The best of British
- Credit: Andrew Boyd
It might sound like an old man's name, but Percy Langley is a lovingly-curated Aladdin's Cave of the most beautifully crafted, ethically-produced, UK-made products. Started last year by two Wanstead mums, Poppy Sherbrooke and Georgina Whall, we meet them to find out more
First off can you tell me a bit about your backgrounds prior to starting Percy Langley?
We both come from retail backgrounds, having worked for a variety of high street retailers in very different areas of the business. Our professional experience is diverse and very complimentary. I (Poppy) worked for a global health and beauty retailer in a European customer marketing role prior to starting Percy Langley, having previously spent a decade working for Tesco in their data agency, using data to define and drive business strategy. Georgina worked for 13 years at M&S as a merchandiser for the UK business and then for the International business team and finally in a strategy implementation role.
So how did the two of you meet?
We met when our daughters were at nursery together and the year prior to launching Percy Langley we had been on maternity leave around the same time.
When did the idea of starting a business together come about and did you immediately hit on the idea of Percy Langley?
Like so many others, the pandemic had made us evaluate if we wanted to go back to work in a corporate head office environment, especially whilst having young children at home. The idea for Percy Langley was born out of a desire to buy more sustainably-made, affordable, clothing, gifting, homeware and children’s products. There has been a huge increase in the demand to buy from British-made independent brands and to shop locally. This has been coupled with a creative surge in cottage industries and smaller makers producing high quality alternatives to mass produced goods.
So you saw a gap in the market?
Once we started researching we were blown away by the variety and quality of the designers and producers we met. These incredible products are not easily accessed, nor is it easy to find a well-edited selection online anywhere. We recognised very quickly the big gap in the market to shop these unique independent brands and designers, making high quality and affordable products that are ethically produced. We aim to bridge the gap between mass market and more expensive designer alternatives.
How important is sustainability to your business model?
Sustainability is at the centre of everything we do, each brand has been carefully chosen because they are making high quality products that are designed and where possible, made in the UK. It also matters greatly to us that everyone involved in the production process gets paid fairly for their contribution. However, we believe that sustainable production shouldn’t be used as a marketing tool, it should be the way that entrepreneurs and designers setting up now and in the future expect to work.
Would you say that Percy Langley offers a distinctive aesthetic, and if so how would you describe it?
Contemporary British design is the collective aesthetic, we draw on heritage design and materials, such as the Liberty fabric used in our womenswear collection, and traditional British craftsmanship and reinterpret it to make it relevant to the modern consumer.
How do you go about sourcing the products that you stock, is it greatly influenced by your own tastes?
We look for high quality, award winning small independent brands and designers in each area and approach them directly to work out the best way to work together. Social media, newspapers and magazines, google searches and British awards ceremonies are great places to start. Whilst we started by only really buying what we like we are now more adventurous in stocking a broader range to appeal to wider audiences based on market data.
Indeed, do you share a similar taste?
We have similar tastes but often find we style things differently or prefer different colours or shapes. This helps us build ranges that reflect our own style and still offer variety to suit different customers needs and wants.
Do many Percy Langley products grace your own homes?
Yes! We love all of our suppliers and would have everything if we could!! As the range has grown significantly we have had to become a lot more selective about what we take home, that's the hard part!
What are currently your best-selling products?
Womenswear and jewellery have been our best sellers so far, and gifting.
What or who has inspired you with the store's look and concept?
Our designers have had a big impact on our aesthetic. Telling their story is an incredibly important part of the shopping experience. That said, we are careful not to compromise convenience or the ease of shopping, especially online.
Have you had many teething problems getting Percy Langley up and running and what has been your biggest challenge to date (excluding a pandemic)?
Like many other small new businesses we are struggling to find affordable retail space locally. Until we can find a suitable premises we will continue to run regular pop up shops in different locations. There have been times when setting up and closing down these multiple pop ups back to back has felt like moving house over and again. If the weather is not on your side that day, low footfall can make all of the effort seem like it wasn't worth while; but we have found that new relationships with local suppliers, communities and customers who love our concept, means the effort really pays off overall.
Has starting your own business impacted on your work/life balance?
It certainly has been a juggle! With five children between us, like many, we sometimes need to squeeze the working day in between school runs. Our friends and families have been very supportive though; we are doing something we love and they are happy for us.
How would you like the business to grow and develop over the coming few years?
We opened our first bricks and mortar store in Norfolk during the summer and would love to have a store presence locally too.
Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to someone about to start their own business?
Remember that you can only do so much and to regularly stop and look at how far you have come; it is very easy to forget that only a year ago we hadn't even started!