From rags to riches

From business student to national UK franchisor, Sallie Belton of Suit the City has a dress for success story

When Sallie Belton arrived at Denham Farm to start her third year University work placement with Carol Rawson, at Development 1st, a small, but successful training and consulting business in 2006, she never dreamed that she would leave University the following year to take on the Directorship of a new and exciting business. On starting her placement, fresh from two years studying business, Sallie was keen to get to work and quickly establish herself as an invaluable member of the team. At the time the idea for Suit the City was sitting on a shelf in the office, waiting for the right moment to launch. This seemed like the right moment.

As we all know, timing in business is critical and while the idea for Suit the City was conceived in the late 1980s, the systems and technology to produce made-to-measure garments in larger numbers were unavailable. Manufacturing was either mass market for the high street, or at the highest end of the market, bespoke tailoring which required 20 years’ training to become an expert tailor. Working in basements, often below the shop, tailors used an antiquated system of paper patterns, and cut fabrics by hand, before passing the garments into sewing rooms for making up. Bespoke suits took up to 80 hours of hand sewing and were, as they still are, only available to the very well-off due to the cost.

In the 20 years between the conception of Suit the City and Sallie’s arrival, technology had caught up with the idea and computerised systems had been developed, allowing an entirely new service of made-to-measure tailoring to be offered, the products are produced in the highest quality Savile Row fabrics, but are priced so that most people can afford them.

So in 2007 Sallie joined Suit the City full-time after returning to University to complete her studies. Sallie says: “I always knew that I wouldn’t fit into a big, slow moving, corporate environment, with its rules thwarting creativity and innovation. Starting a business was the right step for me; I could push myself to achieve my goals and be allowed to think for myself.” She adds: “Working with an entrepreneur like Carol has allowed me to follow my instincts, make mistakes and learn from them, while pushing the boundaries in an area that I love – beautiful clothes!”

Sallie will be the first to admit that the ride hasn’t always been easy, starting a business from scratch requires guts and determination and you have to take risks.

“I was lucky to receive a small inheritance, which I was able to invest in the business, but I did feel at times that I would have loved to have spent the money on expensive handbags and holidays, especially as most of my friends seem to have Mulberry handbags and I don’t have one yet!” However, she knows that her investment will pay off in the long term.

“We already have our first two franchise owners up and running in Oxford and Bristol and another six in the pipeline today. Our five year plan is to get to around 50 franchises in the UK, which is quite an ambitious goal but was always our vision for the business – national coverage is key to offering our service, and technology has enabled us to price the products for everyone to be able to afford high quality tailoring.”

So Sallie is now the technical whiz or wiz at Suit the City, having worked for five years with the manufacturers to perfect the product and processes, the system can now be taught in three months to future franchise owners ensuring that they use the technology to their best advantage.

Written by Jenna Leeds