On the cusp of Sipsey Lingerie’s second birthday, ex-banker turned lingerie supremo Sukhy Nijjar tells us why your smalls are a big deal
When Sukhy Nijjar left her job as an investment banker in London spawned by the loss of her father, she felt it was as good a time as any to ‘follow her dreams’ and launch her own business. Initially her plan was to come back to the Midlands and open a restaurant, but after much consulting with restaurateur family members who were ‘supportive, but cautionary’ she was sufficiently deterred and parked the idea. She then made what seems like a random leap from food to high-end lingerie.
Sukhy explained: “I’d always wanted to own my own business. That was a given. I just needed to work out what”. Sukhy completed courses in bra fitting and in retail and began doing a staggering amount of research into the lingerie business. Once convinced she could make it work, Sukhy wrote a detailed business plan in September 2014. By the following January she travelled to Paris to research the market and in June 2015 Sipsey opened its doors in Solihull.
Almost evangelical about ‘proper’ lingerie which can take 18 months from initial design to finished product using up to 40 different components and 11 pieces of fabric, Sukhy is obsessive – in a good way. The store was open seven days a week initially with Sukhy and her team putting in the hard yards. Now closed on a Sunday unless booked for a private fitting, it’s nice to have a day off.
Sukhy is responsible for all of the buying which has been a learning curve, but with four buying seasons behind her she’s getting to grips with what customers want and understanding the market in Solihull. Some brands need to see a trading history before they come on board, but Sukhy has largely been pleased with how high-end brands have responded. Stella McCartney was a real coup making Sipsey one of a handful of retailers to stock the brand in the Midlands and possibly the only independent.
Competition comes mainly from the high street which is price based and not about quality. Rather than a quick fitting on the high street, Sukhy prides herself on the relaxed, thorough fitting process that is unhurried and knowledgable. The range of brands and styles is superior to anything on the high street and as for buying lingerie on the Internet, Sukhy feels it’s a no-no. How many times have you ordered a bundle of lingerie only to try it on and send it back? Quite. “It’s about trust too. It’s such a personal thing and a minefield. Sizes can vary from brand to brand, so it’s so important to get fitted properly and regularly”. She added: “You should replace a bra every nine months maximum.”
There’s no doubt the high street is significantly cheaper than Sipsey, but when Sukhy talks about the benefits of a perfectly fitting and well-made bra it feels like a no-brainer. Once breasts begin to sag there’s no going back. Repeat custom is strong and people enjoy the personal skilled touch and the unique range of products. Sizes range from A to HH which was important to Sukhy too.
Swimwear and nightwear are big sellers as are post-mastectomy bras and Sukhy has started hosting private lingerie parties and pamper evenings which are proving a hit with fizz and friends getting fitted with the whole store to themselves. One of the highlights so far was being invited to Downing Street to exhibit as part of Small Business Saturday which was an honour.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. “I thought it would be quicker to get established and recognised. I’d have liked to have been further along than we are now.” Sukhy has embraced social media which has boosted brand recognition significantly and she writes a humorous blog with topics such as The Day I Found My Boobs and the like which are popular.
There’s a charitable angle to Sukhy’s business supporting the charity Your Smalls Appeal which sends secondhand bras to troubled regions of the world where they are considered a luxury item. Sukhy’s also keen to encourage Asian women to talk about breast cancer and self-checking. “It’s still a taboo subject in the Asian community and that needs to change.”
Plans for the future for Sipsey could include a second shop. Sukhy said: “I’d love to open in Leamington or even central Birmingham if I can find the right premises. Growing the online offering for bodies, swimwear and nightwear is a priority too.”