It is fair to say that 2021 has not been a good year for bikinis. Last year was probably worse, and that left Sian Gabbidon and her swimwear brand Sian Marie facing one or two problems.
“It’s been tough, very, very tough,” says Sian, who won BBC business reality show The Apprentice in 2018. “The pandemic has been a wipeout for any UK bikini brand. We had to very quickly adapt. We did sell small amounts of loungewear, but we knew that was where the money was because that was what everybody was wearing.”
So Sian designed a new, larger range of leisurewear for Sian Marie and launched it at the end of the last year, when it was an instant hit. “We had so many big celebs like Molly-Mae [Hague, of Love Island fame] wearing it, that it just flew out,” she says.
Now, from this month, with the support of business partner Lord Sugar, Sian Marie loungewear is available at George at Asda, online and in-store at five branches across the UK, including Asda Morley. There are oversized T-shirts, cosy hoodies, joggers, and padded gilets dropping later in the season, all in either nude or black, with cool Sian Marie branding.
“It works perfectly,” says Sian. “You can never go wrong with a black hoodie, and everybody loves a bit of nude. It’s been a bit of a win because it’s a second revenue stream for us now.”
Sian used to work for Asda, in digital marketing. “I would never expect to get to this stage where I’m like, wow, I’m going to have my clothes actually available in Asda – it’s bizarre,” she says.
The Sian Marie office is in Leeds, but Sian, 29, and her partner Clint Gordon, a property entrepreneur, moved last year from their Alwoodley flat to a house on the outskirts of the city, on the border with Bradford.
“It needed everything doing,” she says. “We are right by the canal, so it’s been nice to go for walks and take in the scenery and nature. I feel like I’m getting older now, so I appreciate things like that a bit more.” Clint is the one with the DIY talent, she says.
Her parents, Mandi Shulver and Steven Gabbidon, bought her a sewing machine when she was young, and she has always appreciated their support. She grew up in Whinmoor and went to Corpus Christi School in Halton Moor, then Garforth Sixth Form, followed by a degree in Fashion Design with Marketing and Production, graduating from Huddersfield in 2014. She established Sian Marie the following year.
The moves into loungewear and into Asda stores both expand Sian Marie’s customer base out from its core “young and beautiful” social media aesthetic.
“One of the key benefits for us is that the quality is top-notch – heavyweight, fleece-lined,” Sian says. “Being in a store where you can physically see the product and you’re not buying it based on an image, it opens us up to a wider market.”
Zoe Matthews, vice president of George Brand, says: “It’s exciting to be able to support emerging brands such as Sian’s in our stores and see that she has now come full circle after starting her career with Asda. Seeing the range stocked in our Morley store in Leeds – her hometown – must be an amazing feeling after building the Sian Marie brand.”
The pieces are designed by Sian but made overseas. “We would like to produce in the UK eventually, but the main thing is making sure, wherever we produce, that it’s the best quality it can be.
“I like a store. And the way the high street is going saddens me because, if I am buying an expensive product, I want to be able to experience that. The way Asda is transforming what it is doing and introducing new brands, it’s perfect because the customer can do the big shop and buy their outfit for the weekend as well, all in one convenient swoop.”
Social media remains a key method of marketing, however. “If you can use it well and you have got an engaged audience, you’re winning already,” says Sian, who appeared on E4’s Celebrity Ghost Trip last month. “You can set up a business online tomorrow and not have to leave the house and just run it from a laptop.”
Lord Sugar likes the new range, she says. “He is very involved. We still speak all the time. Pandemic-wise, he was a great support. It was a scary time for everybody, but it helped knowing that I had somebody like him behind me,” she says, adding: “I don’t think we’ll see him in a gilet any time soon.”
Nor, one suspects, one of Sian Marie’s striking bikinis, featuring Sian’s signature prints and reversible, multi-way designs. She is now working on a range for next summer, to tie in with the loungewear. “I think next year is going to be the year of holiday,” she says. “I know it will be for me because I am dying to get away.”
Sian Marie is available at the Asda store at Morley, Leeds, at direct.asda.com/george/women, and at SianMarie.com.