Emma Willis looks for apprentice to help carry future of quality clothing brand
EMMA Willis places instinct, vision and high customer service at the top of her list for running a successful clothing business.
And the owner of the high end shirt maker, which has a factory in Gloucester and store in London, is cut with those traits herself.
The company, which has made a blue cotton shirt for the Queen and socks for Prince Charles, has upheld its reputation as a brand of the highest quality since Emma started the handmade clothing business in 1989.
She said: "We have done well in this market because we have never compromised over quality.
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"I can sell with great confidence and as a result we get tremendous repeat business and great referrals.
"The sophisticated buyer likes one shop brands because it's exclusive, authentic and all the essence of it is kept in one shop."
The firm's first two recorded customers – neither of whom she knew at the time – were her now husband and her firm's financial backer, a wealthy American.
And it's this ability to make a strong first impression and encourage loyalty that has allowed Emma to expand the company as she has, albeit it at a slow rate to keep its high standards and exclusivity.
Emma opened her Gloucester base three years ago and now employs nine seamstresses and a cutter, Norman, at her factory at The Cross.
Working in Gloucester once or twice a week, she heads back to London mid-week, where she employs around four staff on Jermyn Street.
Emma said: "You can be a good designer but if you can't sew, if you can't make what you're selling then it's more difficult.
"You set yourself apart if you can sew."
Emma is now looking to take on an apprentice in the hope to train them up to the highest level.
Stroud college student Cara, 16, works during holidays at the factory and has recently made her first socks on a Victorian sock loom that was given to Emma by a woman who bought it at an antiques fair.
Two university students who live in Gloucester also work for the business on occasion, one who works on the company's website and the other who deals with materials.
Emma said: "I would love to find a young apprentice. They would have to have some experience but not too much so I can train them."
Emma said English shirt making was currently big in fashion and the business had received increased demand from China and other countries in Asia, as well as across Europe, especially Germany.
The shirt maker has been importing fine cotton from Switzerland since the company started and also imports silk from Italy.
The business has recently struck an ongoing deal with global online men's style firm Mr Porter to supply shirts, dressing gowns, ties and shooting socks. Its first order was for more than 70,000 clothing items.
Emma also helps injured British soldiers. She supports an initiative called Style for Soldiers, where the company makes complementary bespoke shirts.
Hand carved ebony walking sticks engraved with soldiers' regiments and initials are also made.
"I have been so moved," she said. "That their careers were cut short at such an early stage. There are a lot of servicemen here."
Emma Willis' company is nominated in GQ Style magazine as London's best bespoke shirt maker and by Nick Foulkes in the Evening Standard as one of the top five bespoke shirt makers in the world.
Emma started the firm after selling clothes door to door in Soho before heading up her branch for men's shirts in 1985.
She has three children, who all attended school in Minchinhampton, and lives near Cirencester.