Feather & Stitch offers a winning combination of irresistible fashion and expert styling advice

Feather & Stitch founder Fiona Sanderson is beginning the new season with optimism: “The new collections are arriving and that always feels like the start of new school term,” she says. “We’re feeling excited about SS24 and I’m looking forward to the season ahead.” 

Located in London’s leafy Richmond upon Thames, her 16-year-old womenswear boutique has gained a loyal following thanks to its beautifully curated products and expert styling advice.

The indie retailer specialises in Northern European labels, combining the chicest French collections with effortlessly cool Scandi brands. Shoppers can discover everything they need for their entire wardrobe – whether they’re looking for dresses, elevated basics or something dressier for a special occasion.  

A former high street buyer, Fiona cut her teeth at Philip Green’s now defunct Arcadia empire before setting up the business. Her current brand list includes covetable French powerhouses like Ba&sh and Des Petits Hauts alongside Scandi favourites Munthe, Stine Goya, Dea Kudibal and Day Birger et Mikkelsen. Feather & Stitch is also known for its denim selection from Paige and Frame as well as its cashmere by Jumper 1234 and Beta Studios. Prices range from around £139 to £400 for dresses and £200 – £290 for jeans.

The popular indie’s physical store, positioned in a prime spot near Richmond Green, attracts the area’s affluent residents as well as a regular influx of those visiting Kew Gardens and the rugby or others working at its nearby film studios. Meanwhile, its online shop and Instagram page pull in an army of savvy fashion fans around the country who are drawn to Fiona’s latest picks.

For the owner, careful product sourcing is key to success: “The way we buy is really why we’re still in business,” she says. “The product offer has to be really outstanding
to keep people coming back. Customers know they can come
to us and find exactly what they’re looking for.”

Its expert styling advice, meanwhile, comes in at a close second: “To really succeed in fashion retail today, you also need a standout service,” Fiona adds. “Clothes make people happy, and we love to help customers find their style. That’s Feather & Stitch’s unique selling point.”

Starting fresh

After travelling the world for over a decade as a high street fashion buyer, Fiona opened the store just before her thirtieth birthday: “I was influenced by beautiful shops I’d visited in Paris like Sandro and Maje,” she says. “I loved the idea of bringing a French style boutique to South London.”

The founder decided her business model would be best suited to the vibrant retail scene in Clapham or Richmond. So, when an opening came up in the latter location, she decided to go for it: “I was looking for somewhere either on Northcote Road or Richmond high street,” she says. “Both areas had the right kind of customer and there was a gap in the market for the kind of brands I wanted to bring in.”

Today her original store has since moved to a “prettier and more central position” near to Richmond Green. Flanked by upmarket salons, coffee shops and independent book shops, the boutique’s pink façade and striking window displays help grab the attention of passing trade. Yet, Fiona’s real secret weapon has been word-of- mouth recommendations: “We’re very grateful for our loyal customers who have helped us cultivate a well-known presence in the area,” she says.

Online growth

Feather & Stitch was an early adopter of e-commerce, launching its transactional website back in 2012. However, Fiona admits that she only really started to take that side of the business seriously during the pandemic. “When the first lockdown hit, I couldn’t be more grateful for having that platform ready to go,” she says. “But before that I truly hadn’t paid it the attention it needed. That was a real learning curve for me. If I’d only known then what I know now, I’d have been focusing more on e-commerce and social media from day one.”

The indie owner says her team, which includes store and online managers as well as part-time sales staff, now dedicates just as much time to running Instagram and the website as they do the physical store: “We all wear multiple hats and have lots of different jobs to keep things going,” she says.

Instagram is an especially successful platform for Feather & Stitch, with the indie amassing over 26k followers to date. Its social media community began to really snowball over the lockdowns as Fiona, like many indie owners, used it to connect with shoppers while the physical shop was closed.

Today the team continues to post daily reels and images showing off its latest products, meaning they often work around the clock to create content and get online orders out to shoppers: “I don’t work from nine to five and that’s just how it is now,” says Fiona. “Retail has changed so drastically in the time I’ve been in business. It’s so much faster; you’re expected to sell across multiple channels and have so much more to manage than just running a physical shop. However, I think this has presented us with great opportunities and we have to embrace the changes.”

Buying pro

Despite being a seasoned buyer with a decade of experience, Fiona says she still had to start from scratch with product sourcing for Feather  & Stitch: “Buying for a boutique is so different to buying for the high street, so I had to start at the beginning with finding brands and making contacts,” she says. “Back then most of the brands I wanted didn’t have agents in the UK, so I travelled to Denmark every season. Fast forward to 2024 and they all mostly have representatives in London, which makes it easier. But even now, I still prefer to travel to discover new brands.”

While some indie fashion buyers are feeling nervous about AW24, Fiona says she’s eager to take on the challenge: “Yes, buying can  be nerve-wracking, especially in uncertain times, but it’s also exciting. The designers are the real talent of this industry – they create newness every six months and all we have to do as buyers is pick the winners. Agents are also the industry’s unsung heroes; they work incredibly hard and choose the right brands, it’s up to us to decipher the best sellers.”

So, what strategy does Fiona adopt to choose next season’s heroes? “I only buy pieces I would wear myself,” she says. “That means that whenever I’m buying, I’m doing it with conviction.”

According to the owner, product sourcing has also changed dramatically in the past decade. She says it’s increasingly difficult to discover new brands that aren’t being sold by larger online competitors: “It’s very hard as you’re having to compete with the big boys and their discounting,” Fiona says. “Ten years ago, this wasn’t really an issue. Now shoppers can check prices on Google Shopping so it’s a completely different marketplace.”

Challenging times

Despite its affluent location and premium brands, Feather & Stitch is still seeing the knock-on effects of the cost-of-living crisis. “The business has been through hard times – we opened in 2008 just before the financial crisis – but the situation we’re experiencing now feels different,” says the owner. “People are really questioning whether they need new clothes – and that combined with having to compete with online discounting is something that we’ve never experienced before.”

Fiona says she is also seeing a slight decline in footfall due to a rise in online shopping and uncontrollable outside elements: “We have horrendous road works outside the shop at present because of a huge development being built on our street. It’s going to be great eventually but there’s currently no finish date. Having such a big disruption outside reduces footfall and, over time, really chips away at your takings.”

That said, the owner remains optimistic about the year ahead and keeping her customers happy. Her focus now is on growing the store’s customer base while retaining its staunch regulars. “You have to remain positive in retail,” she says. “We’re currently in a really interesting but challenging time. Luckily, Feather & Stitch has a hardcore local following that we’re really humbled by. We’re so grateful for all our amazing customers and the support of our suppliers. I’m looking forward to seeing what else 2024 brings.”