Podcast: In conversation with Marielle Wyse, Founder, Wyse London
August 12, 2021 •Sorcha O'Boyle
Women’s fashion brand Wyse London is taking the world by storm. For this episode of the Industry Leaders Podcast, we sat down with founder Marielle Wyse to learn about the early years of Wyse, how and why she shifted the brand from a wholesale to a direct-to-consumer model, and where she gets her inspiration.
Marielle’s story is a fascinating one about how a brand can adapt quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic and why your most important relationship is with your customer.
You can listen to the full episode here or read on for the transcript.
Sorcha O’Boyle: On the show this week is Marielle Wyse, founder of Wyse London, the really beautiful women’s fashion brand. Now, Marielle, it's really brilliant to have you here, especially as I know you're unbelievably busy with photoshoots and the new store which I'm sure we'll talk about later. But first things first, how are you doing?
Marielle Wyse: Well, it's lovely to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Sorcha, thank you. It is very busy, my head is in several million places but it's good to be busy.
Sorcha: Now, for anyone who doesn't know, in a former life Marielle was a documentary maker for the BBC before making the leap into the big, bad world of direct-to-consumer fashion when she founded Wyse in 2014.
Marielle, can you tell me a little bit about the early years of Wyse – why did you create the brand and what did you want to achieve with it?
Marielle: Well, going back a little bit I was a documentary maker and I made wildlife programmes until I had kids and I couldn't work anymore - well, I could work but it was very hard with two young children so I gave up work. And one day, ten years later, I was a stay-at-home mum and I just thought ‘I need to start doing something’. So I helped a friend who was making accessories and she said ‘start your own business, make something. What do you want to do?’ And I said I could never find the perfect cashmere jumper so she found me a factory!
And so I made five jumpers and it became a business by accident rather than by intent. That was only five years ago! But sometimes accidents are the best things that happen in life, you know, they just transform into something.
Sorcha: Absolutely. And who were you designing your first five jumpers for?
Marielle: For me, 100%. And my friends. It was always something that I wanted to wear so I had an idea of what the price point would be and what the design would be.
And it just happened that other people identified with that, people who were a similar age to me and a similar profile. I just hadn’t realised that there were quite a few of those women out there.
So it was completely and utterly selfish, really!
Sorcha: And do you come from a design background? Did you have formal training?
Marielle: No. In fact, I can't draw brilliantly but my daughter's actually gone into fashion school and she's much better than me. But when I was a child I made all my own clothes, so it taps into that. I tend to see things in pictures, in colour, and in shape rather than in words.
For me, to create is an extension. So I understand fabric and things like that. So as the brand has developed away from knitwear into other products, that has really helped.
Sorcha: And where do you get your inspiration from? Is it from people walking down the street or from something else?
Marielle: It really is from the everyday. I think the thing about Wyse is that it's about real life. It's about being able to place the clothing into your daily life and for what you wear to elevate you rather than to wear you. I always say that to customers, I say: don't allow something to wear you, you've got to wear it and it has to adapt into your lifestyle.
I am possibly the laziest dresser known to man. I mean, honestly, throw and go, you know? And if something isn't easy and you have to think about it, forget it.
Sorcha: And you've been doing it now since 2014, so obviously you've gone through a huge amount of change. What’s been the most surprising or difficult part of your journey with Wyse London?
Marielle: I think being business-minded because my natural comfort zone is to be in piles of swatches and colors and things like that. So that's the lovely, fun part and the product is wonderful – it sings – but the actual structuring of a business and the understanding of how to structure a business... I've never run a business in my life. But so much of it is common sense and as long as you apply some sort of rational thought to it, it makes sense.
I was a firm believer of not stockpiling stock and not being vain about it. I mean, if it doesn't sell, get rid of it. So that was one of my first things. I almost dislike stock the moment it arrives! It's a terrible thing to say. You have to go about learning the business aspect and finessing it. I mean, we’re not even finessing it, just learning it is key for me.
Sorcha: I think that a lot of people listening to this will be interested in how you moved the business from a wholesale model to a direct-to-consumer model. Can you tell me why you decided to do that and then how you did it?
Marielle: Not many people will say this but I think it was a bit thanks to Covid [laughs]. You don’t say thanks to Covid for much! But we had a fantastic wholesale show in early 2020 and our business was 60% wholesale. Then we went back to the office for a couple weeks and before the restrictions hit and we had to all work from home. So I just looked at everybody and I said to cancel every order because I didn't know if those shops were going to open.
I realised there and then the enormity of the situation we were going to be in and I knew we had to cancel all of it, we had to go direct-to-consumer.
Well, I didn't know we had to go direct-to-consumer but I went home with a rail of clothes and I picked up my phone and I just went onto Instagram and I said to the customer, do you like this?
So we ditched wholesale and started this open conversation with the customer. And as soon as I asked her what she thought about a dress of a jumper, she came back and said, well, why don't you do it in blue or pink or whatever?
And so this conversation started and we've never looked back. We'll never go back to wholesale. I mean, never say never but I don't think we will.
Sorcha: Picking up on your Instagram Lives, I know you do them pretty regularly and I've watched a couple of them. I love how you just pick up a dress and put on a cardigan over it and say to your customers: well, what do you think of this? Does this work? Does this not work?
As you watch, you can really see how much your customers love the product and how much they love engaging with you personally. It’s quite an unusual thing for a brand to do to.
Marielle: Yes, it's unusual in that it's demystifying the brand. And, you know, it's not particularly glamorous. But I think customers like that because they relate to it. I think the combination of me being “normal” and using other people (because we do bring people on as well and they're all in different shapes and sizes)... I think that makes it all that more relatable.
And it helps me too. If people like something, I know to order a bit more. If they don't like it, you think, well, we probably shouldn't do that.
So it's like this huge market research tool at your fingertips and it costs nothing.
Sorcha: And do customers often come back and say: no, that doesn't work for me? Do they surprise you sometimes?
Marielle: Oh yes. As with anything, it's not a foregone conclusion. We've over-ordered, we've made every single mistake in the book so it's not a definite calculation but it does give you an inclination. But more importantly than that, it's really democratic because you're involving the customer. So many brands think they're above the customer but they're not. The customer is your king and I think she's wonderful! And she's really funny as well; sometimes I'm doing these lives and she makes me laugh and it's great fun.
I mean, it is a bit amateurish on one level but on another level it's fantastic, you know. And I really, really enjoy it. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it.
Sorcha: Yes, you can tell you enjoy it and there's something lovely and human about it which really connects well with people. It’s interesting how you say that you genuinely like your customer because Meg Lustman was talking about exactly that on our last episode. She was so clear that the most important thing brand can do is to fall in love with their customer. Sometimes I think people can think about it the other way.
Marielle: Oh, she's 100% right. I mean, I have so much to learn and I think Covid and lockdown have sparked this conversation and I've become so much closer to my customer. I can almost see her in my head, you know. And Meg has as much (if not more) valuable information as anyone.
And I might not land every message or execute everything that people like Meg say but it seeps into your mind and into your psyche and it translates somewhere in the end.
Sorcha: Yes, definitely. And the relationship that you’re describing with your customer is so symbiotic.
Marielle: Absolutely. And without her, I would be nowhere.
Sorcha: For sure. And can you tell me a little bit about the new store that you’re opening? I know you've done a few pop-up shops before but you've got your first full-time bricks and mortar shop opening in September. Can you tell me about that?
Marielle: Yes, so our online is very, very busy which is great and we’ve only ever done just little pop-ups which are sampling-type things. But we're going to do our first store on Marylebone High Street which we're opening (all being well!) in the middle of September.
There’s been huge demand from customers for us to have a store presence so they can see our product in the flesh. And it's really exciting but we've never had a shop! I've never run a shop! So it’s something new for me. It's exciting and terrifying all at the same time. But we have to do it. I think it's a natural extension of where we're going.
We have to have a presence and it’s another opportunity for me to meet the customer. I’ll make time to go in there once a week to talk to her. Because, actually, at the very beginning of Wyse, I did sell directly and I met the customer the whole time and that was hugely valuable.
Sorcha: And is that the thing you're most looking forward to in the shop?
Marielle: Oh, absolutely. Because when women try the clothes on, you just think, well, I should have done it a bit like this and the next time I'll do it in that colour. Or I should try a different length.
I get all these wonderful messages from women saying they feel so much better and they've found their love of fashion again which is just wonderful. Because there is a lack of age-appropriate fashion or budget-appropriate fashion out there in the right colours and the right styles. But to see a woman smile and to see her feel so much better about herself... In all honesty, there’s nothing better.
Sorcha: Yes, it must be amazing. And do you ever see a piece of yours walking down the street?
Marielle: I have and I love it. I feel so glad that it’s being worn, more than anything. And we see pieces on lots of people on the telly as well which is great.
Sorcha: Yes of course! And while we’re on that topic, I know you’ve had an insane year but what are you most proud of having achieved with Wyse?
Marielle: I'm really proud of two things. I'm proud of the product because, you know, a rubbish product means rubbish sales. It's as simple as that so I know we've got wonderful product. I think that's number one and number two is the team.
The team is so fond of working together. It's pretty high intensity in the office but the energy that it generates is really rewarding and I love to come in and see that buzz. I love it. It's something that we created from nothing and I keep pinching myself that I've done that. To have created the team we have is very fulfilling.
Sorcha: And did you have a plan for creating that team or did it happen naturally?
Marielle: Like most of our business, it was a bit organic [laughs]. We're chasing our tail, we're growing at a rate that I never dreamed of. And as a result, we’re trying to play catch-up.
Some people have a structure and a real plan and some people grow organically and make it up as they go along a little bit and I think I fall into that category [laughs].
Sorcha: Well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! And can you tell me a little bit about your design process? When I look at the products on your website, they're so pretty and elegant - I particularly love the Nadine dress, which for anyone who hasn’t seen it is a really elegant black midi dress with puff sleeves and a square neckline. So could you talk me through how that dress goes from being an idea in your head to being on the website or being worn by somebody on the street?
Marielle: I think clothes have always been in my blood so it’s really difficult to describe where it comes from. As a child, I would go into a fabric store and I would literally rummage through the fabrics and just find something. And then I find a trim and then I'd find a pattern and it would all come together.
My mother is French and my father is English so I'm definitely influenced by that pared-back French style but then there’s the English thing of being a little bit kooky as well, so I think I mix those two things.
I don't know where it comes from. I really don't. It's just in my head. I like to see shapes of dresses and then imagine shapes a different way. I love to think about color and shape. I do look at people in the street all the time but I have noticed that when I go to France, I get so much more inspiration there. I find them so incredibly, effortlessly stylish.
Sorcha: It's that cool French girl look, isn’t it? And why do you think that is?
Marielle: They just don't try too hard. And they look comfortable. They know how to marry color together as well and they don't overdo things. I think it was Coco Chanel who said to always take one thing off before you go out the door and there's a little bit of that in them.
It’s just that little tan bag, tan sandals, floral dress, hair nicely done and that's it, you're done. You've got nice sunglasses and you’re good to go.
Sorcha: And a little bit of red lipstick.
Marielle: Little bit of red lipstick, obviously [laughs].
Sorcha: And can you tell me what styles or products you’re looking forward to for AW21?
Marielle: We're finding people are building their wardrobe with us so our natural move is into outerwear and coats and tailoring. We’ve dabbled in tailoring before so we're doing a more extensive thing now and really completing her wardrobe. And then we're slowly going into accessories and stuff like that, but you have to do these things slowly. I don't want to do them wrong. I want to try and get them right so it takes a bit of time.
But we are doing coats and things like that. So it’s exciting!
Sorcha: And is there a Wyse Men’s coming down the line?
Marielle: [Laughs] The thing about Wyse Men’s is... We did a little bit of Wyse Men’s but basically it’s the woman who buys for the man and men just don't like shopping.
To be honest with you, it was lovely and they were great jumpers but I find that it’s noise I don't need at the moment. So he's taken a back step for now [laughs].
Sorcha: Fair enough! And is there anything that you wish you had known before you started Wyse?
Marielle: Well, there are a couple of things. I wish I'd start a bit younger because I started it at 49 which is late in life and I think I could have achieved even more if I had started earlier. Plus energy levels! But then again, maybe I wouldn't have tapped into the same market that I'm tapping into now.
Of course, the other thing is I wish I'd stuck with what I did at the beginning which was direct-to-consumer because I've now come back to it.
But you shouldn't regret anything because you learn from your mistakes so I don't really regret it. But I think what I was doing in the beginning was the right thing. But you know, we're back to a direct conversation which is good.
After all, if you don’t make mistake after mistake, you're not trying hard enough so... We’ve covered the mistake boxes [laughs].
Sorcha: And what’s your vision for Wyse over the next 5 or 10 years?
Marielle: Again, that comes back to that age thing. When you take me out of the equation, the brand has huge potential because there is a forgotten woman and she needs to feel elevated. She doesn't want cheap and she doesn't want super expensive but she wants very wearable. It’s very obvious.
I think it could go far whether it's with me in it or not. The vision is very, very clear. I see it very clearly. I'm sure it could do well in in in other countries, but who's to say? I don't know. We'll see.
Sorcha: And would it be a big emotional wrench for you to step back?
Marielle: Yes. It's something I care deeply about. And it's funny because when I'd finished working at the BBC and I was taking time out, my kids were asking ‘what do you do, Mum?’ And now they're like ‘Mum! You're never available!’ So it's quite funny and now I've proven to them that you can achieve things in life if you try.
Sorcha: And if you were to speak to somebody who wants to set up their brand, what would you advise them to do? What would be the most valuable thing you could tell them?
Marielle: I think one of the valuable things is to have a clear idea of who it is that you want to sell to. I think knowing who it's for really helps. If you don't know who it's for, then then how do you know what to do?
Right at the beginning, one of my friends said to me that I should be a blogger. And there's a touch of that in what I'm doing. Because I sell are the clothes I’m wearing. So having a vision of who you want to appeal to makes it easier.
Sorcha: Definitely. And as a final question before we wrap up: is there any product that you've made that you can look back on and say is your favourite?
Marielle: Oh, goodness me. Well, we're reissuing a jumper (we fitted it just a few minutes ago, actually!). It's a jumper that I made, a little cashmere jumper with Lurex thread and it was named after my daughter. It was one of the first jumpers we ever did and it became very successful. We haven’t had it for a few years and we're bringing it back. It’s got sentimental value because it was called Jumper #3 because it was one of my first five jumpers! Jumper #3 is coming back! So that’s quite sentimental.
Sorcha: That’s so special, welcome back, Jumper #3!
Marielle: [Laughs] Yes, the return of Jumper #3!
Sorcha: That’s really lovely. Listen, Marielle, thank you so much, it’s been great to talk with you.
Marielle: My pleasure, Sorcha, thank you for your time.
Sorcha: Thank you for yours! And best of luck with the new store opening, I can’t wait to pop in and see it, I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.
Marielle: Fingers crossed, yes, come in and see us!
If you’d like to learn more about Wyse’s journey or see how more2 can help your brand, get in touch below! We’d love to hear from you.