How did I ever get into this, I often ask myself! Back in March 2012, I was asked to help raise funds at a local ‘Open House’ in Hampshire for Naomi House Hospice. I jumped at the chance because I love a challenge!
Asked to put together a rail of pretty, high-end, but affordable womenswear, along with a few friends selling accessories, I turned up with three!
I found my pieces swiftly flying off the rails, and felt a huge sense of satisfaction that, first, I actually got it right, but, more importantly, that I could contribute so much more to that fab cheque we were going to write out to Naomi House at the end of the afternoon.
One year on
Almost a year later, and this very small business with a social conscience has gone from strength to strength. We’re not talking ‘financially’ just yet, and we’re certainly not talking huge growth, but that isn’t my main aim. I count my successes on the funds I have helped to raise, the people I please, and the countless influential and very helpful contacts I have made along the way in such a short space of time.
I have just been asked back on BBC Radio Oxford for a second time, and am appearing in a feature in the March edition of Hampshire Life.
Photo: Natascia Lillywhite, The No.1 Dress Agency
I’ve also recently become a proud member of The Business Collective – an organisation enabling smaller businesses like me to engage in CSR. It brings together like-minded people who are able to share their expertise and resources and so, therefore, benefit from each other. Anyway, really worth looking into if you haven’t heard of them – a brilliant initiative.
Perhaps the current economic climate has given me a bit of a kick-start, but I am a firm believer that women needn’t spend the earth in order to wear good quality, bang on-trend clothing. In a way, I am fighting the cause against what I call ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome’. I know we can all be smarter than that!
Which charities have benefited?
Since that very first sale, The No. 1 Dress Agency has helped raise lots of money for several schools, local organisations and charities, including Cancer Research, Marie Curie, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, Macmillan Cancer, The Red & White Appeal (Southampton), and there are more bookings in the pipeline for Naomi House Hospice.
How it works
I organise private fundraising events. For example, I'm hosting a coffee morning sale next month to raise funds for a student travelling to Kenya to help a local community, and a drinks party for a school mum raising funds for her daughter’s pre-school.
I go wherever people want me. I just hire a transit, wheel in my 3 rails, and off I go! It’s a completely crazy idea, but I love it and I think it’s working. Yes – I’ve made mistakes along the way. Haven’t we all jumped at an opportunity to attend a fundraising event, only to realise on arrival that it was perhaps the wrong choice? We’ve all been there. But that comes with experience I guess.
The value of social media
What I have discovered to be a most incredibly powerful tool in all this is the whole social media platform. Once an absolute opponent, I am completely converted and an advocate of all things ‘Twitter’ and ‘Facebook’, albeit on a professional basis. I find it absolutely invaluable.
The last question Jo Thoenes asked me when I was at the BBC studios was "And where would you like to see yourself in a year’s time?”. She really got me! I just stared at her silently, panicking inside!
"Er... well, I’d just like to be doing exactly what I’m doing now - pleasing people, trying to get it right, keeping it all very small and keeping it personal”.
Not sure if that made sense but those were my words straight from the heart. Of course, I’d like to make it work financially too, but I have no big aspirations here – just need enough to keep those rails constantly refreshed for the next event!
Natascia Lillywhite runs The No 1 Dress Agency, a mobile fundraising boutique bringing on-trend fashion solutions for women with a social and financial conscience.