Renowned for her meticulous style and timeless designs, we catch up with The White Company Clothing Director, Barbara Horspool to talk decision making, craftsmanship in fashion and her top picks from the AW16 collection.
Words: Emma Walsh
Established in 1994 by Chrissie Rucker MBE, The White Company is coveted for its simple and sophisticated style, with punctilious attention to detail and affordable price tags. Ranging from home accessories to clothing and childrenswear, the brand maintains a strict philosophy of creating high-quality, beautifully designed pieces that will stand the test of time.
Having joined the company in December 2014, Clothing Director, Barbara Horspool has an impressive 35 years of industry experience under her belt. A First-class honours graduate from Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University), Horspool studied BA Fashion Design after becoming inspired by the music and fashion scene of the 1970s. It was here that she met business partner Mark Betty and set up clothing label, “Blanche” in 1980, selling designs to stockists such as Joseph, Whistles and Harvey Nichols, to name but a few.
After working for several large retailers across different markets, Horspool wanted to return to a business that demanded the highest standard of design and quality. “I felt that the future of retail lay within selling a ‘lifestyle’, one that people could trust and respect -When I met Chrissie Rucker, I found that we shared many of the same values that working, busy mothers and career women often have.”
A dynamic worker, Horspool begins her day by training in Primrose Hill at 6.15am every morning, “It’s the only time I have to myself, and keeping fit is massively important to me as it keeps me sane.” She then races to get to the office before 9am, ready for a jam-packed day ahead. From strategic meetings with suppliers and the Board of Directors, to looking at sketches and reviewing samples for new collections, Horspool is responsible for the look and feel of the brand.
As a long-time fan of the company, she is often seen wearing garments and accessories from the line and has bought a number of items from the AW16 collection. Her key pieces for this season include: a cashmere pom-pom scarf, sheepskin coat, super-soft white cable knit sweater, silk print pyjamas and ‘A Christmas Wish’ children’s storybook, written by herself and illustrated by Catherine Rutherford. Customers can either visit the store in Grand Central Birmingham, or the concession in the Bullring’s Selfridges for a “luxurious, simple and calm” selection.
But what is it that makes The White Company so successful? After starting out as a 12-page mail order brochure, the company is now one of the UK’s fastest growing multi-channel retailers with annual turnover exceeding £180 million. “We are really obsessive about the details” says Horspool, “It’s not uncommon for us to reject many samples because we think something isn’t quite right. We believe that our pieces must have great longevity, both in style and quality.”
Never compromising and always putting the customer first, she firmly believes in craftsmanship and exquisite designs. “Everything I look at or touch has to stir my senses and give me joy. If it makes me smile, I ask myself whether it will do the same for our customer. Will it make her feel good?” Having worked in the fashion industry for so many years, she’s learnt “that quality and understanding in everything you do are non-negotiable, particularly in retail (and in life too).”
From starting out as an assistant, to working her way up to Clothing Director, Horspool is extremely well-versed in the design and fashion business, with her CV listing an impressive range of retailers such as M&S, New Look and Jigsaw. For those just starting out in their careers, her main advice is to “not be scared of making decisions or making mistakes; good ideas fly around and anyone can grab hold of them, but they’re only good if you act on them.”
So what is next for the in-demand brand? With 51 stores across the UK and a US website, The White Company will open its international doors to New York next summer. “This will be our landmark moment. We are a very sensory, tactile brand so this is an important next step as we deliver an experiential concept to the American market.”
Remaining a consistent supplier of designer-quality items for more than two decades, The White Company’s understated, classic style appeals to a multitude of people who are searching for well-made, timeless designs. Offering unparalleled customer service and luxuriously crafted products, the brand’s attention to detail is what sets it apart from other High Street stores. Whether adding ambiance to the home, creating a capsule wardrobe or styling the little ones, “There’s a place in everyone’s life for white.”