On the up · 29 October 2018

“The stereotype is that women are homemakers” says fashion entrepreneur

Deborah Millington, founder of RIGHT to Bare

Founders can often feel like the success of their business rests squarely on their shoulders – and that makes it difficult to switch off. As part of our Women in Micro Business series, we sat down with Deborah Millington, founder of ladies wear brand RIGHT to Bare, to discuss balancing business ownership with life’s other demands. 

Who are you and what is your business?

My name is Deborah Millington and I am the founder of RIGHT to Barea high-end ladies wear camisole brand created to address body confidence in women.

What challenges can women expect to face in business?

I think along with all the juggling that women have to do in their personal lives, starting and growing a business is hard and very time consuming.

In addition to the stereotype that women are traditionally homemakers, whether as a wife or a single parent, women who have entrepreneurial aspirations are usually time poor by nature of the role they may play in the home.

The three challenges I faced were:

  • Time: As I work full time, there is less of my time which I can invest into the development of the company. I am also conscious of burnout and the impact it may have on my health, so I have to strategically manage my time and be disciplined with it.
  • Finance: At the beginning, you have to invest your own money and at times it feels like a money pit. I have adopted a very lean approach when it comes to spending and the management of the company’s finances. I produce limited editions as I feel I am still testing the market. When I have a better indication of how the market responds to them then I will be able to revise the overall manufacturing strategy.
  • Loneliness: Running a business is super lonely – a lesson I learnt at my peril when I started my first company in 2006. This time around, I have put networking and accessing business support at the heart of the business development strategy.

Do you think there are enough women running their own businesses?

I don’t feel women lack the appetite to start a business. It’s the scaling up and growth phase that may be an issue. Equally, I feel that there are a lot of hidden successful female entrepreneurs who are not being promoted as much as our male counterparts. 

What do you think are the advantages of having more women in business?

I am a great believer in ‘if you don’t see it, you won’t believe it’ and I think it is important that more women at the top of their game in the business world are profiled so that the next generation of young girls can have an alternative option for their career path.

Have you ever had any discriminative experiences because of being female?

No, as a black woman if someone was going to discriminate against me I would be surprised if they saw past my race before they got to my gender.

How do you handle knockbacks?

I have quite a tough mental resolve. I have a personal motto that I live by: ‘You can never lose from a lesson if you choose to learn from it.’

What advice do you have for other women wanting to start their own business?

  • Understand why you want to start that business and make that your key focus when developing your business.
  • Join networks and always ask for help.
  • Look after your health.

What can the business community do to help more women entrepreneurs?

  • Communicate to them and not make decisions on our behalf without consulting us first.
  • Profile and showcase more women in national campaigns.
  • Support women who are time poor with access to resources which can take the burden off of them.
  • Invest in more initiatives which provide mentors and additional support to women business owners.
  • Ensure women are not being charged more for business borrowing.

How do you hope your business to develop in the future?

  • Year 1: I am  really focusing on fine tuning the brand and its strategy, soft test trading both online and offline.
  • Year 2- 3: The focus will be on getting our presence on the high street through being stocked in retailers, pop-up shops and other temporary retailing options, collaborations and other innovative retail solutions
  • Year 5: A household name brand like The Cambridge Satchel Company or Jimmy Choo.

Who are your business heroes?

I really admire: Oprah Winfrey, the late Dame Anita Roddick and Richard Branson. I particularly liked Dame Anita Roddick as she was the first female entrepreneur who opened my eyes to ethics in business at a very young age.

I also admire Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company, and Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choo, for the brands that they have created. 

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Jennifer is a reporter for Business Advice.

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