Bod & Ted’s Sophie Bland on teamwork, retail milestones and unveiling her new-look store

Team Bod & Ted at the British Fashion Awards

Bod & Ted’s Sophie Bland spent the best part of January wielding a paintbrush. Her 15-year-old boutique, the second in a now scaled down portfolio, has just undergone a dramatic two-week renovation. Fixtures and fittings were unceremoniously ripped out, stud walls removed, new flooring laid, and walls coated with a fresh lick of paint. The result? A simple yet beautiful space reminiscent of a cool Copenhagen boutique. “I wanted to give the store a more high-end feel to match the premium collections we’ve moved towards,” she says. “We’ve gone for a pared back aesthetic with neutral shades and natural textures that really let the products shine.”

The refurbishment is the first full makeover for the Tunbridge Wells store, which originally opened in 2010. Over the years the business has experienced enviable commercial success as well as industry recognition, earning itself a loyal fan base, strong sales and a Drapers Womenswear Independent of the Year award in 2022.

Sophie with her children

But it’s not been an easy journey for Sophie, who sadly lost her mum and business partner Yvonne Brown during the pandemic. The pair originally started Bod & Ted together in 2008, having taken over the premises of a former occasionwear shop in Devon’s Salcombe: “I was only 21 years old at the time and I’d been working in the boutique while studying,” says Sophie. “The owner mentioned that she was looking for someone to take over the lease. So, over a glass of red wine, my mum and I decided to go for it. I was very naive and didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, which in hindsight was probably a good thing.”

While they had no formal experience in running a retail business, the duo was passionate about the venture and hungry for success. They decided to overhaul the shop completely, keeping only a handful of its stock and fixtures and giving it a new name and ethos. Spotting a gap in the market for a store specialising in French and Scandi brands, they began securing labels such as American Vintage, which remains a mainstay today. “Mum was really cool and a bit of nomad; she always had a great eye for style,” says Sophie. “But she was good with numbers too and had natural business acumen. We made a great team, and she was pivotal in the business’s success.”

Thinking big 

Their idea for the original Bod & Ted – affectionately named after Sophie’s sisters – was to create a “beautiful Aladdin’s Cave” full of interesting fashion, trinkets and treasures. This concept remains more than a decade later, with the owner carefully sourcing colourful creations from around the world to create a dazzling and unique edit.

The store’s current brand list includes international favourites such as Essential Antwerp, Rails, Frame and Munthe alongside London labels Hayley Menzies and Bella Freud. There’s also footwear by Hoff, Veja, Birkenstock and Alohas alongside quirky homewares like Heather Evelyn’s slogan candles.

By 2010 sales were buoyant, so the pair decided to take on a second store close to Yvonne’s home in Tunbridge Wells. This was supplemented by a third boutique in Brighton where Sophie was living at the time: “While trade was good in Devon, we found that it was very seasonal and wanted to try a different market,” she says. “But we soon realised that running three separate stores located quite a distance away from each other wasn’t viable. Ultimately, we decided to close the others and concentrate fully on Tunbridge Wells.”

During this time the duo also tested the online market with a basic transactional website. As an early industry adopter of e-commerce, Sophie admits it was a real learning curve and took up a large portion of her time (she recalls having to painstakingly photograph every item on a mannequin herself). But this foresight paid off, with the business experiencing consistent year-on-year growth. During the lockdowns, when the owner “began to take online seriously,” sales snowballed. And today, 30 per cent of the business’s revenue is now generated online: “A lot of customers found us in the pandemic when we were posting daily reels and broadcasting lives,” she says. “We now send parcels out to people all over the country. Some of our best customers have never even set foot in the physical store.”

Team work

Instagram remains an important channel for Bod & Ted – so much so that Sophie employs a dedicated part-time social media and e-commerce manager: “Ellie plans all our online content,” she says. “We always have lots of ideas going back and forth then we get together every couple of weeks to film.”

The team also includes store manager Paula and part-time sales assistants Sophie, Rosie and Rachel. The owner is also pivotal, splitting her time between working on the shop floor, heading up the store’s buying and managing the business – all while juggling two young children aged four and seven. “My team is amazing,” says Sophie. “Working with them is one of my favourite things about running the business. I couldn’t do it all without them.”

Despite various challenges such as Brexit and the ongoing cost of living crisis, Bod & Ted has retained a strong position – largely because of Sophie’s ability to react. The store’s edit has become more high-end in recent seasons to give it a clearer point of difference (for summer, dresses range from £110 to £460 while jeans are priced from £240 to £340). Meanwhile, the focus is now on more transitional ‘buy now, wear now’ pieces, particularly in autumn/winter: “We’ll always stock high summer fashion and resortwear as that does very well for us,” she says. “But for AW24, I’ve definitely been more focused with the buying. The problem is that the season has become much shorter, so you really have to get it right. That doesn’t mean playing it safe, however; people look to us to bring in something different and exciting.” 

Like most buyers, Sophie spends a couple of months a year on buying trips and travels to London and Paris to visit trade fairs and showrooms. The retail owner also counts Instagram as an invaluable tool for sourcing new undiscovered brands: “You have to stay one step ahead with product sourcing to ensure you’re offering something different,” she says. “I often find new brands on social media, which is a great resource, but it can still be challenging. You can start stocking a relatively unknown brand and then other retailers follow suit. It’s up to brands to look after distribution; if the market becomes too saturated, we have to drop certain collections as it goes against our ethos.”

Spring fever

Since the SS24 collections began arriving, Bod & Ted has been selling lots of separates, knitwear, basics and trainers. “It’s all about separates at the moment, which is nice as it’s been dress heavy for so long,” says Sophie. “Denim is also having a moment and we do really well with our jeans.”

New additions include Australian brand Palm Noosa, which offers “really beautiful, printed linens and cottons.” The retailer has also brought in Spanish brand The New Society’s “incredible holiday pieces” as well as denim by Citizens of Humanity. Sustainability is important for Sophie when choosing new brands and she often favours collections with a back story, such as ethical label Seventy + Mochi. 

Bod & Ted has always been somewhat ahead of the curve when it comes to its environmental efforts. From the beginning, its ethos was to encourage customers to reuse and recycle, whether browsing its rail of vintage gems or buying a preloved dress. In recent years Sophie decided to move the idea up a notch with the introduction of its circular fashion initiative: Bod & Ted Retread. “Customers can come to us with a preloved piece bought from the shop and will receive a voucher in return,” she says. “We only accept garments that are in good condition, but there are no other stipulations. These are sold in-store or through our dedicated Instagram page (@bodandtedretread). We don’t make a profit, but the scheme does promote sustainability while encouraging customers to come back to the store.”

Store manager Paula

Getting shoppers into the bricks-and-mortar store is an eternal endeavour for the owner. February saw an uptick in footfall thanks to its grand refurbishment, which enticed regulars in and drove sales. Sophie, who designed the space herself and enlisted the same builder who renovated her house, plans to celebrate in style this spring: “The refurb has been my focus for the past six months so it’s so lovely to see it come to life,” she says. “We’ll be holding a party with cocktails and a DJ when the weather improves. Getting everything finished in time was stressful, but I’m so pleased with the result.”

So, what’s next on the indie owner’s to-list now the new-look store is complete? “We’re celebrating our fifteenth birthday this year and I’m planning another party to mark the occasion,” she says. “But my long-term focus is on e-commerce as that’s the area I think we can really grow. And of course, as always, I’ll be working hard to keep Bod & Ted’s offer fresh and exciting. I think that’s ultimately what continues to set us apart.”