My Week: Sarah Walter of style-passport

The online fashion entrepreneur on a hectic launch week, including the joy of that first sale, help from her daughters and bust-ups with the delivery company.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
We launched the site on Tuesday. But it hasn’t just been this week that’s been manic; ever since we started speaking to suppliers in August last year, it’s been completely crazy. I managed to get some great brands onboard – Anya Hindmarch was the first to sign up. It helps that I have good contacts from my time in fashion magazines (I was fashion director at Marie Claire) and from working in retail (as head of communications at River Island). But I think people also liked the concept: style-passport is a one-stop-shop for people going away, whether for a weekend break in the UK or a beach holiday abroad.

2011 has been really, really busy. We moved into our offices at the end of January; up until that point, we were working at my kitchen table. We now have everything in one place: the team, the products and a small photographic studio. So we’re completely self-sufficient apart from deliveries, which are outsourced. We actually had a big bust-up with our delivery company this morning, after they failed to turn up last night. We were still here at 7.30 waiting for them to pick the orders up, when they were supposed to be here three hours before.

Our initial launch date was 28th February, but we decided about three or four weeks ago that we weren’t going to be ready in time. I’d rather launch a week later and be absolutely confident that we were ready. We went live this Tuesday, so the last week has been really full-on – I don’t think any of us have had more than three hours sleep on any given night. Everybody came in all day Saturday and Sunday too, which was amazing. It’s very moving to see your team come into the office with a smile on their faces at 9.30 on a Saturday morning – and for those smiles still to be intact at 9.30 on Saturday night.

We launched at 11.55am on Tuesday. I pressed the button and that was it: the site was live. I’d bought some champagne, but as soon as the site was up, everyone rushed frantically to their machines to check it was working. You can do lots of tests prior to launch, but there are some things that just can’t be checked until it’s live. We had our first sale within seconds of going online: one of my dearest friends was so desperate to be the first customer that she came here, saw us go live and then raced through to checkout to buy something. And she was swiftly followed by another three or four people, including my bank manager’s wife.

The first night I was waking up every hour and checking it was still there. I kept thinking: ‘Wow, that’s all mine and anyone, anywhere in the world can come and see it.’ It’s like owning your first flat: you go around and touch the walls and the floor and go ‘Oh my god, this is mine’. It’s an amazing feeling.

It’s also been touching to see how my family have reacted. I have a husband who’s a journalist, and two daughters who are 10 and 12 – and the three of them have been amazing. My girls have done lots of research for me about the competition. They just live on computers, which is how I know that online is the way retail has to go. It is the future. There are a lot of amazing sites out there already, but I still think there’s space for this one.

The girls are 10 and 12, and the oldest one is a complete fashionista. The younger one is interested in fashion, but is more interested in saving water, or dolphins. When I came back on Tuesday, one of them had written me a letter saying she thought I was an inspirational mum. I’m welling up just thinking about it. I know it’s hard on them, because it means they don’t see as much of their mother as they’d like to, but they’re old enough to understand now. I don’t think I could have done it five or six years ago. Mind you, I haven’t done it yet…

Sarah Walter is the founder and CEO of style-passport, a new magazine-style online retailer where customers can purchase the perfect holiday attire.

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