Daisy Knatchbull and the Power of Female Tailoring
On Monday 15th of March, CWWL had our third and penultimate event of the term which featured the inspirational Daisy Knatchbull, the founder of The Deck – the first tailoring company on Savile Row, London, to cater exclusively to women. The first half of the session was dedicated to the two organisers’ questions and with the second half being open to the other members. The event would conclude, as is now tradition, with a student performance. This time it would be two spoken word poems written and performed by an incredibly talented student poet.
Our society’s founder Hannah began by welcoming everyone. Indeed, Hannah herself and many members had arrived at the Zoom event wearing beautifully smart suits and the atmosphere was eager and empowered.
The first question related to Daisy’s journey, from her leaving university, to starting at Huntsman & Sons and finally to her creation of The Deck. Daisy revealed that she had had a “keen interest” in fashion from a young age. It was in 2016 when she made the revolutionary/something along the lines of an adjective like that choice to Ascot in a top hat and tails; the overwhelmingly positive reaction she received was “really the catalyst breakthrough moment” in her realising that there was a real “appetite” for women’s suits. Daisy then made her decision to start her own company catering to this “suit-shaped” gap in the market, she explained: “we’ve put men on the moon, I can’t believe they’re saying that women’s bodies are too difficult it just can’t be right. It can’t be true”.
The following questions then focused on how Daisy has found negotiating the male-dominated field of tailoring, and what advice she would have for women looking to start their own businesses. In her answers, Daisy described how attitudes in the tailoring industry need to change and are changing and how her business is part of that much-needed change. In terms of advice, she advocated reaching out to people who inspire you and who can help you – crucially, she urged us not to be afraid, as we have nothing to lose: “you will be so surprised by the amount of people who want to help.”
The next question focused on the suits themselves, with Hannah describing how empowered she felt in her own. Daisy replied by talking about her personal androgynous style, the time she wore her first bespoke suit at the age of twenty-three, and how important it is to feel comfortable and happy in your clothes as a woman. Indeed, all The Deck’s suits have an ace embroidered inside to show how every woman always has “an ace up her sleeve” and is capable of anything she aspires to do or be. Daisy then described how the creation of a female-only space with female tailors was so vital to her and her business, relaying how she spends a minimum of four hours with each client, usually across three fittings. For her, that emotional connection is key because it isn’t about catering to the “stick-thin” image the fashion industry so often portrays but about showing each woman how amazing she can look as herself.
The conversation then turned to touch on the inevitable risks which come with starting a business. Daisy concurred: “the lows are low, and highs are high and there’s a lot of risk”. For Daisy, being an entrepreneur is not all glamour and ease – it is incredibly tough at times and there is a need to be the right sort of person. For her it’s important to be able to handle uncertainties and challenges, coming out stronger because of them - pushing our boundaries is vital but so are our support networks. Daisy then proceeded to talk about female figures who have inspired her: “a whole host of women – women I’ve come across from all walks of life”. For Daisy, even the smallest conversation can be a huge source of inspiration.
Touching on the future, Daisy talked about how relieved and excited she is to be reopening The Deck, when national guidelines allow it. In the long-term, her goal is to suit as many women as possible across the globe – large global demand has showcased how big the market could be. She added jokingly, “really, it’s about world domination. It’s about trying to get as many wonderful women in our suits as possible.”
Then, it was the second half and questions from the members. Daisy gave an answer about her favourite suit to wear – a double-breasted “three-piece pinstripe suit” with flare trousers, to be exact – and emphasised the powerful versatility of suits and also how they facilitate “buying less and buying better.” One of our members, Andrea, also prompted a response about how Daisy was able to find her head tailor, an amazingly talented Slovakian woman who came from a family of tailors. Anastasia asked about Daisy’s views on the fashion industry as a whole and how hopeful she is that restrictive conservative standards will change so the sector can become more diverse: “For us, we’re ageless, our clients are eighteen to eighty, every size, every shape, every age, that’s us but that’s not going to change anything, so these big companies have to change.” Thea then asked about Daisy’s most memorable suit she’s fitted for someone else to which Daisy gave responses about the inspirational model Lauren Hutton and, of course, her own mother for whom The Deck made a beautiful three-piece suit, in “bright purple velvet with yellow lining”.
Daisy proceeded to talk about how she was able to slip into Savile Row through the “backdoor” and wasn’t seen as a threat by the other tailoring companies; indeed, for the most part, she has received nothing but praise and support from them. They “celebrated with open arms the change that needed to happen.” Finally, Daisy advises that anyone looking to start a business should make sure they have the basics – trademarking, corporation tax, etc. – covered as these aspects can seem so complicated but they are so crucial. “There are so many moving parts and so many things to think about”. She described her experience studying finance and accounting modules online for three months, expressing her desire to create some “sort of bible” for female entrepreneurs to help them avoid making the mistakes that she did early on.
The questions then at an end, Hannah rounded the two sessions off by announcing her intentions to start up Women Who Lead as a real business – a global company, movement, and initiative – next year, during her year abroad.
Finally, the event was finished off beautifully by the performances of two original spoken-word poems, ‘Passport Poem’ and ‘Skin’. Both explored the theme of personal identity, combining descriptions of the body with rich natural imagery as well as allusions to place.
Overall, the event was a tremendous success, offering an inspirational insight into the world of bespoke tailoring and female entrepreneurship. Hannah ended by thanking Daisy and everyone else who attended, adding “I’ll definitely be wearing my suit tomorrow to celebrate.”