Business Irish

Thursday 19 September 2019

Dragons' Den appearance put Stylefish ahead in fashion stakes

Why you should invest in Julie Cobbe and her Dragons' Den-approved firm Stylefish

JULIE COBBE: 'When times are tough you learn to be resilient and adaptive in your business model,' says the chief of Stylefish
JULIE COBBE: 'When times are tough you learn to be resilient and adaptive in your business model,' says the chief of Stylefish

Emily Maree

From trainee solicitor to Dragons' Den victor, Julie Cobbe has been able to combine her two loves - fashion and teaching - into one formidable business idea: Stylefish.

With a little help from Dragon and publishing maven Norah Casey, Julie's fashion school has evolved into a credible brand and she has worked with companies such as IKEA, Deloitte, the Zip Yard and Facebook.

"Dragons' Den set me apart as a serious business and brand and proved to people my passion is not just for fashion but for the vision I had for my business and in how I was able to consult with brands to help them get more from their customer relationships through fashion events and training," says Julie, who bravely started her business at the beginning of the recession.

Her strong and knowledgeable pitch got Stylefish a potential three investors from the Dragons' Den room: Norah Casey, Gavin Duffy and Sean Gallagher. Julie eventually went with Harmonia CEO Norah Casey as her investor and has gone from strength to strength.

But how did entering one of RTE's most popular shows give her business the push it needed? Julie cites self-confidence and preparation as some of the vital things the experience taught her.

"Sometimes you can feel as a small business everyone knows more than you do or there is some big secret to being successful. Dragons' Den taught me that hard work, confidence and getting yourself and your business out there are the most important things in growing," says Julie.

From here, Julie set up her fashion school teaching classes through department stores, hotels and shopping centres around the country. She also worked with House of Fraser in Dundrum early on, teaching the company about the concept of fitting-room stylists, an idea that has now been rolled out in the UK.

Fashion wasn't always the career path that Julie found herself on. With a Commerce degree and ambitions as a trainee solicitor, Julie soon realised this wasn't right for her and found herself moving to London.

Here, Julie got her styling qualifications and worked as an event planner, getting experience in marketing, advertising, events and management. But it wasn't until she was working as a resource teacher in a secondary school that she came up with the idea of Stylefish.

However, with the recession closing down small businesses everywhere, Julie realised that Stylefish had to evolve to stay on top and was willing to let this happen, without abandoning the company's core values.

"My business has changed so much. What hasn't changed is our central goal, which is to bring women together through fashion and to build women's confidence in creating a style they love.

"I have learnt so much from my customers and have leveraged this experience to allow me to grow my brand in different directions into franchising, retail training, retail consultancy and corporate fashion events and activities," she says.

That evolution has opened a lot more doors for Stylefish and its members. Julie has taken on nine teachers in different locations around Ireland for her styling classes in women's homes.

This venture allows the brand to target their demographic effectively and let her build the newer corporate side of the company. Starting your own business from scratch can be difficult, especially when you did it in 2009 as the recession hit.

"I believe that, over the last five years, I have been through the best business school there. I also think you learn to be resilient and adaptive in your business model when times are tougher.

"I don't have a product or a shop front. I have a brand - and that's why it is vital to have a vision for your brand and what it stands for.

"As change happens, you can remain true to your values and that one goal and reason you started your business no matter what direction the business takes you," says Julie. The future appears bright for Julie Cobbe and Stylefish with more work in the UK and a journey into the digital world. She has been working with Laya Healthcare to create fun and informative fashion videos to engage with people on social media audiences and wants to expand the corporate side of the company.

"Later this year I will be launching, which I am really excited about," says Julie. "I want Stylefish to become the go-to brand for companies and brands looking to connect with their female audience."

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