Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
Eileen Willett & Nancy Zeffman share their experience of setting up Cucumber Clothing, using innovative fabrics to combat hot flushes, in their 50s
About Eileen and Nancy
Eileen is a transplanted Japanese-Canadian and Nancy is a born and bred Londoner. With one dog, three children, and a husband each, they are respectively 53 and 52.
What were your main activities ( job, commitments etc) before turning 50?
We both juggled family and work. Nancy’ background is in advertising, working at Saatchi and Saatchi and then in the charitable sector for many years; Eileen helped start up Nicole Farhi Menswear then created her own successful brand of accessories, Wada Bags and Accessories.
What have been your main activities ( job, commitments etc) since turning 50?
Cucumber Clothing! Launched in September 2017, but in reality the seeds were planted and germinating by spring 2016. Since the launch and the widespread press Cucumber Clothing has received, it’s been non-stop ,and yes, that means seven days a week.
The inspiration behind the business
What prompted you to start your business/ take up the challenge/follow your dream.
A chance holiday – this one with a group of likeminded women, forty plus where there was a lot of talk about hormonal changes and how much these affected lives day to day. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything out there to help.
Did you have to take any courses or training to do this?
We’ve done a few along the way in areas where we felt we needed to bolster our knowledge, but generally, we’re learning on the job.
What does your business / dream /job/challenge look like today?
We are delighted that Cucumber Clothing is a reality and especially delighted with the positive feedback we keep receiving from our customers. Our dream is to grow Cucumber Clothing to make it available to women (and possibly men) of all ages who get hot.
What has been the best aspect of your journey so far?
All the inspirational, generous, smart women (and men) we’ve met along the way – so many of whom have given us a hand up.
Did anybody in particular inspire you?
So many women entrepreneurs who have with hard work, a brilliant idea and sheer determination have made their business a success. Dame Natalie Massanet of Net a Porter, Sharmadean Reid of Wah Nails, Tamara Rajah of Live Better With are just a few.
What difference has it made to your life?
A huge difference. We have had the opportunity to meet so many new people, learn so many new skills and running a start up is a job like no other. There is never any downtime!
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
We were overwhelmed by the initial response to our launch. We thought it would be slow and steady, instead we have had an amazing reaction from hundreds of women.
How did the opportunity come about?
We created it.
What other opportunities have materialised as a result
We have been lucky enough to meet so many interesting people, do so many interesting things. Being able to collaborate with them on different projects has been great fun.
Which of your previous experiences (if any) did you draw upon the most?
Nancy’s background in advertising has been key, as has Eileen’s experience in fashion and start ups.
What are your next steps?
We are constantly researching the newest and best fabric tech out – and for Spring/Summer 2019 we are hoping to use a cutting edge silk that is thermoregulating/moisture wicking and gorgeous.
How have friends and family reacted?
They have been our biggest fans and supporters – we feel very lucky.
None really – we have made mistakes along the way, but each time we learned something important. It’s too exciting to have any regrets!
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do something similar?
Talk to as many people as you can before you start – it’s amazing what you can learn.
Make a business plan, even if you do not stick to it, (and you won’t) it’s essential to know the direction you are travelling in.
Get a good lawyer onside. You need to believe in your success from the start, and that means making sure everything you do is legally water tight.
A little bit more about you……
All time favourite book or film?
Eileen – anything Margaret Atwood
Nancy – that’s such a hard question! Two that have stuck in my mind are A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and The Plot Against America by Philp Roth. Very different, but equally gripping
How would you describe your own style?
Eileen – West Coast boho. I still like to pretend I am living near the beach.
Nancy – when walking my dog, very messy and bedraggled. Otherise, I like to think easy and minimalist, maybe with a pop of something different somewhere in the mix
Three words that sum up your life over 50
Eileen – active, multi-faceted, exciting
Nancy – challenging, unpredictable, fun
You can find out more about Cucumber Clothing at https://www.cucumberclothing.com/