Mint Velvet was born of a need to bring affordable glamour to the modern woman, as its founder tells Stephanie Smith.
With its ethos of “relaxed glamour”, Mint Velvet has tapped into the psyche of a generation of British women.
Step into a Mint Velvet store for the first time, and you realise what’s been missing from your wardrobe for years. Luxurious textures in a rich, neutral colour palette, with silks and chiffons, leathers and fine wools, plus a sprinkling of beautiful embellishment, some unusual yet tasteful prints, and surprising little design touches – these are its trademarks.
And then, above all, the wearability – forgiving tunics and tops, asymmetric hemlines, well-cut leggings and jeans, none of which looks remotely mumsy. There are biker style jackets in a range of fabrics, while the select range of shoes and boots is impressively lust-worthy.
This is fashion that doesn’t try too hard, sophisticated, thoughtful, always special – what the company itself likes to call an “understated sexiness, perfect for the modern woman who wants a nod to fashion in a carefree way”.
In the five years since it launched, Mint Velvet has managed to secure for itself an enviable niche in the womenswear market, while maintaining the allure of a “just-between-us” secret among its loyal customer fans.
Following the success of its Harrogate store on James Street, earlier this year, Mint Velvet launched a beautiful store in the heart of York, its white wooden-floored interior as much of a joy as the fashion itself. There are now 19 Mint Velvet stand alone boutiques in the UK, mostly in the South, while the brand is also stocked nationally in House of Fraser and John Lewis.
Mint Velvet was founded in 2009 by three friends and working mothers, Liz Houghton, now CEO; Jane Rawlings, creative director; and Lisa Aga-Rea, brand director. All three had clocked up many years in the fashion business and all worked at Principles before the business was sold to Debenhams in 2009. They realised that redundancy could be a blessing in disguise.
“We came up with the idea for Mint Velvet in June 2009 and launched the business shortly after in October, so it’s only been five years since we got going,” says Liz Houghton. “We were frustrated by the lack of wearable women’s fashion out there. We wanted luxury but without the matching price tag, and Mint Velvet answered our own needs and the obvious gap in the market.”
So Mint Velvet was born, chaired by Peter Davies, non- executive chairman of C & J Clarkes and Whistles, and the dream team set to work.
Liz says: “Lisa, Jane and I have known each other professionally for years, having crossed paths, and all worked together in various large fashion businesses. We’ve also been firm friends for many of those years, so it’s great to work together at Mint Velvet.
“I take the overall lead, setting the direction for the brand and focus on marketing and stores. Jane is the creative force behind the designs, and works with her team to keep Mint Velvet fresh and relevant. Lisa pulls the range together along with her team and drives the product forward, ensuring our garments are always of the highest quality.”
They knew instantly who the Mint Velvet woman was – and they didn’t have to look far for her.
“Our sense of style is actually very different, but we’re all real Mint Velvet women,” says Liz. “Jane has a much more urban look, Lisa is always in the latest trends, and I have a more relaxed style. I’m the oldest – just! We’re all 45-plus and working mothers with children ranging from 11-19. Family is incredibly important to all of us, so we try to get a good balance between work and home life.”
The Mint Velvet customer wants to wear the trends in a relaxed way, says Liz. “She wants to be fashionable, but not feel hampered by what she’s wearing. She’s a modern woman with modern demands on her wardrobe and she wants luxury items that will stand the test of time.”
Jane Rawlings heads a team of designers who each specialise in a specific area, for example, accessories, and the clothes are made in various places in the world, Liz says. “Often different countries become specialists in a certain type of garment production, so we may work more closely with them on that basis. Where possible, we work directly with the factories. We try to work with the best suppliers for each of our products.”
The business is set to continue growing in the UK, with new stores due to open in the coming months and overseas openings planned for next year. Liz says: “All of our stores are in beautiful market towns, and Harrogate and York were perfect choices.”
Online the company is growing too, says Liz, and opening to new countries, with an online magazine, more product options, and services such as Click & Collect and Sunday deliveries, to make shopping easier. “We’re also finding that our digital activities are helping to support what we do in store, making for a really holistic brand experience,” she adds.
Liz says she now walks into one of her beautiful stores and feels proud. “It’s quite overwhelming to think how far we have come in such a short time. Our stores are the window to the brand showing all the creative effort that goes into the product, branding and marketing.
“We have an incredibly clear vision and we’ve never deviated from what we set out to do. We create beautiful and luxurious clothing for modern women. We are the customers ourselves so our goals are always in line with our own thinking.”
• All clothes and accessories from Mint Velvet boutiques at James Street, Harrogate, and Low Petergate, York, in Fenwick in York and in House of Fraser and John Lewis throughout Yorkshire. See www.mintvelvet.co.uk.