'I am the first women's-only tailor in the history of Savile Row'

Entrepreneur Phoebe Gormley quit university and invested her tuition fees in her made-to-measure womenswear business

I first tried my hand at startup life when I was 11. I started hosting charity fundraisers in the garden every year, raising hundreds - a lot of money to an 11-year-old. A few years later, I stumbled on tailoring as a way I could work with clothes but not necessarily in the fashion industry. I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible, so I spent every summer between the ages of 15 and 19 in Jermyn Street and Savile Row.

School was followed by university, where I studied bespoke tailoring and costume. I wanted a challenge, and following guidance from my inspirational mentor Gary, I started looking into how I could start a business based around women’s made-to-measure. I was initially told that women are “too hard to please” and more interested in “fast-fashion polyblend, not investment pieces”. I thought that idea was a little antiquated: every woman I know struggles with high street fit. Why not do great quality, flawless service and a perfect fit for the same you’d pay at the high end of the high street?

I wrote a business plan and asked my parents if, instead of paying my final year of tuition fees, they would consider investing that money in my business - hence the “gamble” in my company name. After analysing the business plan and seeing I wasn’t going to give up, they eventually agreed.

Last June, I left university on Saturday, moved to London on Sunday and joined a startup in the city. I had based my business plan on quotes from a particular supplier, but when it came down to it, they said they had reconsidered and couldn’t work with me as I was “too young”, with not enough business experience. They also said that they “don’t really work with female suppliers, as they’re too unpredictable”.

It took me four months to go from business plan to reality. My first sale was in October last year to the chief executive of Virgin Money, who bought 12 items on my first day and set up a direct debit for a jacket/dress combo each month. She got a great deal!

I think the most common misconception about my work is that Savile Row only does suits. At Gormley & Gamble I create a huge variety of custom-made womenswear - think tweed from Chanel’s original supplier, Italian wool, machine washable silk shirts, Scottish cashmere and British merino wool. I make jackets that fit, trousers the right length and dresses with the sleeves and neckline you want.

On a typical day I start late, at around 10am. The store is open until 10pm most nights (my customers leave the office very late) so I have to be open as long as they are. I start by catching up with the team, running over the important things that need to get done and flagging any big events. I generally flit between fittings, meetings and actual work. Evenings are taken up by either late fittings or events. And yes, I work on Saturday too.

In the past 12 months, I have been unbelievably lucky and there are so many people have gone out of their way to help me build my company. I have clients who have hosted trunk shows for their friends, while Deloitte shared Gormley & Gamble with their entire Women’s Network. James from Cad and the Dandy (the biggest Savile Row tailor) agreed to back me and let me shop-share in his store, making the dreams of a 15 year old me come true. I am now the only women’s only tailor on Savile Row.

Starting this business has restored my faith in human kindness and given me the chance to meet incredible people every day. I enjoy not having to feel like a tiny cog in a huge machine, being able to wear every single hat in the business and of course making history on Savile Row.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility – I think all women go through moments of weakness when we feel we’re not good enough. It’s important to always recognise and celebrate the little victories.

Phoebe Gormley

The GuardianTramp

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