There is a familiar and long-standing complaint from a significant number of women aged 40-plus that, when it comes to stylish and wearable fashion, the High Street has very little to offer or please.
Launched in York last September, Watson & White seeks to address this problem. It’s is an online fashion store created by friends Kari Owers (née Watson) and Hannah George-Roberts (née White). Now both 43, they met at art college in Newcastle when they were 18. “We were put into groups of alphabetical order and so we sat next to each other and became best friends from then,” says Hannah.
Originally from Newcastle, she went on to work for Fenwick in York, working her way up to a buyer and manager, before opening her craft cafe, Me & Mrs Fisher, on Lord Mayor’s Walk, which she ran for six years. Kari, meanwhile, remained in Newcastle and established a career in PR, eventually setting up her own agency.
Both married with teenage children (a boy and a girl each), and with busy working lives, they have nevertheless always made time to see each other, especially to indulge their shared love of fashion in their home cities. And it was while they were shopping in Newcastle that they realised they could no longer find anything they wanted to wear.
“I’m too old for Topshop but I’m not old enough to be wearing a floral two-piece,” says Hannah. “We both went ‘there’s nowhere else for us to go’.
“We also talked to our friends about what was missing,” adds Hannah. And so the idea of Watson & White came about, sourcing and selling clothes and accessories they themselves would love to wear, as indeed they do, not least modelling them for the website.
“We wanted it to be authentic. We wouldn’t recommend anything that we wouldn’t wear ourselves or pay the price for ourselves,” Hannah adds. “We’ve got very different tastes in clothes but we will guarantee that, if we go into a shop, we will wander back to each other with exactly the same item.”
They style these pieces quite differently, however, with Kari adopting a classic approach while Hannah likes a vintage feel. Watson & White reflects this ethos and stocks a range of clothing, jewellery, scarves and handbags, with each purchase accompanied by a handwritten note inviting the buyer to style her garment and share it with the brand’s Instagram community.
The shopping website also features a lifestyle blog, edited by Kari, sharing articles on everything from weekend breaks to beauty and fitness trends.
Kari says: “We both knew that for Hannah to reach her desired audience she would need to invest in digital marketing, so I was excited to bring my skills in my day job to our joint venture, running the blog and social feeds to build up our community of W&W women.”
“They are inspired by other women and how they can style the same outfit in different ways rather than catwalk trends,” says Hannah, who does the buying.
“The long skirts are really comfortable. I wear mine with a sweatshirt and trainers, Kari will wear hers with a shirt or a matching top. It’s taking those pieces and slotting them into the wardrobe you already have, but also new pieces that come into the collection will work with pieces that you have already bought from us.”
For the clothing, Hannah and Kari have found a supplier in London who shares their style and values. The bags are Italian leather and the jewellery is made in England. All items are named after women they admire, either famous ones like Frida Kahlo or friends such as Stella.
There are also Watson & White own brand sweatshirts and tees, printed in York with slogans, including nods to the female partnerships which inspired them in childhood, especially Margot and Barbara from The Good Life and the Cagney and Lacey cops. “Christine and Mary Beth – they were our heroines growing up,” says Hannah. These are already popular staple items which will always be available on the site (look out for more female duos).
“We’ve been so surprised and really overwhelmed with how supportive everyone has been,” says Hannah. “And messages we’ve had from women saying ‘thank goodness it’s not too expensive and it’s shown on real women, not teenage girls’. We encourage women to send us photos on Instagram of how they would wear it.”
Future plans for Watson & White include growing the lifestyle blog and the clothing and accessories offer, and moving into interiors products, plus products with themes referencing historical women.
Above all, there will be the message that 40-plus women are stylish individuals. “We’ve not disappeared into motherhood – we’re still around,” says Hannah.
All clothes and accessories are available at watsonandwhite.com.