Mary & Milly - independent fashion boutique in Preston

Interior of Mary and Milly

Interior of Mary and Milly - Credit: Archant

They say that style is timeless. This couldn’t be more true for independent fashion boutique Mary & Milly, which was inspired by two grandmas from Preston

Mary & Milly outfits modelled in Avenham Park. copyright - Alexandra Walsh

Mary & Milly outfits modelled in Avenham Park. copyright - Alexandra Walsh - Credit: Archant

When fashion and marketing graduate Poppy Waters finished her degree at UCLan, she wasn’t quite sure what to do next. ‘I began working in Manchester as a temp in a buying department,’ said the 24-year-old. ‘When that contract ended, I decided to just go for it and start my own business. I had nothing to lose.’

With the support of her family and friends, Poppy launched Mary & Milly in 2011 on a small scale with pop-up shops at universities including UCLan, Lancaster, Edge Hill and Leeds. The young businesswoman decided to name her brand after her two grandmas, as they had both inspired her growing up.

‘Mary knew how much I wanted a shop when I was little,’ explained Poppy, who said the items she stocks are a blend of Mary’s classic style and Milly’s vintage look. ‘They were both very hardworking and independent women, so I was not only inspired by their style but their work ethic. The name is not just a personal touch; it has shaped my business.’

The popularity of the pop-up shops then led to home parties and soon with the help of social media, the brand expanded and Poppy applied to be stocked online at ASOS Marketplace.

‘It was a great confidence boost to hear that ASOS really wanted me on their site,’ said Poppy, who lives in Preston. ‘It’s really good brand recognition, and I get sales from all over the world.’ Although Mary & Milly is receiving global success, Poppy was keen to keep the heart of the brand local to Preston, where it all started.

‘I still do fashion shows in the area, like at the Preston Guild and Lancaster Market, and in term time a few pop-up shops at the universities. This bid to keep it all local made it important for me to set up my first shop here, as I wanted to make something of Preston and to add something different to the high street.’

Mary & Milly made the jump from online to high street fashion boutique in 2014, opening its doors on Guildhall Street in the city centre. ‘As a customer of Preston’s high street myself, I thought it needed something different from the generic chain stores,’ explained Poppy. ‘We offer stylish and affordable clothing, jewellery and accessories, but just a few of each piece to avoid being in the same pieces as others.’

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While product and price is important, Poppy feels that the customer being happy is the main thing. She says a one-to-one feel is imperative, offering personal styling advice. ‘It is a small shop but I want people to feel welcome and treated each on an individual basis. This builds loyalty, encouraging people to come back here and shop again because they enjoyed the experience. Sticking with independent shops is important.’

Poppy has also taken on interns who are studying at UCLan to help out in the store, so they can gain experience in all areas of shop life. ‘I was in their shoes not that long ago, and I know how good it is to have experience so I want to give something back. We also use local models for our fashion shoots which we do each week in Avenham Park.’

So what does the future hold for Mary & Milly? ‘I just want to continue to grow the brand and get more people knowing about us, exploring the side streets of Preston. I know that both my grandmas would be proud of what I have achieved.’ w

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