to make a transition. I was at a crossroads. I was in Dubai and I wanted to come home so I decided to take the leap. It was really terrifying and I knew that I was risking a lot. You have to learn to mentally cope. It hasn’t been an easy ride but start-ups never are.
2. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
I didn’t know the intricacies of the fashion industry. I did as much research as I could but there is no substitute for experience. The toughest thing has been that I have made some hiring mistakes. Now I have the team that I have always needed but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
3. Why ethical fashion?
I was in Dubai and I witnessed the maids and the construction workers and how horrible the situation is for them over there. We were warned. One time we were driving down a road and we were told that the driver had to be careful because sometimes the construction workers would throw themselves in front of the cars. They do this because it would be more profitable for their families to get the blood money than for them to continue with their wretched lives and jobs.
You just have to close your eyes to it. It really hits home and it makes you think that you just can’t imagine what these garment workers must be going through. It is harder for me to do ethical fashion because it’s much more expensive, but it means that I can sleep soundly at night.
4. What advice would you give to young people wanting to go into fashion?
Be aware of the ethical parameters and get as much information as you can. You may be surprised that people who have started their own businesses can actually be very happy to speak to you. Don’t be intimidated. Wherever you can go to get advice and information, do it. You can’t ever know too much.
5. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Know the numbers and get a business plan together. I have a maths degree that really helps but I think people have to have a concrete idea and knowledge of the numbers and how much budget they have and need. We are seeing more angel investors and there are options for financing. Investors can also bring a lot of advice to the table. There are definitely more options than there were five years ago.
6. What are your thoughts on sexism in the workplace?
Things are changing. When I was broking there were probably only two women and now there are a lot more senior women around. Women will start to get more lobbying power as this ineqaulity between men and women balances out.