June Kenton is a retailer ‘born and bred.’ Kenton’s grandparents were butchers and her parents owned their own clothes shop, which she joined aged 16. By 1961 June and her fiancée Harold had opened their own store in Brixton. ‘It was a clothes shop, which wasn’t really wanted to do. I wanted to sell bras and swimwear under the same roof and do proper fittings,’ she says.
The couple opened their first lingerie shop in Croydon in 1970 under the name Contour, a name Kenton later regretted: ‘Looking back it was a very sleazy name but at the time we thought it was fantastic.’ A second branch next to Harrods followed, becoming extremely successful, and in 1982 the Kentons were asked if they wanted to buy Rigby and Peller.
Founded in 1939, by the eighties it was a struggling business which only sold made-to-measure underwear. But despite poor sales, Kenton immediately saw the main attraction – it had the Royal Warrant. The Kentons spruced up the store, introduced read-to-wear-bras and moved Rigby & Peller from its base in South Molton Street to Knightsbridge four years later.
Rigby & Peller took off and there are now around 10 stores in south of the UK. ‘I find the current retail situation horrific,’ Kenton says. ‘Small shops don’t seem to exist anymore – the rents are so huge that it’s not really feasible. We’ve had times where we couldn’t pay our bills. We haven’t had a smooth journey. But we worked until we got it right.’
The Kentons sold 85% of the business last year to one of their suppliers, Belgian company lingerie company Van de Velde. Despite this, Kenton remains a key face of the brand and says she can’t imagine retiring.
Find out how she overcame her biggest challenges in the course of her 60 year career by booking a ticket to MT Inspiring Women. Save £200 if you register before Friday.