“Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not focus on what your competitors are doing, especially when it comes to social media as most people, or companies, only project positivity and you don’t have any idea of the challenges that may be happening behind the scenes so it’s a wholly unrealistic standard to hold yourself to.” Kate Halfpenny, Halfpenny London
I definitely feel like Kate Halfpenny needs to make a movie of her life. From her previous career as a celebrity stylist and costume designer to the very beginnings of Halfpenny London to the bridal powerhouse it is now, every career path Kate has walked is woven with her truly unique, beautifully indescribable creative spirit. I’ve always said that Kate Halfpenny is some sort of tulle-wielding, embellishment-adorning, dreamy silhouette-making wizard – and this interview and the British designer’s sumptuous array of new arrivals from the 2023 Courage collection only go to support this theory further. I managed to catch up with Kate herself, to talk about her business journey for Halfpenny London and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
P.s. Also, Kate, if you do make a movie please can I come to the premier?
Courage campaign images by Zach & Grace Photography
Name: Kate Halfpenny
Business: Halfpenny London
Date you took the plunge: The business started in 2005 but I signed the lease for the boutique in September 2012. It was all low risk before taking on the shop. Until then, all I had done was style a photoshoot of my dresses, created a beautiful website, and joined Instagram. It didn’t matter if it didn’t take off because I didn’t have anything to lose. I was still styling and doing my day job full time. Once I signed the lease on the shop it made it all very real!
#1 In a nutshell describe your business/brand. What do you offer?
“In a nutshell, Halfpenny London offers a diverse collection of British made wedding dresses and interchangeable separates in an inclusive size range. Our mantra is “be the bride you want to be”, whether that’s in a ballgown, or a trouser suit, or anything in between. I’ve always held the opinion that every woman should be able to wear a wedding dress that makes them feel like the very best version of themselves, and – crucially – that the dress should work for them not the bride work out for the dress! We’ve also expanded our offering with gorgeous bridesmaids dresses and occasion wear with our Sister collection.”
#2 What’s your career background. Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“For almost 20 years, I was a celebrity stylist and costume designer working across TV commercials, music videos and advertising. I had a colourful career and was fortunate enough to work with some of the most iconic superstars around the globe, winning two British Advertising Craft Awards along the way. However, when studying for my degree in the late 90’s, I specialised in bridal wear and had always made wedding dresses for my clients on the side. The dream was always to go into bridal full time and I never imagined that my other career would have dominated my working life for so long.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I’ve always been a dreamer and adored big ballgowns and silhouettes. I’m a true romantic! I wasn’t the most popular girl in school and I guess that left me daydreaming of those Cinderella moments I had yet to have. Looking back, I think that really inspired my love of that big silhouette, and of weddings and wedding gowns in general. I also saw the opportunity to create even more magic with wedding dresses, more so than you could with ready-to-wear, so it was a natural progression for me to specialise in bridal wear for my fashion degree. The seed was planted and grew quietly into the biggest tree, eventually taking over my business world. The rest is history!”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE (what did this involve? Handing in your notice?)
“Other than bar jobs and things like that when I was younger, I’ve only ever worked for myself. As a stylist and costume designer, I was always freelance so the only person I had to hand my notice into was myself. I had to make the decision to step back from it and not make myself available for all of the production companies that I worked with for decades. It felt quite natural actually, because I started to fade it out and it wasn’t an abrupt end. I was also going on this IVF journey to have my son and I could no longer travel like I used to. I was in a relationship (with my now husband, James) and didn’t want to keep packing my bags and leaving him behind to go on a shoot, it was also James that really encouraged me to take the leap. In his mind there was no question of doubt. So, actually, it was exciting. It was an adventure, and with the support of my friends and family it was more exciting than bittersweet.”
#5 Describe how the first day of running your business felt:
“It was never like a “first day” really, it just evolved. I’d always made wedding dresses on the side and had created lots of gowns for my clients already, so to go through the process of pulling those gowns together to form the first Halfpenny London collection felt like a natural evolution. My father had always taught me how to be a business person because he’d get me to assist him in the various businesses that he had while I was growing up. I’d do his bookkeeping and send out his invoices, so I suppose I cut my teeth and made all of my mistakes with him by sending the wrong invoice to the wrong client back in the days when everything was done by post! Thinking about it, I suppose I started learning about building my own business way back when I was 16 years old.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“Securing No.10 Woburn Walk (the Halfpenny London boutique) was a massive high. We outgrew that and managed to also get No.9, directly across the street, for the atelier. At that point, I was thinking “can this get any better?” It turned out we outgrew that quickly too and our offices moved to a third property in Woburn Walk and now we’ve also taken over the entire first floor of No.1-7. We now have 25 members of staff and that realisation was a real “pinch me” moment. Mainly, the highs have been watching my brand grow, and seeing the team expand and evolve to be more collaborative. There are highs every day! I’ve worked with the most incredible women over the years, and nothing brings me more joy than the happiness we bring to our brides. We’re trusted with creating something for one of the most important days of their lives, and they’re investing in us to deliver that, so it’s pretty amazing. I love it when the wedding photos land in my inbox!”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“I think the worst times were when we had an influx of lovely brides-to-be when the wedding restrictions were lifted during the pandemic, but we physically couldn’t make any more dresses because we couldn’t get the materials. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the manpower to make them, we literally, physically couldn’t get the fabric. That was the most disappointing thing, having to turn prospective customers away. I always want people to have my dresses and for us to have to say no was devastating. We, of course, had to prioritise our existing brides as there was no way we could have let them down, but it was really hard to say no. However, I never want to be in that situation again so we now project our fabric consumption much further into the future and hold stock of as many textiles as we can.”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
No.1 “Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not focus on what your competitors are doing, especially when it comes to social media as most people, or companies, only project positivity and you don’t have any idea of the challenges that may be happening behind the scenes so it’s a wholly unrealistic standard to hold yourself to.”
No.2 “Focus on yourself and your own business.”
No.3 “Be authentic.”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get up? Meditate? Read?)
“I do two things. I either listen to positive affirmations or a really lovely relaxing soundscape on Spotify, and my husband will either stay asleep or wake up and tune into it too. Or, I close my eyes and focus intensely on the centre of my forehead, and in doing that it sends me to sleep. Often I’m sound asleep but wake up at 3am feeling incredibly creative and inspired by something I’ve dreamed about or seen, and I’ll write a note about it to help me remember in the morning.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“Surround yourself with people who will remind you to do things and be organised for you, as this is definitely not my strength! I’m sorry you’re asking the wrong person for organisational tips!”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“Business-wise, Anya Hindmarsh is incredible and I really enjoyed reading her book. I love the way she leans into opportunities. I’m very much inspired by Jenna Lyons, the ex Creative Director at J.Crew. I love her aesthetic, both her personal style and interiors, her outlook, her positivity… I just love her. I also like Kelly Wearstler for her interiors and I love Studio Ashby too. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings. I went to the V&A the other day and it wasn’t just about the exhibition, but the architecture, the marble columns, the steps, and the new industrial staircase at the back. My phone is full of pictures of a decaying flower I saw in a vase that is still so beautiful and makes me think of the petticoats in a skirt. If you’re ever stuck, just step out into nature. There’s no excuse not to be inspired.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“I couldn’t live without my iPad and Apple pencil. I love it! But at the end of the day, I can’t leave home without an A4 pad and mechanical pencil. It’s almost like a security blanket. Also, my phone. I’d be lost! Aside from everything else, it’s the camera on it I’d miss the most because I photograph everything! From stepping out of my car into the beautiful autumn leaves, to the flower in a vase at the V&A, to my son Sylvester doing silly things. There are thousands of photos on my phone. I can’t help myself!”
#13 Your first ever job was…
“My first job was in a fruit and vegetable shop in my home town. It had an open front so it was freezing all the time and I remember being thrilled to be promoted from putting out the produce to being on the till. I also remember fancying the boys who worked in the butchers opposite but let’s move on!”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Be authentic. People like to know the face behind the brand so talk about who you are and what you believe in.”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“We’re already in talks with them so that’s top secret I’m afraid!”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
“Holly Tucker is lovely and inspiring. I did an IG live with her and she’s such a wise and inspiring woman. I’m obsessed with Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO podcast. He has the most amazing guests and they are so wonderful, charming, and inspiring. Business of Fashion is another must for me.”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“It’s all about Instagram for me.”
#18 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“Be brave! Have courage. If it doesn’t work, you can always reinvent yourself and try again.”
SCROLL THE BOUTIQUE
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS | KATE HALFPENNY
#1 Most inspirational book you’ve read?
“You know what? I’m the person who still buys all the magazines every month and, for me, there’s nothing more inspiring than taking myself off with a cup of tea and World of Interiors, Homes & Garden and so many others. I sit there with a notebook and pencil and allow myself to be creative.”
#2 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order?
“I’d never go into Starbucks. I’m all about an oat milk latte from Casa Jardim in Woburn Walk.”
#3 Instagram feed crush:
#4 Your worst job was…
“Working in a pizza restaurant on the Fulham Road where we had to do the macarena twice a night.”
#5 If you didn’t do what you do, what would you do?
“I’d be a painter or potter. Maybe I’d make furniture or be an interior designer. In a world where I wasn’t a fashion designer and if I had endless pots of cash, I’d be an artist and dabble in whatever format or medium I wanted.”
#6 Work day pick me up?
“A beetroot juice from Casa Jardim loaded with tons of ginger, a walk around the block, or a bite to eat at The Standard.”