Travel in comfort and you will arrive in style, or so the saying goes. But when you’re living and working in the corporate world with only a small suitcase as your travelling companion, it’s far easier said than done.
Sheer frustration at the lack of smart, comfortable, enduring clothing for businesswomen was what gave Jackie Pattison the impetus to found her own company.
Originally from Coleraine in Northern Ireland, Jackie was 24 when she began a junior managerial position in a bank. She had looked forward to being able to wear what she wanted, rather than a standard itchy uniform, but quickly found that she had run out of office-appropriate clothing by Thursday.
In the following decades, Jackie, who has a degree in business studies, changed jobs and climbed the career ladder, becoming company secretary for a bathroom distribution business, then working for a software company in Yorkshire, as an account manager. But the problem of finding suitable on-duty clothing remained.
“I always used to find it a struggle to buy workwear,” she says. “You’d have a few bits from Marks & Spencer, a few bits from Next, maybe a bit from Jaeger. I had a lot of clients in Scotland and London and Bristol, so I could spend say, eight hours in a car in a day.”
What she really needed was functional smart clothing, pieces that looked good during and after travelling, felt comfortable and would work for the long term, in the same way that a man’s suit does.
“In Europe, that was an even bigger challenge. Because you were on planes, you might be away for a few days, so it was having things that you could handwash, just run them through, put them on a hanger, so you didn’t have to take a fresh change of clothes for every day that you were there.”
In 2016, Jackie stepped away from her career to launch Working Wardrobe, her own online business providing stylish clothing for professional women, with the key principles of offering classic pieces that were easy to care for, durable and travel-friendly.
The HQ is at her home in Knaresborough where she has an office, a stock room and a photography studio. She sought out suppliers at first, and still uses outside suppliers for ranges such as knitwear, but now manufactures the range herself, with the assistance of a factory in Sheffield.
Working Wardrobe has just launched a capsule dress range of six styles and six colours. She says: “What would happen to me in the office is, I’d be sitting there on a Wednesday and be told I had a big presentation to do on a Friday, and I could really do with a new dress. The idea is that if you have bought something before and you know you like it, you can order it in a different colour or a slightly different style.”
The ordered dresses take 24 to 48 hours to arrive. The body of the dress remains constant, so the style and fit are consistent, but details such as sleeve and neckline vary.
Each dress has a name. The Talbot is named after Christine Talbot, of ITV Calendar. “She has been a big supporter of ours since we started trading,” Jackie says, adding: “The others are after family members. In particular, the Harriet is named after my mother, as she has been and continues to be such an inspiration to me. She has worked alongside my father all her life on a farm, while raising me and my brother and sister.
“My parents were big advocates of hard work and this was instilled in me from an early age.”
The dresses are made in poly-crepe with a touch of stretch for fit, durability and to keep them crease-free. Each can be washed, popped on a hanger to dry and there’s no need to iron. “One of the things we wanted to focus on was having things fully washable because I used to spend a fortune at the dry cleaners,” Jackie says. “None of this is high fashion, it’s more of a classic design, something you can have in your wardrobe and bring out season after season, very simple, classic lines.”
There’s a work shirt, too, fully washable, with no buttons. “It’s very comfortable and doesn’t look like you’re always fighting with it. Sometimes, with cotton shirts, it can look like they are trying to escape the jacket,” she says.
Sizes are 8-16 but there will be a bespoke service for an extra £10 to create more sizes and details. Prices for the dresses range from £114.99 to £124.99.
“I have a lot of friends who work as sales reps and account managers, and they are always saying this is absolutely what we need,” Jackie says. “I’m involved with the Women & Business Network and we get quite a lot of feedback from them.”
In November, she is taking part in Gok Wan’s One Size Fits All Show in Sheffield, and soon Working Wardrobe designs will be available to buy on SilkFred.com. She is also in talks with independent boutiques, for a presence on the High Street.
Jackie has no regrets about leaving her corporate career. “It’s all been new to me and I’m really enjoying it,” she says. “I like that fact that it’s something I could see there was a niche for.”
All designs available at www.WorkingWardrobe.com.