You just know that Lesa Bennett and Jemma Fennings work in fashion. All full-skirted silhouettes, texture clashing, polka-dotted outfits and fab, full, flowing hair, they cut the sort of dash that only the coolest Shoreditch kids can pull off.
But these are no naïve young fashion bunnies. The duo met on their very first day at London College of Fashion and have been best of friends ever since. Through seven years of fashion buying, their careers kept colliding, clocking up time at such diverse fashion brands as Tesco, Asos and Selfridges. All the while, the idea of going it alone was germinating, gestating and gathering momentum until one day in 2011 the pair made the leap and set up watch brand Olivia Burton.
The brand started trading in September 2012 and is charting the sort of rapid growth that only the best launches manage. Second season sales for SS13 are up 300% on AW12 and Lesa reveals that AW13 orders so far are showing big growth again.
It was Harvey Nichols that gave them the vital kickstart by placing an order for all its stores in the brand’s first ever season.
Jemma says: “It really helped us to reach our minimums with our suppliers and get the brand off the ground. Seeing the watches in the Knightsbridge store was one of our proudest moments.”
Now they have more than 70 stockists signed up, all devoted to the brand’s charming mix of retro and modern style. The website calls them vintage-inspired fashion watches and that’s just what they are, all bursting with that peculiarly British blend of heritage and quality.
It hasn’t always been easy and their origin tale is one of mums mucking in, husbands (one of whom is a professional cricketer) being supportive and friends lending favours.
Jemma says: “What few people realise is that from day one until now it’s just been the two of us, managing everything from product development and sales through to accounting and logistics. It’s been an amazing journey.”
And there’s more to come. They are moving, office hiring staff and next year will see the duo launching a men’s collection.
Olivia Burton founders Lesa Bennett and Jemma Fennings were Bering Ones to Watch in the WatchPro Hot 100 2013 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. To read a digital version of the book in full online, click here.