Forever Unique founder Seema Malhotra on building a fashion empire
- Credit: Archant
Cheshire Housewife Seema Malhotra is more than just a lady who lunches, she’s also a jet-set mum who runs the luxury fashion brand Forever Unique, as Janet Reeder discovers.
‘Living here isn’t just about going for lunch. I don’t do lunch because I’m too busy, ‘ says Real Housewife of Cheshire and fashion entrepreneur Seema Malhotra with a laugh.
‘For me being on The Real Housewives of Cheshire is a fantastic platform to demonstrate what I do and to bring a little more substance to the show.’
Perched on the sofa in her comfortably luxurious detached home in Hale Barns, Seema is as glamorous as it gets with the kind of jet-set lifestyle most of us can only dream of.
Almost 45-years-old she’s petite with a figure that’s just the perfect fit for the chic clothing brand, Forever Unique which she launched nine years ago with the backing of her equally youthful looking husband, Sandeep.
The pair married young. It was an arranged marriage that could have put paid to Seema’s ambitions to become a dress designer, had it not been for her young husband’s support and his own experience in the rag trade.
She had been studying fashion at Salford and had won a coveted place at that hot-house of fashion creativity, Central St Martin’s, until she was reminded that another kind of life had been expected of her.
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‘Obviously my background, my culture, is Indian and my father is very traditional so even though I was born and brought up in England and class myself as very British he just completely discouraged me after my first year,’ she explains.
‘They advised me to apply to Central St Martins and I got my place but my dad said “You’re not going because by the age of 21 or 22 you’re going to be married”. I think if I would have gone he would have been really upset and I didn’t want to upset my parents so I never actually got to finish my course.’
She admits she was exceptionally fortunate to be introduced to Sandeep.
‘It was arranged. I met him through my family and I just knew from the moment I met him that this guy was the guy I was going to marry,’ she says.
‘I don’t know how, but it has been the best thing for me. I’m doing what I always wanted to do, I’m doing fashion and running my own brand. Sandeep just encouraged me. He said live your dream if you really want to. You can work really hard and we can do this...and we did.’
Sandeep was helping his parents at weekends and soon discovered he was earning more money and gaining greater satisfaction from the fashion industry than he was in his profession as a qualified surveyor.
‘I suppose you could say they were glorified market traders, my in-laws. We’d drive to London twice a week to all these different fashion houses and buy over-makes of their stock. So for example, Topshop would place a 500 piece order on some denim jeans but the factory had made 600 pieces we would then go to these factories and buy the over-makes. We would de-label them, literally load them in a van which wasn’t very glamorous and bring the stock back to Manchester where, from a little unit we’d sell them. And we’d be sold out by about five o’clock that evening. We then went from having a small unit in Manchester and from that unit we went to another at 4,00 square foot and now today we’re on 45,000sq ft and are feeling that’s too small.’
They had become agents for premium French brands like Maje and Sandro, bringing them into the UK but it was when they were sold that Seema decided she’d had enough of working for other people and designed a small but perfectly formed collection of signature occasionwear. It completely sold out. It did help that one of her London-based staff could be seen wearing and looking fabulous in Forever Unique on TOWIE.
Seema says it was a mixture of her own style and that of the high-power glam of supermodels of the 90s like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell that influenced her designs at the beginning.
‘In a way the brand is me. It’s not just luxurious fashion, I actually think it’s a lifestyle that I want to create. I feel we have two types of customer; one is the younger woman who has something she can aspire to, and then there’s the woman who already has that lifestyle. We are known for our standout glamorous dresses but what people don’t know is that probably some of the best selling items are the jeans and jackets in my collection.
‘ So I want to take Forever Unique to the next level. I have just created a ready-to-wear collection called You and then we’ve got the mainline collection which is the key pieces we are known for - the stand out glamorous dresses.’
With a celebrity following that includes Nicole Scherzinger and Miley Cyrus, not to mention the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton who bought one of Seema’s dresses from a boutique on the King’s Road, London, Forever Unique is definitely a major red carpet brand.
But she says she is the dress-down Housewife on the TV programme and insists on being ‘herself’.
‘To be honest I’ve really tried to just be me. Yes, they want you to be super glam but I’m a bit of a tomboy. I have grown up with brothers and my weekends involved going to Old Trafford. I am not a girly girl. On the odd occasion I’ll wear a gorgeous gown but it is really important I come across as me.’
She had been asked to do the show twice before but the second time found herself recovering from a hysterectomy.
‘I kept getting ovarian cysts,’ she said. ‘They actually found a fibroid size of a baby’s head which was embedded in my womb.
‘I was getting pain in my groin and thought it was down to exercise. Then I started to get pain in my lower back. I had several MRI scans and I went to see my GP and I said I felt that something’s not right.
‘I tried to alternate things at first but it got to a stage where it took over my life so I decided to have the operation.
‘They actually kept my ovaries. They said that if there’s no history of ovarian cancer in the family I could keep them otherwise you start with the hot flushes so I was lucky in that respect.’
Seema has lived in Cheshire for more than 30 years and she loves the relaxed vibe she finds there at home with Sandeep and sons Neil, aged 20, and Aaron, 18. She enjoys nights out too, heading for the Northern Quarter in Manchester with Neil, who now works for the business.
‘He says, “Mum let’s hang out in the Northern Quarter” because he used to live in Shoreditch so that reminds him of there. I love Spinningfields and going to Neighbourhood. I’m good friends with Karina (Hitchen) and always supported her. She’s opened Victor’s in Hale and she’s on another project at the moment.
‘I’ll try anything. There’s no particular place I have to go. We’re quite game to go anywhere.’
Like many women she has to work hard to keep slim - especially after hitting the big 4-0.
‘I’m a member of Hale Country Club and I love to keep fit and we actually have a gym at home, so we have a trainer who comes during the week. I also do a dance class every Friday - it’s a bit crazy. I like to think I’m Beyoncé – it’s time for me where I can just go and switch off,’ she laughs.
‘I am not naturally thin. We try to eat really healthily. We have a housekeeper who really wants to cook but it’s always grilled chicken or fish with salad. The kids absolutely hate me!’