How Jane Porter went from a studio flat to Shangri-La

HOW I BEAT THE ODDS: The entrepreneur's uniform design business Studio 104 now turns over more than £1m.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 04 Oct 2016

My light bulb moment happened in South Africa. My fiance and I had just checked into a hotel in Johannesburg and the bellboy came to the door with our bags. The room was five-star, the service was five-star but the bellboy's outfit was off-the-scale hideous. There was the idea for my new business: I'd design stylish uniforms for luxury hotels.

I flew home, quit my job as a fashion buyer for Sweaty Betty, bought a round-the-world ticket and spent the next three months quizzing hotel managers. They were all crying out for a decent uniform supplier.

I started the business from my kitchen table in March 2010 and named it Studio 104, after the number of our studio flat in London. I made sample uniforms, organised a photoshoot and created a catalogue and website. Then I paid a clever SEO guy £100 to get Studio 104 to the top of Google. Within a week, I had an enquiry from JP Morgan. It had just got a new head office in Canary Wharf and wanted someone to kit out its security guards and back-office staff. My jaw hit the floor.

I was about to pitch to one of the world's biggest banks. I had no clients, no portfolio, no office and no employees. But what I did have was confidence. I went to theatre school: put me in front of an audience and I'll perform. So that's what I did: I performed. I impressed JP Morgan with my ideas. They hired me and told me I had three months to make 70 uniforms.

Finding a factory was a nightmare. I contacted 30 manufacturers, but you're batted away unless you're an established company with big repeat orders. Finally, a recommendation led me to a factory in Acton, and they said they'd do it. Their prices were too good to be true; I should have known they were dodgy but I was desperate. They finished the order within an inch of JP Morgan's deadline. It was all such a rush that I packaged everything up without doing a proper quality-control check.

I was due to go on my honeymoon the next day but I got a call from JP Morgan: 'The suits don't fit and the buttons are wonky. Get over here RIGHT NOW!' I wanted the ground to swallow me up but I calmly said, 'Don't worry. I'll come in and personally tailor each uniform.' It turned out that the button-sewer at the Acton factory was 80-odd and half blind: he couldn't sew a button on straight to save his life. So I spent the next three weeks fitting the security guards' uniforms and re-sewing buttons. The honeymoon got cancelled.

JP Morgan ended up giving me the nationwide contract worth £150,000. Then came my first deal with a five-star hotel: The Savoy. Studio 104 now has a team of 10, turns over more than £1m and has clients including the Shangri-La, Gleneagles and The Dorchester - and there isn't a badly dressed bellboy in sight.

Hear Jane Porter speak at Inspiring Women In Business on 16 November.


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

The downside of diversity data

I’m Italian, Morrocan, Ashkenazi Jewish and British, so which box do I tick?

6 leadership lessons from Kamala Harris

The first female vice president of the United States shows openness and vulnerability.

Spare a thought for the furloughed

Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak has extended the job retention scheme, but do you know how...

The communication habits of successful remote teams

Researchers suggest communicating in ‘bursts’.

Leadership clinic: I'm struggling to delegate as the business grows

Octopus Group co-founder and chief executive Simon Rogerson answers questions on starting up, scaling up...

What will employees want from the office of the future?

Research has highlighted some broad trends that will have consequences for managers.