At 14, Maria Grachvogel designed a collection of clothes for her friends and, posing as 19-year-olds, they gate-crashed London Fashion Week. Caroline Coates, then managing director of the event, was so impressed by the clothes, not to mention Grachvogel's chutzpah, that she offered her the 'best advice I've had' and told her to go away and learn about business.
Two years later, Grachvogel took courses in sales, marketing and accounts.
She decided to skip fashion college ('I was too impatient') and began working in the City where she became the youngest person (just 18) to pass the Stock Exchange exams. Her first business didn't work out. Her second took five years to break even.
Now 30, Grachvogel is a bright light of British fashion - her designs are worn by Anna Friel, Sadie Frost and Posh Spice - but she is also pragmatic.
'My first love is couture,' she says, 'but the middle market is where the volume and real money come from.'
Her more affordable creations are stocked by Liberty and Selfridges, she has developed the 'G' collection for Debenhams and is now looking overseas. Last year she won the DTI small business export award for fashion and her newly hired commercial manager is approaching venture capitalists for funding. 'I'm working on a business plan as I spend too much time managing people when I should be thinking creatively about where the business is going,' she says.