Listen, reassure and advise

This is the maxim of Wendy Peddlesden, British designer and owner of Qiana Bridal. We talk to her about how she combines designing with running a boutique in Sussex.

This is the maxim of Wendy Peddlesden, British designer and owner of Qiana Bridal. We talk to her about how she combines designing with running a boutique in Sussex.

When did you open the Qiana Bridal and what prompted you to do so?
We opened the boutique three years ago, a year after launching the Qiana Bridal label. I've been in the industry for more than 30 years, with 10 of those years working closely with Lyn Ashworth at her studio in Kent until she retired. I originally met Lyn at Caroline Castigliano where I worked first as Fittings Manager at the Berners Street Store in London and then as Production Manager. It was hard work but gave me a great insight into realising that providing the bride with great quality and customer service is paramount.
After spending so many years within the industry, it seemed the right time to launch my own label together with my business partner, who has also spent many years with top London couturiers Lindka Cierach and Norman Hartnell. We bring to the business a wealth of expertise.

The boutique is not just a shop but also a way of profiling the Qiana label. Can you tell us more about this?
The Boutique serves us very well in promoting the Qiana Bridal label. We carry no other labels in the boutique at the moment. We exhibit at the National Wedding Show twice a year, so brides visit us from a very wide radius to buy their original Qiana Bridal gown. As well as our annual new collections, we also offer a bespoke service. We advertise heavily on social media which all helps in raising brand awareness with the brides. This also promotes our label and in turn drives brides to our stockists.
From a potential stockist's point of view, the boutique has a really calm and relaxed atmosphere in which to visit and view our full collections away from the hustle and bustle of the trade shows. However, we realise that because our boutique is in Sussex, it's not always convenient for all our stockists to visit so we also exhibit each May at White Gallery in Battersea London, to launch our new collection.

How would you describe the Qiana label to brides-to-be?
As a label we are 'Proud to be British' and make all of our gowns here in the UK and source quality fabrics from British suppliers. This is reflected in our gowns as they're timeless and traditionally English gowns that have been inspired from the '50s. The dresses are lightweight, comfortable and flattering to the bride with intricate detailing that has all been finished to the highest standards - we pride ourselves in our quality of finish. Glamorous styling with fitted boned bodices, nipped in waists, full flowing skirts and frothy, flirty petticoats have become the signature style of Qiana Bridal. Attention to detail is paramount and, in the main, is in the form of delicate embellishments, using soft, delicate lace, and beading adornments.
Our bridal gowns can be either strapless with a choice of many varying jacket styles or other gowns have varying length sleeves and skirt lengths etc. Pretty cute collars and detailed backs all add to our signature style yet they have a modern twist.

As a designer, what extra do you bring to the retail side of the business?
I like to spend a couple of days a week at the boutique, and on the days when I'm not there, I'm never very far away if I'm needed at any point during a bridal consultation. As the designer, I've created the design, cut the pattern and seen the whole production process through, so I know every part of the bridal gown. Therefore if a bride requires any changes to design, I can tell immediately if it would enhance the bride's figure type and her aspirations of her bridal gown. It's so important to always listen, reassure and advise.

What do you enjoy most about your role and working within the bridal business?
There's something very special and fulfilling in designing a bridal gown. Seeing how the whole process comes together from the design being born to seeing it on your bride and being very proud of being able to realise her dreams and make it such an exciting and memorable experience.
From the design point of view, the brides I see fuel my imagination and inspire me for future designs. It's so invaluable to talk to brides and evaluate their ideas on how they feel that designs can be built upon. There's always something new to learn and evolve in this business, and I find that so much can be learnt from young brides on how social media has played such a vital role in finding their wedding gown. This has helped me develop our marketing strategy for the future of Qiana Bridal.

How do you ensure that the service your boutique provides is second to none?
Our reputation and unique selling point is built on quality of product and of services, which applies to both stockist and the bride. We pride ourselves on this and as soon as a bride enters the boutique for her bridal consultation, she has exclusive use of the boutique, which is closed for the duration of her appointment. Tea and cupcakes are the order of the day. Many brides have commented on this, saying that this makes them feel very special and un-rushed when deciding on the choice of bridal gown. Indeed, we try to make it a truly memorable experience for brides. When it comes to the stockist, we know the importance of reliability, deadlines and delivery times, and it becomes very stressful for all involved if these aren't adhered to. We embrace designer days, and pride ourselves in that extra piece of customer service as we have a great passion for what we do. By supporting the stockist, it in turn promotes and nourishes the Qiana Bridal label to grow.

How do you view the current state of the UK bridal market?
It's still tough in the bridal industry, although I think that there's an increasing optimism within the market. I believe stockists remain cautious. What are your plans for the boutique over the next few years? Like most businesses, we're always striving to increase footfall through the door. We may introduce another British label to add to our own collection in the future. The purpose of the boutique is more than just selling dresses, we're a British high-end label which allows me to control the production process in order to meet every order on time, and I'm always available should a stockist have any technical queries. We train all our outworkers to the highest standards that our brides have grown to expect from our bridal gowns.

What advice would you give to new bridal shop owners with regards to creating a successful retail business?
Keep to your budgets, don't over spend and stretch your finances too thin. Keep in touch with social media, and off course, get to know your brides. We're lucky as most of our brides have seen our website or previously visited us at a show so they already know the Qiana Bridal style of dress and that will never change.

Qiana Bridal
+44 (0)1424 846 791

Victoria Kay
Tiffanys Wholesale Ltd
DHJ Weisters Ltd