Instagram is a great place to make new friends! Something might draw you to someone’s posts and then you start talking and you’ve made a friend! This is how I met Ali of @devoted_to_style. We started talking and I loved the clothing she was selling at her shop. I knew I had to share her style. We started emailing and our emails went on and on, we never ran out of things to talk about. I felt like I was talking to one of my girl friends I’ve know forever! She’s so cute and fun and real! She’s definitely got that ‘cool girl’ style.
I wanted to share Ali’s story as well as the clothing she carries at her shop Devoted to Style on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. So here she is along with photos of how I styled the incredible clothing she sells.
How long have you had your business?
After deliberating for years over opening a shop, I finally decided to just take the plunge with an online business in July! (2020)
How did you get started? What made you want to open a clothing business?
My mum was a real fashionista – a real girly girl, always into fashion, handbags, shoes, hair and makeup. We used to always go shopping together – usually Oxford Street (London) back in the day which was a short tube ride away for us.
So for as long as I can remember – from about the age of six or seven – I was always into the latest fashions – I remember rocking puffballs, rara skirts, satin trousers (Grease inspired I guess) and knickerbockers with ruffle shirts (Adam Ant Prince Charming / Duran Duran / New Romantic inspired!). I have always been overdressed and outlandish compared to my friends when it comes to fashion and it has always been a passion of mine.
However, since hitting my 40’s I have found that hunting down suitable clothes has become harder. Suddenly there were things I felt I couldn’t wear. I stopped wearing so much black and added much more colour into my wardrobe, especially close to my face. Crop tops, overly ripped jeans and skirts above the knee (with bare legs) became a no-no for me, though I know lots of other women over 40 can still pull them off. I felt that many of the chain stores aim at younger women. I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb but I don’t want to look frumpy either. I floundered for a while not knowing where to shop. I wanted clothes that didn’t bore me! So in search for something a little more unique for summer I gradually found myself drawn more and more towards smaller boutiques that offered something a little different.
I kept thinking I should open up something that caters to women of my age and for many many years I have dreamed of owning a little boutique, but with rents and rates so high I became increasingly nervous to take the plunge. I did the maths on a number of occasions and every time bottled out.
I had a very successful wedding photography business in the early 2000’s but since then I had not been able to repeat the success, with several businesses not taking off, and my confidence took a battering. I ended up retraining as a primary school teacher for job security while I figured out what to do next.
I took some time out and went to stay with a close friend, who was trying to help get me out of the rut I was in. She was asking what I really wanted to do, when I mentioned a boutique but said I was nervous of the financial outlay. She suggested that I try events and online selling rather than having a premises with all the enormous financial expense that goes with it. She actually liked the idea so much she suggested we do it together – we came up with a joint name (based on an almagamation of our first names) and logo and we spent that summer bouncing around ideas and visiting wholesalers. But it started to become apparent that we had very different ideas of how to shape the business. So we parted ways, but she kept the name and the logo and set up by herself.
Once again I was at rock bottom and starting again. Then Covid hit and I decided it was the right decision not to have set up – no one was going out, so no one was buying clothes and we couldn’t do events or parties anymore anyway. However, seeing other boutiques overcome adversity by taking to Instagram, I became re-inspired that I should give it a go. I basically needed a distraction from everything that had been going on and I needed to do it for my own mental health as for the first time in my life I wasn’t working and felt adrift. I needed to do something for me, something I enjoyed even though common sense was telling me it was crazy timing to set up a business!
So I decided to look upon it as a hobby rather than a business and I am just seeing where it takes me.
I have been very pleasantly surprised by the engagement on Instagram and by the ethos of women supporting women. It has restored my faith in humanity even if nothing else comes of it, and it has been wonderful to see so many gorgeous glamorous women in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s leading the way with fashion. I had been experiencing such ageism in the workplace over recent years that again this has been so refreshing to see that we are still relevant! I had started to feel invisible and worthless in society, yet via Instagram I feel I have found a community of like-minded women.
How do you decide what pieces to sell? Do you base your selections on your taste, style?
I look first at the catwalk trends for the season – so this season was all about metallics, statement sleeves, fringing, pleathers, checks and geometrics. Colours that grabbed me this year were the teals and rusts. I became obsessed with the range of green shades so you will see a variety of emerald greens, teals and petrol blues in my autumn/winter collection.
However I don’t believe in following fashion blindly and look for styles that will flatter and will stand the test of time. I want my customers to feel confident and feminine and for the items to remain a wardrobe favourite for years to come, so all this is taken into account when buying stock.
I also wanted to offer something a bit different to what was already available – there are so many fabulous boutiques as well as the chain stores but I hoped there was room for me if I offered something a little bit unique.
So I look for items that I haven’t seen anywhere else and I stock very small quantities so that my customers can achieve that exclusivity. I also like to offer styling advice and hope to run workshops in the future with professional stylists to give that customers that extra personalised shopping experience.
So far I have stocked only what I personally love and what I knew would suit me as I knew that if I didn’t sell the items I could keep them! It is also important because at the moment my only real avenue to selling is through Instagram and Facebook and I have found myself reluctantly modelling the clothing! Therefore I am really having to select items that suit me. But as it is expanding I am thinking more and more about what my customers want, what would suit different body shapes and heights and adding more variety to embrace different styles and purposes – from casual and smart-casual through to workwear and dressier styles.
How would you describe your style?
Classic with a splash of retro quirkiness!
You can’t beat the classics and tailored, structured looks tend to suit me best. I have only just started to embrace the loose, floaty, baggy styles of the last few years and tend to wear a belt with everything!
But I used to be a bit of a rock chick back in the day so I am loving the skulls and Rock n Roll trends that have been around for the last couple of years – it transports me back to the early 90s, queueing outside Wembley for a Guns n Roses concert!
In fact I think a lot of my style inspiration comes from music – from the flamboyance of Adam Ant and the New Romantics when I was very young to Madonna in my teens wearing underwear as outerwear – fashion and music have always been intrinsically linked for me. I also love a tulle skirt with biker boots or trainers and a leather jacket, another nod back to the 80s Madonna/Cyndi Lauper days!
But my fashion nostalgia goes even further back and I have always taken inspiration from styles of the 1940’s and 1950’s – I always felt I was born in the wrong era. I love the fashions from the 1950’s especially – so feminine and glamorous.
I am also constantly drawn towards things that are a bit different or quirky.
How did you come up with the name Devoted to Style?
HaHa. Honest answer?! I am still unsure about the name.
I wanted it to be about style rather than fashion as I am passionate about finding clothes that really flatter each customer’s body shape, colouring etc – not just about selling them the latest fashion. I aim to find my customers items that they will love, feel confident in and have in their wardrobes for years to come.
So I knew that I wanted style in the name but I was struggling with the rest.
Anyway I am a huge Depeche Mode fan and I was listening to Songs of Faith and Devotion one day when I decided on Devoted to Style and the idea of stylishdevotees as my followers, hence my hashtag #stylishdevotee! The music link again, what can I say, it has obviously been a huge influence throughout my life!
Where do you sell your clothes?
At the moment only via Instagram and Facebook. I plan to do local events and parties when it is safe to do so again. For the time being I am offering Zoom parties and Whatsapp video calls for customers to view the stock.
I would be very interested to hear your readers’ thoughts on whether they think I need a dedicated website. I have avoided it so far as they are expensive to run and yet another thing to keep updated. I know several successful boutiques who only sell via Facebook and Instagram and have no website, but I sometimes wonder if it would increase those spontaneous sales?
What are your favorite parts about running a clothing boutique?
Seeing photos of customers looking amazing and feeling great in clothes that I have carefully sourced. That is the best feeling and makes it all worthwhile.
What do you do when you’re not working?
2019 was one of the worst years ever for me – yes way worse than 2020! My mum was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia and my dad with cancer. My job became unbearable and spending time with my family while I still can suddenly became the most important thing to me. So that is what I have done this year. We also recently moved to Yorkshire and I love spending time walking my dog and exploring the amazing countryside that we have on our doorstep.
Prior to Covid I was a total townie enjoying live music, dancing and eating out – maybe I will again, but for now I feel the need for space and fresh air. My wardrobe however doesn’t match my new lifestyle and I don’t think it ever will!
I live in the US and Ali is in the UK. As I was re-reading this interview it struck me as how many differences there are in the way we speak and spell, but how similar we are as women. I loved finding out more about Ali, and her business, and I hope you did as well!
Once it’s safe to travel I’m looking forward to meeting Ali in person. In the meantime, we’ll continue to email and I’ll shop her cool styles.