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You may not know the name Hannah Coffin just yet, but you certainly should, with her stunning ultra-feminine womenswear brand already a household name.
She is of course the incredible CEO and founder behind contemporary British fashion brand, Needle & Thread.
Known for its intricately embroidered gowns and ethereal occasionwear, Needle & Thread has become a millennial favourite, with celebrities, influencers and even royalty queuing up to get their hands on Hannah’s designs.
The combination of voluminous tulle and statement ruffles with recycled fabrics and sequins makes Needle & Thread’s designs the perfect investment, coming in all sizes from a UK 4 to 22.
Sustainable, inclusive, cool and stunning – it’s no wonder Needle & Thread is going from strength to strength.
But what about the woman behind the brand?
Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers and Hannah Coffin and her strong resilience and endless positivity is that in a nutshell.
As Needle & Thread launches its dreamy new collection, MC Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the gorgeous Hannah to find out more about the label and to talk super powers, business advice and celebrating success.
Take me back to the beginning of Needle & Thread…
The seeds of Needle & Thread were sown a long time ago. From as early as I can remember, I’ve been interested in fashion and textiles. My grandmother taught me the basic principles of knitting and sewing when I was very young, and I started pattern cutting and making clothes in my teenage years. After studying fashion and textiles at London’s Ravensbourne University, I began a career in womenswear design. During numerous work trips to India, I got to see first-hand the skills of the artisans who embellish and embroider using traditional techniques. I returned to India time and again, for both work and pleasure, visiting Goa, The Himalayas, The Ganges, and Udaipur amongst other areas. I had always wanted to launch my own business and my entrepreneurial spirit was inspired by those special experiences. So, in 2013, after a decade in the fashion industry, I decided to take a leap of faith and launch Needle & Thread, and a year later, it had turned into a global business, with offices in London and Delhi.
How has the pandemic forced you to pivot?
Given that special occasion clothing is so central to Needle & Thread, you can imagine that pivoting was pretty vital! But we were fortunate in that the rhythm of lockdown rippled across the world at slightly different times. So, we found that there was always demand from one country or another as the restrictions eased in one location but tightened elsewhere. Rapidly honing our digital marketing and data analysis skills helped us to maximise trade. On the creative front, we also took note of our customers’ changing needs: in response, we diversified by expanding our daywear offering, incorporating loungewear and knitwear. Other aspects of the pandemic were equally challenging. Working from home was particularly difficult because nothing can replace seeing and touching the product in person. We also missed our pre-pandemic office culture, which included a lot of social interaction among the team, from summer and Christmas parties to wellness talks, charity activities and Diwali celebrations. Recently, we came together again in person for Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day, and it felt great to revive that special dynamic.
What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Getting on a plane to Delhi, aged 32, with a one-way ticket, to set up my brand. It was an experience that threw me straight in at the deep end: visiting sequin markets in the hustle and bustle of the city, forging relationships with factories, hiring a team, and trying to pick up the basics of the language as I went along. Back home, pitching our product to big-ticket brands, like Net-a-Porter and Harrods, can only be described as daunting! I also feel that the mechanics of being a business founder requires a daily dose of bravery: I’m always mindful of how much there is at stake running a business.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Growing the London and Delhi offices simultaneously so that we had designers, merchandisers, finance and production specialists based in both territories required a lot of perseverance. In the early years, it was challenging to achieve consistent production in a country that goes through the monsoon season and extreme summer heat. On a personal level, becoming a mother was also a challenge. When Teddy, my little boy, was born, it wasn’t practical for me to take maternity leave at that stage in the business, so instead, he came everywhere with me: photo shoots, press events, even sales meetings. Blending business with family life still remains a delicate balance.
Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female founder?
Yes, unfortunately I have. Although the industry is slowly changing, the investment world is still male-dominated and it’s tough to navigate. There have been many times when I’ve been patronised in business and that can be frustrating. That said, I’ve also encountered many supportive men along the way. Nonetheless, it’s still men in suits who typically hold the purse strings. I’d like to see that change.
Do you have a favourite piece in your collection?
We’ve just finished designing our Spring Summer ’22 collection, inspired by Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s The Secret Garden. The collection pays homage to beautiful English flowers and the magic of the garden. A personal favourite of mine is the Filigree Lace Strapless Gown in Wisteria Pink. For me, its femininity, embellishment and shaping sums up the essence of Needle & Thread: timeless, beautiful pieces, that you can wear for years to come.
How can you achieve the right work/ personal life balance?
For years, I’ve watched women struggle with this challenge, including myself. I’ve realised that it takes a conscious commitment to protect the balance that works for you. After much soul searching as a family, we decided that the best life plan for us was for my husband Mark to join the business, which he did in 2019. He’s a huge support and it means that we get to spend time together – I value his companionship, and having him by my side during the working day is a huge positive. But that balance is a work in progress and more recently, I enlisted a life coach to help keep me focussed, motivated and responsible with my time management. I find it helpful to be accountable for my personal and professional life goals, which include protecting quality time with my family. And for me, I think that’s key.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
My mentor always told me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to take risks, make that daunting phone call, send that key email, take chances, and most importantly of all, ask for help when you need it.
What has been your proudest moment?
Seeing my designs being worn by iconic women, from Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman, always makes me smile, as does dressing real, everyday women celebrating life’s special moments. From a personal perspective, navigating family life through the pandemic has also made me proud: it was during that time that Mark and I got married and we witnessed Teddy’s first words and steps.
How can we all ask for more?
Removing emotion from the conversation is important, and staying measured and pragmatic will always get you further. I find it helpful to consider all the outcomes and to be at peace with the worst-case scenario. Ultimately that might mean being open to a new chapter, or a different path you hadn’t previously considered, if you feel your worth is not being recognised.
What is your superpower?
I’ve developed a resilience over the years that keeps me calm and focussed, and those qualities in leadership help bring out the best in my team. And I know this may sound a bit odd, but I have an amazing memory! My mind holds an encyclopaedic knowledge of every collection we’ve designed, from artworks and colours through to pricing details. That makes my job much easier.
How do you celebrate success?
I haven’t been particularly good at this in the past, and it’s one of the reasons why I work with a life coach. It’s so easy to focus on the immediacy of what needs fixing rather than acknowledging personal successes. I try to be more mindful these days, and if something has gone well or I’ve hit a particular milestone, I always try to do something nice to celebrate – whether that’s a simple movie night, going out for dinner with a couple of close friends or going away for a weekend with Mark and Teddy. I’ve found that the fashion industry is so fast paced and successes come and go very quickly, but it’s something I’m working on.
What will you never compromise on in business?
The design and integrity of our product. It’s the cornerstone of our brand, and for me those elements are non-negotiable. Sustainability is also something I’m passionate about. We’ve invested heavily in recycled fabrics and sequins, and this year, 50-75% of the entire collection will be made from recycled materials. It’s been a pretty big challenge, but one I’m proud we’ve achieved.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Looking back, I regret outsourcing certain functions to trusted agencies who have over-promised and under-delivered. Although this might not sound particularly significant, the consequences to a growing business can be far-reaching. So now I have a policy to manage as much as possible in-house, with a team I trust. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but ultimately, I’ve learnt from them, and now trust my intuition more.
What would you want to change for women?
I would like to see a more level playing field unfolding, whether that’s in traditionally male-dominated private equity sectors, the boardroom, or women being supported in returning to work after becoming a parent. There’s still a lot of unconscious bias out there that needs to be challenged. I’ve seen it in business, but also through our collaborations with charities such as Smart Works and The Prince’s Trust, whose work has really highlighted to me that sense of ongoing inequality. I think that both employers and employees need a helping hand when it comes to getting equitable structures in place that can facilitate long-lasting change.
Visit the Needle & Thread website to find out more about the brand and Hannah’s new collection.