“My aim is to provide an unintimidating space where women can find a top for dinner party and present for the host,” says Amanda Mitchell, owner of indie retail group Biscuit Clothing and Living.
Since opening on Edinburgh’s Thistle Street in 2015, the business has grown into a three-store enterprise and lucrative e-commerce operation. With former department store buyer Amanda at the helm, it offers a unique seasonal product edit of high-end womenswear brands mixed with chic homewares, stationery and apothecary.
Despite its rapid growth, its formula hasn’t changed since the beginning: “I wanted to create a welcoming store and even down to its name, Biscuit is very inviting,” says Amanda. “It was also always about offering more than clothes. Around 20 per cent of the business is gifts and homewares, so customers can pick up a card or a blanket alongside a new dress or jumper.”
Amanda’s great great grandfather Frank Bentall founded famous Surrey department store Bentalls in 1867 – so you could say that retail is in her blood. After completing a fashion degree in the early 1990s, she began working for a concession in London’s Harvey Nichols where she learned about running a retail business from the shop floor. In 1994 she then moved to Bentalls, eventually becoming womenswear buyer and reshaping its entire fashion offer.
But after starting a family, Amanda relocated to Edinburgh and took a brief break from buying. When her youngest turned two, she began knitting jumpers at her kitchen table. And when the head of a costume department spotted her work by chance online, she was asked to knit pieces for an impressive list of children’s blockbuster films: “We knitted for Harry Potter, Dennis the Menace and Nanny McPhee,” she says. “Unfortunately, because everything was hand knitted and painstaking to make, it wasn’t particularly profitable as a long-term career option. It provided me with an interest while my children were babies, but if I’m honest it only really kept them in new shoes and haircuts.”
In the interim, Amanda spotted a gap in the market for a boutique in Edinburgh stocking the brands she liked to wear and the idea for Biscuit was born. “I realised that if no one else was going to do it there was a chance for me to start a new business,” she says. “At that time there was Harvey Nichols and Jigsaw in Edinburgh but nothing in-between for discerning womenswear. So, I picked up the phone and spoke to agents I hadn’t been in touch with since the 1990s. Luckily, most of the agents were still the same so they already knew me and my track record.”
Amanda opened the first boutique in a prime location for inspiring indies, just a 10-minute walk away from Edinburgh Waverley station. A second followed in the city’s more residential area of Bruntsfield Place in 2017, finally followed by a third in Glasgow during the pandemic. The bricks-and-mortar stores are complemented by a thriving online business, which currently brings in just under a third of its overall revenue.
“I think a big part of Biscuit’s success is where the stores are situated,” says Amanda. “Particularly in Glasgow and Bruntsfield Place, as we pick up the school runs both in the morning and afternoon. We’re also surrounded by other amazing indies from butchers to green grocers and florists. There’s been a real demise of the department store but people can come to one destination and get everything they want and need.”
Key labels stocked by the retailer include American Vintage, Ba&sh, Part Two and “lovely entry level brand” Bellerose. It also carries Scotch and Soda, Air and Grace, Lily and Lionel, Primrose Park, POM Amsterdam, YaYa, Second Female, Stella Nova and Stine Goya.
For SS22 Amanda has introduced Cras from Copenhagen, which has been a big hit with shoppers. She also received a strong reaction to dresses from Danish label Dea Kudibal. “We do very well with dresses especially,” says Amanda. “I’m a huge advocate of a great dress for simple and easy dressing. We’re often told we do the best range of dresses and I try to include something for everyone.”
Part of Biscuit’s appeal is the way each of its store is merchandised. While buying Amanda carefully curates a unique edit encompassing womenswear, homewares and beauty products. “When I buy I think about how everything will look together in-store,” she says. “It helps if I visualise everything together as one edit, so I’ll think about colours, textures and fabrics and how they’ll sit alongside each other.”
For AW22, Amanda says Biscuit’s aesthetic is based on a country house, with lots of tweed, mixed fabrics, velvets and Prince of Wales checks. She selected the season’s womenswear at the beginning of the year and has now begun to complete the process by choosing the home and living products.
While the owner visits trade shows every season including Scoop, CIFF and Who’s Next, she says most of her inspiration for buying comes from “just wondering around”. She explains: “You have to be ahead of what everyone else is doing, looking beyond the shows to find new labels. It’s getting harder to find different brands, especially after the pandemic, but you can’t be complacent as a retailer and you need to be one step ahead.”
For this reason, Amanda particularly struggled to buy during the pandemic when it was impossible to travel or see physical collections. “I found it really hard to make my selections during the lockdowns,” she says. “It’s almost impossible to buy through Zoom and just seeing your own shop day in and day out is very uninspiring.”
Aside from her challenges in selecting new products, Amanda says the business was extremely lucky during the pandemic as it already had online channels in place. Since the start of 2020, Biscuit’s e-commerce outfit has grown from 5-10 per cent to an impressive 30 per cent of the business. Sales are so strong that the owner has taken on an expanded team and new head office to cope with the demand. The boutique also sells through Atterley and Trouva, with the majority of online customers residing in the southeast of England. “Online sales were mammoth during the lockdowns and were such a saving grace for the business,” she says. “Even now our website does extremely well and we use the marketplaces for our online marketing.”
Biscuit’s third store also opened in the middle of the pandemic, which Amanda admits was unlucky timing. However, it had been in the planning for several years, so calling off the opening wasn’t an option. “I had already signed the lease before the pandemic hit and the landlord was very understanding, so we could have backed out,’ she says. “But I was really confident about what we could do in Glasgow and I’m really pleased now that I went ahead with the new store.”
Located in the city’s leafy west end known for its quirky lanes and indie retail scene, Biscuit’s Glasgow boutique was an instant hit with the area’s locals. In fact, it’s been so successful that Amanda says, “it’s already biting at the heels of our most successful store on Bruntsfield Place.”
A digital future
Now with three profitable bricks- and-mortar shops, Amanda’s sights are set on re-marketing and growing Biscuit’s online operation. There has been a slight spanner in the works after the group’s Instagram account was hacked and subsequently deleted. However, the owner has already set up another page and is determined to bounce back better than ever. “As has been recently proven with us losing 15,000 followers on social media, you have to be resilient as an independent business,” she says.
“Retailing is in my DNA but running a shop is so much more than that. The future is bright as we push online sales by improving and growing the team behind it. We move to a new site in September, hopefully just before the season kicks in and so we are ready for whatever life throws at us then.” She concludes: “As to the years ahead, who knows? But what I do know is that not a lot stops me. My passion in retail will always push me to aim higher.”