Ex-lawyer in a tights spot
This week we speak to Charles Duncombe, an ex-lawyer who abandoned the corporate law ladder in favour of setting up www.tightsplease.co.uk, an online shop selling, you guessed it, tights and hosiery. They sell brands ranging from Aristoc to Wolford and their range includes everything from basic socks to the more intriguing ‘magic knickers’ and cellulite beating caffeine tights. How did he get here?
mtl: Let’s start at the beginning – take us through your legal career.
Charles: I studied Law at Nottingham and then the LPC at Nottingham Trent. I did my training contract at Martineau Johnson in Birmingham and qualified into the corporate department. Then I got into tights (selling them, that is).
mtl: The obvious question is how?!
Charles: Well, I was doing a lot of M&A and corporate finance work related to newly formed internet companies. It was the time of the internet boom and venture capitalists were throwing money at anything web-orientated. I could see the potential in having a window to the world, if you had the right product. One night I was in a bar with a few female colleagues and they were saying how having to go off and buy tights was a real pain. I thought, “Hmm, this sounds interesting”.
I set up the company with a female friend while I was still at Martineau’s. We approached Pretty Polly and they said they would supply us as long as we paid them up front. We went for it and before long we were in business. Of course, I hadn’t told Martineau’s what I was up to. They offered me an associateship (an intermediary step between assistant and partner) and I felt I had to come clean. I said to my boss, “I’ve got a confession – I’m into women’s tights!”
Martineau’s were fantastic about the whole thing. They allowed me to go part-time and gradually reduce my involvement in the law - at the end I was doing only about 10 hours per week.
It was an exciting time for the internet and the arrangement gave Martineau’s an insight into how it worked. It allowed them to appear to clients as genuinely forward-thinking.
I left Martineau’s in 2001, once it became clear that the business was really taking off and it needed all my time. Since then we have sold millions of pounds worth of hosiery and have supplied stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale and Nicole Kidman.
mtl: Very impressive indeed. How does it compare to your legal days?
Charles: It’s great being the master of your own destiny. I really enjoyed my time at Martineau’s – I didn’t leave because I hated it – but being in control of your own business can be very rewarding. Financially, things have not always been easy – I had to invest some money up front (though not a huge amount), and most of the money we’ve made has gone back into the business, but we are now starting to turn a good profit. Half of my lawyer friends are incredibly jealous, the other half still think I’m mad! But I’m just glad I gave it a go.
mtl: So what would be your advice to other lawyers?
Charles: If you’ve got an idea, just give it a shot. Everyone thinks you’ve got to be really brave to do what I’ve done but the great thing about being a qualified lawyer is that you can always go back to a decent salary at a law firm, if needed. Yes, you might have to play catch-up, but you will always be able to pay the mortgage. Entrepreneurs from other backgrounds might not have this luxury, so they are taking a much bigger risk.
mtl: Charles, it’s great advice and a great story, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck with the business.
Click here if you need some tights: www.tightsplease.co.uk
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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