IT is said that Yorkshire created more jobs than France last year.
French entrepreneur Cecile Reinaud has handily added a few more by choosing Leeds for her first UK store outside London.
Seraphine sells fashionable maternity wear and has seen sales rocket after receiving the kind of publicity that money can’t buy when the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton was photographed wearing its dresses.
Seraphine has stores in London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and, as of last month, the Victoria Quarter in Yorkshire.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during a visit to Leeds today, Ms Reinaud said: “It’s been really good. You can really see people were looking for a good maternity store in Leeds and the surroundings. A maternity store is a destination - people do not mind driving half an hour to visit.”
She grew up in Paris - her grandfather had a woollen fabrics business that supplied Chanel - but she moved to London 20 years ago and pursued a career in advertising at J Walter Thompson, working for brands such as Barclays, Shell and Andrex.
Ms Reinaud spotted a gap in the market for fashionable clothes for pregnant women, a segment much better served in the United States than Britain and Europe.
She had no training in design, but plenty of experience in brands and marketing and took “a leap of faith” in launching her business.
Seraphine opened its doors in Kensington High Street in 2002 and counted supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson among its first customers.
The clothes are designed in London and manufactured throughout Europe, China and the Far East. They are relatively priced; the knot-front dress worn by Kate Middleton costs £52. Ms Reinaud said: “It’s about having a unique design, high quality fabric and affordable price tag.”
The formula seems to be working. With sales hitting £11.2m in the year ending March 2015, and pre-tax profits of £1.4m, the company looked outside London and chose Leeds over Manchester for its first regional store.
Ms Reinaud said: “Leeds acts as a magnent for such a wide area. It is very attractive in terms of shopping and we fell in love with the Victoria Quarter, which had all the right associations of what we are trying to promote for the business in being smart, fashionable but with traditional aspects as well.”
As well as attracting international celebrities, Seraphine also draws in some well-known faces locally. During The Yorkshire Post’s visit to the Leeds store, the BBC Look North presenter Amy Garcia, who is expecting in October, was buying some clothes.
She said: “It’s nice to be able to buy maternity wear from a shop and not online.”
Ms Reinaud, 41, considers herself half English - she has spent nearly half her life living in this country - and certainly believes that Britain offers a better environment than France for enterpreneurs.
She said: “Life as an entrepreneur in the UK is made as easy as possible. I’m a big fan of the help the Government is giving to entrepreneurs. I always rave about the Enterprise Investment Scheme; this is what I did to start my business.”
Ms Reinaud said people often ask her why she didn’t establish her business in France. She explained: “I was already working here for seven years and my network is here.
“I generally feel that all the help that I received from the UK by enabling my business, I didn’t think it would have worked as well if I had set up in France. The culture is so enthusiastic about entrepreneurs.”
Make sure you have a mentor
Cecile Reinaud highlighted the importance to entrepreneurs of having experienced people to talk to and share problems with.
She said: “Make sure you have a mentor and someone who’s done it before that helps you.”
She counts Tamara and Simon Hill-Norton, the founders of women’s fitness brand Sweaty Betty, as her mentors.
Ms Reinaud said Sir Richard Branson is the face of entrepreneurship in Britain.
She added: “The rest of Europe does not have these figureheads who are not only successful but also extremely charismatic.”