Barbarella HeaderHow Karen Walmsley launched her online boutique

Meeting Karen isn’t a fully themed nostalgia trip, but as I arrive at her Glossop home, there are a few clues to her love of vintage-inspired fashion. I am greeted by the family’s  newest addition, a boisterous golden Labrador named “Bowie” (a tribute to another fashion icon?) The kitchen-cum-diner with it’s Orla Kiely wallpaper and LPs stacked in the corner is the modern, understated version of retro, but it all explains why Barbarella Boutique was born. Karen launched her online boutique 18 months ago. She selects retro-inspired clothing from a selection of her favourite ranges, creating a one stop shop for women that are looking for something different.

For the days when you wish you were Audrey Hepburn
For the days when you wish you were Audrey Hepburn

“I’ve never been particularly mainstream”, she says, remembering how her group of friends were the only fans of The Smiths and Doc Marten’s in her class at school. “My tastes have always been a bit different, so when the girls were old enough and it was time to go back to work, I wanted to do something that I was interested in and something I could be passionate about. I also needed it to be flexible and work around the children”. Karen’s daughters Mairead and Molly are now aged 8 and 7. When I raise an eyebrow at how close together they are in age she laughs. “We did plan to have Molly right away, but yes, I do remember one day when I was supervising toilet training while breastfeeding. That was hard!”.

Isn’t Barbarella Boutique a bit like a third child, I ask. It must be hard work, challenging, but ultimately rewarding? Karen agrees and confides that she was glad to be able to start her business alongside her main role of being a mum, which meant less financial pressure. “It doesn’t happen overnight, so I do think that you need to have a plan in place”. Karen isn’t alone in wanting to run her own business with its rewards and flexibility for her family. This option isn’t just for the mums of this world. High stress levels and long working hours mean that many of us are looking for a more fulfilling career and that elusive work life balance, so how did she get started?

Her advice to anyone wanting to follow in her footsteps is to do your research. “I took a couple of months to look at what else was out there and visited some wholesalers”.

Service is important to Karen and she decided that “drop shipping” was not for her. “That’s when the customer places an order with you but the stock is held elsewhere, maybe in another country. You as the business owner don’t see the item or get to check the quality and that’s not what I wanted”. Barbarella Boutique was started with a couple of thousand pounds of stock, a spare room and her website. Business is steady and she’s built a reputation for service in the local area,  even visiting clients with a selection of dresses and effectively taking the shop to them. For the rest of us in the UK, Free Standard UK delivery is available on all purchases from http://www.barbarellaboutique.co.uk

But it’s not just the local population looking for a more retro look. She’s been surprised to receive orders from as far as New Zealand, which proves her research into the market has paid off and there is a world wide appetite for all things vintage.

When I ask her what the future holds she tells me that she would like to have a shop. “But for now I’m attending vintage fairs around the country. I’ve found Britain Does Vintage and Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair have both worked well. It gives me the chance to meet my customers and it’s nice to get to see them in the dresses, although it can be very physical, transporting the stock and getting set up at each fair, which isn’t something you consider when you’re an online business!”. “Next year, I’d like to attend an event every month but I’ll also be looking to reach new customers and grow the online sales. At the moment I use Facebook and Twitter to let people know when I’m attending a fair or when we have something new in stock”.

The perfect alternative to the LBD
The perfect alternative to the LBD this Christmas

Talking of something new, what is she recommending for the Christmas party this year? “I’ve chosen The Ophelia by Lindy Bop especially for Christmas, it’s red polka dot, so it’s very festive. We’ve also got the 1950’s Hepburn style dress, which I expect to sell well”.

Karen picks styles inspired by the 40’s right through to the 60’s, so whether it’s vintage glamour to take you through this party season, or maybe you’re looking to stand out at the a prom or find a statement bridesmaid dress, Karen can find the look for you.

Barbarella Boutique is a new breed of business that we should all champion. The focus isn’t on becoming a global franchise or making millions. It’s about one person doing something that they love and sharing that passion with their customers, family and friends.