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Successful DMU grads share their top tips for running a business


Successful Contour Fashion graduates Gemma Cheyne and Elissa Grainger returned to De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) to talk to current students about starting their own thriving brands.


Gemma, who graduated in 2012, launched her luxury swimwear brand ‘& Saunter’ in 2018, inspired by femininity and handmade in Italian fabrics.

She always wanted to start a business, but took time out after graduating to travel and further develop in industry before pursuing her career as an entrepreneur.

For Elissa, starting her business Elissa Poppy was a natural progression after her graduation in 2015.

Her high-fashion lingerie made of a pioneering blend of latex with exquisite guipure lace, has earned her a number of impressive accolades, including a prestigious deal with leading online retailer ASOS and a feature in rock legend Brian May’s book Crinoline: Fashion’s Most Magnificent Disaster


Elissa Poppy, Alpha collection

Elissa described her entry into the world of business as a ‘massive learning curve’, but found invaluable help from The Crucible Project, DMU’s scheme to support entrepreneurs, which put her in touch with business advisors and accountants.

She said that she had to adopt many roles when starting her company: “I would love for having my own business to mean that I design and make all day, but that isn’t really what my day looks like. There is still a lot of admin, marketing, packaging and accounting involved.”

Gemma agreed that a rounded approach is essential: “There is a lot to juggle. But it’s really enjoyable - I don’t think any day is the same and that’s the beauty of having a business.”


&Saunter, The Palma Edit

 Both entrepreneurs stressed the importance of an effective marketing strategy and named social media as a key avenue in reaching out to audiences.

“I think we’re up against the Instagram era which has opened the door to influencers. Famous people are having brands created in their name, so you really need to find a niche,” said Elissa.

Gemma added: “A lot of influencers will be really helpful and push your brand if you build up a relationship with them. You never know who you might meet that will help you along the way.”

The graduates tackled other important aspects to running a business, including trademarking their brands and setting price points.

For Gemma, one of the hardest parts of pricing was accepting that by manufacturing her products to a high standard, they would have to be expensive. She has also experienced poor quality imitations of her designs being sold by other retailers.

 “It’s very hard to protect yourself from that. If you’re going to be copied then just gracefully move on, and do something even better next time,” she advised.

Both graduates urged current students to embrace the expertise and the facilities at DMU.

Gemma said: “The sewing rooms are incredible and there are so many people you can go to for advice, so make the most of it while you’re here. If I could do this course all over again I absolutely would!”

For Elissa the technical skills she learned on the course were invaluable: “You get pushed to your boundaries and you take all of that with you in the next step.”


Elissa pictured with her third-year work

They have both found a helpful support network in their tutors and fellow alumni, keeping in touch for advice and guidance.

Gemma said: “Coming out of this university there are so many different creatives who want to get their work out there, so collaborate with them and support each other.”

They ended with advice for entrepreneurs about self-care.

 “Your business becomes like your baby, you care more about it than your own well-being. But it’s really important to look after your mental health. You can’t run a business if you’re burned out,” said Gemma.

“Be patient and focus on quality, and trust your own values: don’t compare yourself to other brands. When you leave this course, you will have everything you need and you shouldn’t be scared to take that next step.”

Posted on Tuesday 26th November 2019

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