Piper Podcast: Clare Hornby, founder & CEO of ME+EM

Happy new year and welcome to the final episode of series 5 of How I Grew My Brand. For this last full interview of the series, Mary Nightingale speaks to the truly inspirational Clare Hornby, Founder & CEO of women’s contemporary luxury fashion brand, ME+EM. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a special bonus episode with our founder, Crispin Tweddell, where you’ll get an insight into how we think about brand.

Launched in 2009, ME+EM creates collections focused on helping busy woman fill their wardrobe with effortless everyday luxury that fulfils what Clare calls the four f’s – flattering, functional, with wear forever appeal, and fair. ‘Our job is to get you ready in the mornings without you having to think too hard.’ Since then, they have grown to over £100m revenue, around 250 employees, and have such high-profile fans such the Princess of Wales, Cara Delevingne and Nicole Kidman.

The idea for ME+EM was based on decades of thinking about how to help women, ‘I think I always wanted to start a business because I used to write little business plans and they were always in the area of helping women. I think I was looking for gaps in the market even at age 15.’ An internship in Harrods sparked a love of luxury clothing, but becoming a busy working mum is when she finally saw that gap in the market, ‘I was one of the greatest examples of being incredibly busy, so I really understand busy women.’

Not only was Clare living the customer’s life, a career in advertising also meant she understood the power of insight. An early advisor, Charles Dunstone (co-founder of Carphone Warehouse), told her she needed to fall in love with the numbers. He said that ‘you don’t need to be good at maths, you just need to visualise the numbers and where they are taking you… as if they’re the control system for your business.’ Clare continues to visualise this control panel of numbers (you can listen to the episode to learn the 7 key metrics she lives by) and uses it to monitor success, ‘ideally they’re all up on green, but if one drops to amber or red, you know you’ve got a problem somewhere so you go and address it.’

She is proud of having advisors and investors from early on in the business, ‘They’ve just brought anther level of expertise to the business’, but she thinks of them as editors not authors. ‘When you’ve got a team of people all running a business, you can get into the weeds a bit and the role of that investment board is to pull you out and up. It’s a bit like therapy, you know it, but they just clarify where you should be going next.’

At Piper, we speak about the growth inflection points of 7, 17, 70. For Clare, these resonate at the £8m and £80m marks, because it took them double the time to get to £8m as it did to get to £80m. She remembers reaching 100 employees and realising that they needed to change the way they communicate to the team. Until then, it was possible for communication to be organic, but at 100 employees there needed to be more process in place and a clarity in how you talked about the business. ‘One north star for the business, clearly communicated and constantly communicated… bringing everyone on the journey with you is very important.’

Throughout the podcast, Clare’s grasp of business makes it clear why ME+EM has been such a success, from her thoughts on the importance of a well formed supply chain to data – ‘the data tells you where the customer went last year, but what you’ve got to spot is where she is going next.’

If you’re looking for some 2024 motivation, you will find it here! Enjoy the listen, we loved recording it.