The retail industry has been turned on its head this past year. One section of retail that has been hit particularly hard is bridal. While a lot of brands can rely on e-commerce, selling formal attire online isn’t so easy. If there’s one item you typically would purchase in-store, it’s a wedding gown.

We connected with Suzie Turner, CEO and creative director at Suzie Turner Couture, to find out how she’s adapted her business strategy to better connect with customers since the COVID-19 pandemic; the important role creativity plays for her team; and how mentorship has helped in her career journey.

Women in Retail Leadership Circle: Can you tell us about your designer gown business and your background as a fashion designer?
Suzie Turner: I was originally taught how to sew by my mother, who had a soft furnishing business. From the age of 12, I used to help her on the industrial machines; sewing the curtains and finishing them by hand after school. At the age of 15, I went to work with a men’s tailor, where I continued my training. During that time I was also studying with my pattern cutting tutor (with whom I still work today). I started to create my own pieces for clients at the age of 17 in Brighton, before moving to London.

Since then, I founded Suzie Turner Couture. Couture was a natural progression from my work as a tailor, and as my skill and understanding grew, so did the appreciation and demands of my clients, leading me naturally towards a high-end finish. My drive has always been to make garments that are exquisite in craftsmanship and design, always pushing my skills and mastery of new techniques so that I can continue to offer fresh, new ideas. At Suzie Turner, we create personally designed gowns, composed by the most skilled hands using unparalleled quality. Our process is very much a collaboration between designer and client; every step of the way is completely guided by the client to create their dream gown, with nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Anything is possible. It’s a beautiful process resulting in a design that will always be completely unique. Every element of design and creation is completed in-house in our London Atelier.

WIRLC: How has COVID-19 affected your business, especially with the increase of wedding cancellations and postponements?
ST: As the world has slowed down and our normalities have shifted, we’ve taken this amazing opportunity of downtime to create new techniques and designs without the pressure of wedding or event deadlines. From our perspective, creativity never stops flowing, regardless of the challenges that we’re faced with. We’re always enthusiastic to continue our craftsmanship. Likewise, because we’re not a corporation that’s bound by its high flagship overheads, we instead choose to put our resources into the craft, technique and product.

WIRLC: Collaboration plays an important role in your business. Can you tell us a little bit about how you digitally collaborate with your clients in lieu of in-person consultations?
ST: We’ve been making the most of our amazing app, which was exclusively designed and created for us by Moxtra. The app has helped us to digitally connect with clients around the globe. It allows us to converse back and forth with our clients quickly and efficiently, helping keep strong communication between us and the client, which is so important during the design process.

We’ve also taken advantage of the feature to video chat on our app; it has helped us continue the creative process with our clients even when we’re not allowed to meet in person. The app also includes incredible features that allow us to upload files and create mood boards, thus creating an even clearer creative vision between us and our clients. Having all the information on our designs and the progress of production in one place has proved both useful for us here at the atelier and for our clients.

WIRLC: How has using this technology improved your business?
ST: In light of the global pandemic, our app has improved our business immensely. Having somewhere we can easily contact clients in a professional and clear way has helped us to understand and get to know our clients even when we cannot meet them in person. This technology has also really helped the client to have a clear understanding of everything that’s being designed and made for her. It’s really easy for our clients to access all of the latest updates on their dress creation and what’s going on in the studio in one place without having to scroll back through email conversations to find out information.

WIRLC: With change comes innovation. How do you see the fashion wedding industry evolving due to the pandemic?
ST: I believe there has already been a shift in perspective from the traditional wedding due to the pandemic. People still want to get married, even if it means having a smaller number of guests. I think it’s made people really focus on who are the most important people they want at their wedding. Instead of spending more money on having more guests, some brides have decided to focus their finances on an extended celebration lasting a few days with the people they value the most in their lives.

Here at Suzie Turner Couture, we’ve harnessed this change and created a service which will allow for us to evolve with the wedding industry. We offer a Beyond Brand service which allows for our clients to develop designs with us to create staple tailored pieces for their wardrobe, which are individual to their style and pieces they will keep forever. Our goal is to allow for our bridal clients to extend their white wedding dress to a white wardrobe after the wedding for however long their celebrations continue.

WIRLC: At Women in Retail Leadership Circle, we really value mentorship. Has mentorship played a role at all in your career?
ST: Mentorship has played a large role in my career. I look up to many people as mentors, even people I’ve only met in passing that have shared with me a valuable piece of advice, or even just something they’ve experienced. I learn from everyone I meet and everything I experience to ensure that I’m constantly evolving into a better person and designer. The main mentor in my life, however, has to be my dear friend, Anna. I met her when I was 15, and I paid her every penny I earned in exchange for her passing on her knowledge of fashion and teaching me how to pattern cut. She’s someone I’ve learned so much from and have looked up to tremendously throughout my life. I even still work alongside her today!

WIRLC: From a leadership perspective, what have you done to try to keep team morale up during a challenging time for so many?
ST: Within my team at the atelier, the main way we’ve kept up our morale is by creating. Having the time to create show pieces broadcasting our craft is something we’ve really taken advantage of. As creatives, it’s our dream to be able to create the beautiful things that we envisage in our minds, but very rarely do we have the time. We now have an opportunity to let our creativity run wild, and this excitement has really kept us all motivated in such a challenging time.