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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Sophie Mercer

Sophie Mercer is the Designer and Founder of Eqcouture, a sports luxe equestrian fashion brand that bridges the gap between budget and high-end designer equestrian fashion. Eqcouture offers high-quality, functional, designer-led garments at a competitive price point that all riders can wear and enjoy.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

“I’m a lifelong horse lover and horse owner. I’ve owned ponies and horses all my life. Alongside my previous full-time job working in my father’s stationery and furniture business, I would buy young horses from Ireland and produce them to be sold for profit. Eqcouture is a business built upon that deeply engrained equestrian passion and a desire to create beautiful, affordable and accessible riding wear. ” 

How did the idea come to you for the company?

“As a horse rider, I could never find good quality riding wear at an affordable price, so before lockdown, I decided to have a go at designing my own riding wear. I started off with 200 pairs of riding tights and was selling them directly to friends and friends of friends. It was during lockdown that the business really started to take off, and it was then that I decided to go for it and make Eqcouture a full-time concern, and I’ve never looked back.” 

How did you achieve awareness?

“Word of mouth and reviews are a core part of our business, but we also have a professional PR team support. From my personal experience and success to date, growing your brand awareness should take many different forms.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

“I started the business with a personal investment of £2,000 from my savings. Through my father’s business, I developed a wide skill set which I could apply to Eqcouture; accounting, website design, website building, E-commerce and stock management. I was and still am very calculated with my spending and investment in the areas that I know will be valuable and help me continue to grow Eqcouture. Areas such as appointing staff to help man events and shows, social media management and PR enable me to free up my time to focus on the brand and be strategic in my planning, rather than getting bogged down with too much detail.”

What are the key successes?

“We’ve grown from selling 200 pairs of riding tights to a 900% increase in sales since we launched. Last year, we took Eqcouture on the road, featuring at many of the big shows and events across the country, a move which has had a substantial positive impact. We also have a 50% returning customer rate and have racked up a considerable loyal fanbase and hundreds of five-star reviews.”

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

” Stock management and incorporating realistic delivery deadlines were areas I struggled with in the very early days, but I now allow for any delays to ensure that our customers always receive excellent customer service and are never kept waiting for their garments. Running a business can be very lonely in the early days, but fortunately, my then-boyfriend (now husband) is also a designer and founder of a successful mainstream sports fashion brand (Mercier), so I always had someone to talk through any challenges and get advice to navigate my way out of them.”

What are your plans now/for the future?

“To keep evolving and retaining our reputation for launching new innovative products and to become a household name in the Equestrian world!” 

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

“As cliche as it may sound…I really believe you should follow your dreams! I always wanted a job that offered me some flexibility in my working hours. This doesn’t mean less work. In fact, running your own business often calls for long hours, but for me, it means working the hours that suit my life. I also wanted something to call my ‘own’, something which I had created and was entirely responsible for. I didn’t have a huge amount to lose in the beginning, so I was lucky, but if you don’t follow your dreams, you may always think, ‘what if?’ “

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

“Start a business that reflects your personality. A product or industry you know and love.That way, it’s easy to be creative and authentic to the customer.”

And wait to go big; start small with a small focus. I started out with just two styles of leggings. Once you feel you have nailed that, then that’s the time to move on, expand and invest more.”

“Don’t obsess over your competitors but be aware of them! Let what your competitors are doing take only a little of your time. You need to be focusing on your business, but always take note!”

“Cherish your customers and make sure their voices are heard and their needs are met! This results in hugely valuable feedback we incorporate in future product design, line decisions, and repeat business.”

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

“My husband. I feel he was the reason behind me “just going for it”, as I had seen him do it with his brand, which gave me inspiration and the courage to make the move.” 

My Mum. She is always the person in my ear to tell me how everything should be organised and how to organise things. This is a huge part of a business – organisation! She’s a super organised person! 

My Dad. I’ve watched him run businesses since I was very young and watched the sacrifices he made and the work he put in to make them successful and to provide for the family. 

My horses: Zeus and Lissy. They aren’t people but inspire me because I would never have ridden as much without them and realised that there was a huge gap in the market for Eqcouture! I test all our new designs before launching, riding in and refining them, so my horses play an integral part in the business.

Charlotte Dujardin (Olympic Dressage Rider)

I love their passion, their drive and their talent. Horses are such great levellers. You have to take time to build a relationship and partnership with a 420kg animal with its own mind! To achieve Olympic success is no mean feat for any athlete, but to reach it as a partnership with a horse is incredible.”

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“Persistence is the key to success.”

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?