Meet Camille Johnson

Director
Pink Ribbon Lingerie

Pink Ribbon Lingerie is a specialist retailer providing underwear, loungewear, sleepwear, swimwear and accessories for women who have had a full mastectomy or lumpectomy to treat breast cancer.

Founded in February 2009 by Camille Johnson, the company consists of a team of four in South London and donates 10% of all retail sales to breast cancer and other cancer related charities.

What was the driving force that led you to start your company?
My mum’s experiences buying lingerie and swimwear following breast cancer surgery was the impetus for starting Pink Ribbon Lingerie.

What was your career path prior to starting your business?
My career was in buying and merchandising. I started working as supervisor for the TopShop website three months after its launch in 1999. I left TopShop to join Debenhams’ head office as an allocator for the beauty department. I was there for two years when I was head hunted to work as an assistant merchandiser for House of Fraser head office for their beauty department.

In 2004 I was approached to see if I would be interested in interviewing for the role of merchandiser for the beauty department at Selfridges head office and I ended up working there for three years. I left Selfridges to work for an American spa brand called Bliss and was their merchandise and operations manager for the UK and Ireland from 2007 to 2009.

Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
I think I was always destined to be one. My mum has her own business, as did my grandfather and great uncle, I grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs.

I regularly have business ideas, from an early age I would have ideas and not pursue them and see it come to life later by someone else. I already have two other businesses in the pipeline but I won’t start them till I am happy with Pink Ribbon Lingerie.

Tell me more about your collections, what makes Pink Ribbon Lingerie unique?
Pink Ribbon Lingerie is a specialist in mastectomy underwear. We provide lingerie, loungewear, sleepwear and swimwear in a wide range of colours and sizes. We believe every woman should be able to wear beautiful, luxurious and functional lingerie. Products can be very expensive in this niche market, so when we select ranges we take this into account.

We currently don’t make the products we sell, they are sourced from the UK leading brands and companies around the world, but we are developing our own brand range to launch in autumn/winter 2012.

Pink Ribbon Lingerie also donates 10% of sales to breast cancer or cancer related charities as I feel that is important to give back to a sector that is currently under funded.

I love the sound of your Pink Ribbon Lingerie Afternoons. Can you tell me more about how the idea was conceived and what the response has been so far from your customers?
Lingerie afternoons have now turned into morning, afternoon and evening events. They are a free service offered to cancer charity centres and breast cancer support groups in London and the South- East.

There is no commitment for attendees to purchase, however 10% of all sales are donated to the centre. Lingerie afternoons last for approximately an hour and a half and are specially tailored for groups of women who have, or are about to undergo breast cancer surgery.

The sessions cover how to work out your bra size; how a bra should fit; opportunities to view the collection which will be modelled on a breast cancer survivor and the chance to try on products.

There aren’t many shops where you can purchase mastectomy lingerie and it is hard to purchase lingerie online so we decided to offer this service as we don’t have a shop. Our sessions take place throughout the year. The women who attend tell us they love the fact that the products are modelled on a breast cancer survivor and that they can pose questions to someone who has been through the same experience.

What marketing strategies proved most successful for driving awareness of your company following launch?
Because we are so new it’s hard to tell, most of our customers have come to us via recommendation and word of mouth which is great and also through the use of social media.

What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
We have just started working on our spring/summer brochure. My typical day usually starts with waking up at 6.30am, my son goes to school at 7.20am and I go back to sleep for an hour! At 8.30am I get up leave home at 9.15am to get into the office at 9.30am.

From there I review emails, voicemails, mail and print of orders, write a to-do-list for the day, tweet and use Facebook. I process orders and brochure requests, chase in samples and look for new brands.

Before you know it, it’s 5pm. I then go home and be a mum, cook dinner, help with homework, watch football and try and catch Eastenders. I’m then back on Twitter and Facebook and then work for about an 1-3 hours after my son has gone to bed. I usually go to bed at 12am if I’m lucky but normally it’s 2am.

What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My mum first and foremost; other breast cancer survivors; other entrepreneurs because you have all been through a similar journey and happy positive people.

What have been the highlights of running your own business?
The first order was exciting and receiving emails and calls from happy customers is priceless. Our first photo shoot was also memorable.

What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Being your own boss is hard, due to the self doubt that can occur over making the right decision. Motivating yourself to work when you’re tired or when you get or having a bad day is also hard, we all have them. Investing your life, time and money into something that may not work can also be stressful to deal with.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Don’t pay for marketing and if you do pay for something never ever pay the first price, always negotiate.

What has been your proudest business moment to date?
When I overheard my mum tell someone she was proud of me.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own retail business?
I would be honest and tell them it’s the hardest thing I have ever done, but anything that comes easy is not worth having or doing. I would also advise read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2016?
I would like to think that we will be well known and I expect the Pink Ribbon Lingerie brand to be global. We aim to launch own brand collection in autumn/winter 2012 then start international distribution in spring/summer 2014. So by 2016 I would like to see that side of the business become well established.

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For more information visit www.pinkribbonlingerie.co.uk. You can also find Pink Ribbon Lingerie on Twitter and Facebook.

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Camille Johnson was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.

The Twenty Ten Club is an award-winning networking organisation for Black female entrepreneurs. You can also find Twenty Ten Club on Twitter and Facebook.

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