Sister-trio Daniela Benson, Kirstie Smith and Shelley Davey-Presland first opened Grace and Mabel in Bristol in 2007. Offering a cool curation of high-end European brands, the store’s concept was such a hit that another boutique followed in Bath just three years later. Here the co-founders reveal the story behind the business as well as their plans for navigating 2023…
What are your career backgrounds?
All three of us have a background in fashion or retail experience, which has helped shape the business into what it is today. After completing a fashion degree in London, Daniela started her own successful label that she ran for many years. It even sold in Grace and Mabel for a while. Kirstie worked in Whistles in London for seven years, which taught her everything she knows about visual merchandising. She then returned to Bristol and worked in Karen Millen on Park Street where she found herself in a manager’s role for 12 years. Shelley, meanwhile, worked in Marks and Spencer where she held many roles over the years from sales to customer service.
What led to the launch of Grace and Mabel?
Daniela stumbled across an empty shop in Bristol’s Clifton and approached Kirstie and Shelley with the idea of opening up their own boutique. It was something we’d always wanted and Daniela saw the perfect opportunity for this to get started.
Why did you want to go into business together?
We all share a passion for fashion and retail and had a dream of owning our own shop. We all hold the same core values on how we’d like to run the business. Plus, we were all under the same impression that Clifton Village and Bristol as a whole was missing something that we felt we could provide: a fun safe space to explore fashion and new brands that the city had not seen yet.
How would you describe Grace and Mabel to someone who’s never visited?
Grace and Mabel shops are a safe space to explore and play with fashion, with help on hand at any time shoppers need it. We want everyone who steps into our shops to feel confident and happy with every purchase made.
How is trading at the moment in your stores?
We had a very positive Christmas period and sales were comparable to last year’s despite all the doom and gloom in the press. We’ve seen an increase in traffic to our website too and we’re so very grateful to all our lovely loyal customers who continue to support us in these uncertain times.
How about online?
Things were looking very good online before the recent collapse of Atterley and e-commerce sales had increased year-on-year. We used this online platform to reach a wider customer base and its failure means hundreds of UK indies are owed thousands – some tens of thousands – of pounds worth of sales that we just may never see. It’s a very uncertain time for us as this kind of loss could have detrimental effects for many independent businesses.
What are your key brands, categories and best-selling products?
Our core brands include Stine Goya, Baum und Perferdgarten, Stella Nova, Paul Smith and Weekend Maxmara. We are mostly known for clothing however we stock some amazing small lifestyle brands too such as Candier Candles, &Klevering and Donna Wilson – the list truly goes on and on!
What’s been most challenging aspect of running your business from the past 12 months?
The impact of Brexit continues to be challenging. We are still having huge issues when goods get shipped to and from the EU with increased costs on customs duties on goods. Our e-commerce sales to the EU have also declined substantially. Rising bills continue to be a threat – especially the crippling pressure of rising energy costs – alongside the on-going recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.
What is your main focus for 2023?
In 2023 we hope the business will continue to be successful and we will continue with our commitment to great customer service while delivering amazing collections. Surging fuel and energy coupled with the overall cost of living crisis will understandably see many households cut back on their non-essential spending. But we are hoping things will settle down and customers will continue to want to shop small and keep the independent high streets alive. We plan to focus more on sustainability this year in line with greater demand for more environmentally conscious practices among our customers. We also have some very exciting plans under wraps for later this year, so watch this space!