20 QUESTIONS: Rosie Wolfenden, Tatty Devine

One of the brains behind the trendy jewellery brand on opening a shop in London's Brick Lane before it was overrun by hipsters.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 15 Nov 2013

1. If you had done something else, what would it have been?

I would have been an artist. I studied painting at Chelsea College of Art. The plan was to go out and do my own thing and be an artist – which to an extent you could argue I am…

2. What else would you have named your business?

There was never any other name. It’s become such an entity in itself, it would be like trying to rename a person.

3. If you could be based in another city, where would it be?

It would have to be New York. I think it’s the closest place to London – not physically, obviously – but whether it’s the art scene or the shopping scene or business, it has it all.

4. How did you raise money at the beginning?

We’ve never had any investment. We started at markets, with stalls on Portobello Road and Spitalfields. Right from day one, we always split the money three ways: £10 for me, £10 for [co-founder] Harriet [Vine], £10 for Tatty '[Divine].

5. What has been your most important decision?

In 2000, we decided to open a shop: it pre-empted us setting ourselves up as a retailer. We moved to Brick Lane in the 90s, where there was quite an art scene – there were haberdashers everywhere, so whatever you needed, you could just pop out and buy. It was nothing like it is now, but it’s nice to have been there from the beginning.

6. What has been your biggest mistake?

In 1999 when we were starting out, we were advised to do a stand at The Clothes Show Live. On the face of it, it looked like a brilliant opportunity as there would be 100,000 teenage girls wanting to shop, trapped in the NEC. We made enough stock to last a year and in the end, barely broke even. I don't really see mistakes as a massive problem as you constantly learn from them, and if it had been that bad, we probably wouldn't be here today - but this experience did make us think about who our customers were, and to always research everything fully.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

Twitter. It’s absolutely phenomenal. We started Tatty before the internet was commonly used, and what got it going was creating lots of happenings where people came along, then went away and talked about it.

Twitter picks up on that really fundamental part of business, which is that you have to be able to engage with people and give them something to share with others.

8. How do you cope with stress?

Stress is a dangerous thing. It’s a state of mind – you’re never going to get away from stressful situations. But if you’re constantly thinking and reflecting and looking at every problem from every angle, that helps. Running is also good: wellbeing is always the key to combat stress.

9. What was your first job?

Waitressing in a pub on the Isle of Wight when I was 16.

10. What was your worst job?

I did quite a bit of waitressing – there was one job when I was 18 where we were asked to come in and waitress in bikinis. I walked out – I thought, no way.

11. What was your best job?

Well, Tatty, obviously – but when I was at Chelsea I worked at Steinberg & Tolkein, a vintage fashion shop on the King’s Road. It gave me my fashion education: it had every label under the sun. As an art student, fashion had never really been on my radar – but one day I was wearing one of our creations and a Vogue stylist came in, asked me where I had got it from and then asked me to bring our entire collection in to show them.

12. If you were on the Apprentice, what would your team name be?

'Tatty Power'!

13. Which company would you invest in right now?

Songkick. I only just discovered this on Tuesday after mentioning to two different people that tickets to gigs sell out so quickly these days that I keep missing out on seeing my favourites. Both people told me to get the Songkick app, and my life is now changed.

14. Apart from property, what is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

A laser cutter. Our first one was £25,000. We have four or five now – but they’re a lot of money.

15. Suits or jeans?

Neither – they both represent blending in. I’ve never wanted to blend in. I believe In looking smart – but dressing for yourself, not for others. Something that goes with a lot of jewellery, though…

16. Flexible working or office hours?

On the retail side, it has to be shop hours. But within the office there is flexibility. In general, I think flexibility is best.

17. What is the best thing about your office?

The people – our studio is really collaborative. There are 16 of use based there, which is quite a lot in a small space, and there are some big personalities. But there is a real sense of everyone working together.

18. What app can’t you live without?

The first app I look at every day is the weather app. The whole day rests on that. What am I wearing? Am I cycling or walking? Do I need an umbrella?

19. Who is your business idol?

I have two – I’ve always thought Vivienne Westwood is incredible. From a small shop, she’s created an empire. Likewise Miuccia Prada, who has taken a family business and transformed it into an empire of desirability. She’s very impressive.

20. If you were prime minister for the day, what would you change?

I’d redress the balance, and increase funding for education and the arts. Creativity is all Britain’s got – so why kill it off? So many businesses are tied up with it: it’s one of our biggest exports. But it’s being wiped out of the public reach. So I’d increase funding.

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