Ex-CC lawyers launch luxury boutique

Kara Iland and Clare Rous trained and worked for several years at Clifford Chance.  This year they left to set up Rous Iland, a members’ only boutique, which is a tailored luxury service for busy professional women.  Signing up for membership is quick and easy and gives you access to beautiful, individual items imported from around the world.  Rous Iland offers you a very efficient and private way of shopping and you won't find their clothes on the high street. Whether you want to brighten up your legal wardrobe or find something special to wear for a wedding, they can help.  And boys, not only can you access the service to find something for the lady in your life, the service will also be expanded to cover menswear from 2008.  We talked to them about their move from law to fashion...

 

mtl: Hi ladies, tell us about your legal backgrounds and why you left. 

 

RI: Kara studied law in Australia and worked in The Hague, Brussels and Luxembourg, prior to coming to London. Clare studied English Literature at York University.  We both trained at Clifford Chance and qualified into the International Arbitration group there.  We enjoyed our work, traveled a lot and were involved in some very interesting cases. 

 

From the point of view of practising law, we were both happy with our choice of firm and had no wish to move anywhere else to work.  However, we were not certain that we wanted to work towards trying to attain partnership, which seemed to be the obvious goal. We are both reasonably young, with no dependants, so were at a time in our lives when we felt we could take a risk – it would have been much harder later on.  We both had a strong interest in fashion and a desire to run our own business.  We became good friends, having worked in a small department together, and began to realise that if we were going to set up a business then we should do it together.

 

 

 

Career timeline

 

Kara

 

1997-2001

Law and Genetics, University of New South Wales

|

2001-2003

Working in Brussels and Luxembourg at the ECJ and in The Hague

|

2003-2004

Trainee, Clifford Chance

|

2004-2007

Assistant, International Arbitration, Clifford Chance

|

2007

Resigned in January and launched Rous Iland in May

 

Clare

 

1997-2000

English Literature, University of York

|

2000-2002

CPE and LPC, BPP

|

2002-2004

Trainee, Clifford Chance

|

2004-2007

Assistant, International Arbitration, Clifford Chance

|

2007

Resigned in January and launched Rous Iland in May

 

 

As City lawyers, we were paid a good salary that we could choose to spend on ourselves, but having worked so hard, we didn't want to fritter it on bad purchases. Ideally we wanted good quality, well-cut clothes that we would not see on many other women - without simply paying for a name.  However, such pieces take a lot of spare time to track down, which was something we did not have, particularly since working in places like Canary Wharf can sometimes be a bit of a barren wasteland for fashion! 

 

We imagined a service which would allow women to look and feel wonderful, without wasting their precious weekends trawling through the shops or online, combined with a bespoke, personal touch. We hit upon the idea of offering a collection of interesting independent labels with a members’ only service that would appeal to women who work in the City and who find it tricky to locate special clothes.    

 

As anyone with a dream knows, we thought about it constantly and did plenty of research into the industry and what labels we would want if we went ahead.  Slowly we began to explore our options by attending fashion week, trade fairs and speaking to designers. The transition from dream to reality took place this winter when we decided that we had enough faith in the idea to resign in early January 2007.  It is never easy to walk away from a good, stable job. Luckily, the partners we worked for were understanding and supportive of our venture. 

 

mtl: Did you find it hard it hard to make the decision to leave? 

 

RI: Yes, it was very tough to resign and we spent a lot of time discussing it with our partners and families.  We had worked very hard to get where we were and were still very junior in the grand scheme of things. After resigning, we worked for six weeks of our notice period before leaving, and during that time spent our nights and weekends building the website, producing our business plan and buying our SS07 collection.

 

There has been so much to do, but it has not felt onerous because it has been so much fun.  Of course it is still very early days and occasionally it can be overwhelming.  We launched the site on 1 May 2007, after working full-time on it for two months.  This was very quick – but then we are two super-organised Clifford Chance lawyers with a strong work ethic!  We are both involved in all aspects of the business so that we both know exactly what’s going on.  It’s a very supportive dynamic; we feel that we make an excellent team.

 

mtl: Tell us about the Rous Iland concept? 

 

RI: Rous Iland is a members’ only boutique providing busy women with access to a luxurious and supremely efficient shopping experience. The critical factor is that we know every one of our clients individually so that we can provide them with a high-level of personal service. By sourcing items they tell us they want and need, our members ultimately direct the make-up of our collection. Membership begins with a private 1-2 hour consultation during which one of us will meet with you at your home or office in order to learn about your lifestyle, needs and to take detailed measurements.

It is easy to arrange the consultation either via a brief online form or by calling us directly. A fee of £100 is normally charged but that is currently offset against any purchase made. We would then create a personal profile page for you on our site, which enables you to make purchases and communicate with us about what you are looking for in addition to accessing other benefits such as attending our sale events and parties. Deliveries are free, as are returns which are picked up by our courier from your reception to save you queuing at the post office. Private appointments to try on pieces are also available at our Holland Park showroom, or in your home or office. Our guest buying facilities also make it very easy to ensure loved ones get you the perfect gift and in the right size!

 

We want our members to feel comfortable and fabulous in what they choose from our collection. Our designers are carefully selected from all around the world. We look for individuality, attention to detail and most importantly flattering cuts and styles which work in a real woman’s life and will survive the flurry of seasonal trends. We will never buy huge volume, so you will not see two other women at the party in the same Rous Iland dress... We pick versatile pieces by interesting designers that can be worn to the office but that also work well in the evening. We are happy to be very much guided by what our members are looking for so that with time the boutique becomes very much their own.

 

The aim of the site is to be a niche service with a strong network of members.  It seems to be going very well so far – a lot of people have signed up and there has been a positive reaction to the site. There are a range of additional benefits in the pipeline that we will begin to add for our members.  We aim to have regular events so that people can meet each other and network. Ultimately, we would like to open a club-house for members and, of course, to launch our own label. 

 

Our collection will appeal to women who want to look stylish, well put together and fashionable without looking like a fashion victim.  We always recommend pieces appropriate to our members’ environments and body shape.

 

We want to provide some luxury without you having to spend too much money – for example, an average dress will cost approximately £200-250 and the most expensive piece of clothing is currently just over £500.  We have many trans-seasonal items that you can rely on and use again and again.  It may sound superficial, but it is important to feel well-dressed at work as well as socially, especially if you want to come straight out of the office and still feel good after a long day at work.  The way you dress is empowering and helps you feel in control, but it is often hard for busy women to find the right pieces without spending a fortune and can be the first thing to be relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities. 

 

Like most boutiques, what we are doing has an element of risk in that we buy our collections well in advance of selling them. We have both put all of our savings into the business and certainly will not be taking a salary for a while.  You would have to really love what you do when you start your own business because it is hard work setting it up and initially you get nothing back other than enjoyment.  It is not enough to be unhappy doing law; you would have to really want the alternative, as leaving law means losing your support network, security and certainty. 

 

mtl: How has your legal experience helped? 

 

RI:  We can be very demanding and thorough with our suppliers because of our legal background. So far we have done our own legal work, although we’ve been lucky to have had a lot of amazing advice and help from our family and friends.   Lawyers have fantastic training, and are capable and generally hard working to have got where they are, with a broad set of skills that are quite transferable. We find the little things so important e.g. our attention to detail, general organisation, confidence and being able to approach and talk to a wide range of people.  You should not doubt your ability to do something else if that is what you want.

 

We have absolutely no regrets about having done law, or about leaving it.  As anyone with their own business will say, we still work pretty long hours and find it hard to switch off from our work.  However, what we do now feels completely natural to us – and it is so much fun. We are doing something that we love and feel passionate about.  We never have that sinking Sunday evening feeling anymore.  If there is something you are really interested in, we would advise you to be brave and just give it a go... 

 

mtl: Thanks Clare and Kara and good luck.    

 

For more information about Rous Iland please visit www.rousiland.com, call 0845 003 8945 or email enquiries@rousiland.com.

 

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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