It seems no one is immune to the trials and tribulations of a new start-up business, not even Samantha Cameron, who forged a creative career at Smythson before her time at Downing Street with former British Prime Minister and husband David Cameron...
It was during this time that Samantha wanted to find pieces that would take her from morning until night while maintaining a sense of sophistication with undeniable ease – think machine washable fabrics, trend-based silhouettes and easy-to-wear basics that worked as well in a boardroom as they did at school drop off, which is where Cefinn came into play…
“Getting through the first couple of years of a start-up is definitely challenging, I have never worked harder and you need lots of support from mentors and patience from friends and family… As a creative director at Smythson and during my life at Number 10 Downing Street, I always found it hard to source contemporary, trend-led daywear that wasn’t corporate or dull. I wanted beautiful clothes that made me feel confident, cool and appropriate but, given my hectic life as a working mother of four, didn’t require endless dry cleaning and could carry me from the school gate to the office on to an evening out. Cefinn is all about effortless pieces with stylish details and a hint of laid-back, catwalk glamour.”
One look at Cefinn and it’s easy to see that versatility and style go hand-in-hand, with hardworking basics like shirts, suiting, blouses and midi dresses packing a serious punch in seasonal colours, breathable fabrics and unrestricted silhouettes – and would look just as good in 10 years’ time as they do today. This is a smart move by Samantha who knows that many women, particularly busy mums, don’t need fussy and disposable fashion in a time where ease and longevity are key.
We caught up with Samantha in London recently to talk Cefinn and the future of fashion, how her time at Downing Street influenced her business, who some of the most inspiring women she’s ever met are, and why she prioritises her husband and children above all else, always…
Cefinn is described as an ‘urban uniform for busy women who love fashion’ – how would you further describe it?
As a creative director at Smythson and during my life at Number 10 Downing Street, I always found it hard to source contemporary, trend-led daywear that wasn’t corporate or dull. I wanted beautiful clothes that made me feel confident, cool and appropriate but, given my hectic life as a working mother of four, didn’t require endless dry cleaning and could carry me from the school gate to the office on to an evening out. Cefinn is all about effortless pieces with stylish details and a hint of laid-back, catwalk glamour. Every piece is designed to be smart, up-to-date and feminine. Easy to wear and elegantly understated, it’s fashion you don’t have to overthink – step into it in the morning and you’re good to go 24/7.
You’ve spoken about the highs and lows - ‘lots of sleepless nights’ - of your own start-up journey. Talk us through the early days of launching Cefinn and how you managed starting your business and caring for your children?
Getting through the first couple of years of a start-up is definitely challenging, I have never worked harder and you need lots of support from mentors and patience from friends and family. There were many days in the year before we launched when I’d be answering emails at 4am and juggling fundraising and legal issues at the same time as designing a website and sorting out the IT and printer ink. There were many ups and downs and it’s been a big learning curve, we still have a long way to go but it is very satisfying when it begins to all fall into place.
What are some of the biggest challenges the fashion industry faces right now?
Sustainability is currently the biggest challenge currently facing the fashion industry. Technology will have to solve many of the issues and it is exciting seeing customers putting pressure on the brands who in turn put are putting pressure on their factories and fabric mills to invest in the ideas and technology that will change things for the better. There is no quick fix but everyone is more aware and progress is definitely moving in the right direction.
You’ve said naiveté can be good – “you’ve just got to go for it!” – how did naiveté play a role in those early days of Cefinn?
I think if I had understood the true complexity of fashion design, sourcing and production and really faced up to how competitive the market was I might never have started the business. But you are following a dream and just having to take it one day at a time. Even though there were many moments when I thought there was no way we could succeed, three years on it feels like we have a viable business.
What does 2019 hold for Cefinn - talk us through the new collection?
We are about to launch our first cotton shirting collection and adding to our range of knitwear. I am working on our summer 20 collection with lots of exciting new prints and fabrics. We have our 2nd London Pop-Up Store opening shortly it is in the King’s Road and we will be there from August until the end of the year.
“ Sustainability is currently the biggest challenge currently facing the fashion industry. Technology will have to solve many of the issues and it is exciting seeing customers putting pressure on the brands who in turn put are putting pressure on their factories and fabric mills to invest in the ideas and technology that will change things for the better ”
Three items from Cefinn we all need in our lives?
A great dress, a tailored trouser suit and a white shirt.
How do you approach dressing daily – what’s a typical look for you?
I tend to live in the navy Isabel dress, it’s elegant yet practical and gets me from any meeting to an event with just a change of shoe needed. The best thing about it is that it’s machine washable, (like a huge part of the collection) which means it’s always ready to wear. Just what I need!
Fashion is a huge contributor to the British economy. How have you supported British designers over the years and what makes you so passionate about nurturing the British fashion industry?
British fashion is such a great combination of heritage and innovative creativity. London style is very varied and confident and consumers aren’t afraid to make bold decisions whether it be with a block colour or vibrant print. There’s a lot say for British tailoring, particularly on Savile Row, I have taken inspiration from this for some of our latest Autumn pieces which include a pinstripe dress fabric and elegant suiting.
It was a huge honour to be able to wear so many of our incredibly talented young British designers during my time at Downing Street. Many became good friends and are the most lovely, hard-working, supportive group of people I have had the pleasure to get to know.
Your daughter Nancy sews her own clothes – has she inherited your love of fashion. How do you share fashion together?
She is very talented and spends a lot of time shifting through vintage clothing stores and then pulling the clothes apart and sewing them back together in totally different combinations. It is a big relief that her feet are now bigger than mine so she has had to stop ‘borrowing’, my shoes!
What are your most vivid memories of living at 10 Downing Street?
Bringing my daughter Florence back there when she was first born. Having the Queen and Prince Philip for lunch on his 90th birthday.
Is there anything you miss about living at 10 Downing Street?
The IT department, I am not very good with technology. Otherwise not really, I am the kind of the person who is always thinking about tomorrow not yesterday.
What are some of the challenges, in your opinion, women face today?
I’ve been lucky to have grown up surrounded by strong, entrepreneurial and supportive women. Women can sometimes hold themselves back from advancement with self-imposed barriers, it’s important that women support each other in order to succeed and give each other the confidence to break through the barriers.
Who are some of the most remarkable women you’ve ever met and why?
So many! Michelle Obama is so warm and wise and confident. Angela Merkel – she is great fun and has brilliant sense of humor, Natalie Massenet – amazing vision. And then all the incredible women I met at my weekly charity receptions in Downing Street, many of them were the ‘true angels’, the ones that often go unnoticed but really make the world a better place.
What life advice do you have for your children?
Always be polite and kind, don’t be scared to fail and constantly challenge yourself.
We can’t “do it all” – would you agree – what do you prioritize in life and what do you let slide?
It depends on the priorities of the moment but my marriage and children always come first. When work is busy it can mean that I often feel guilty that I am not making time to be supportive enough of my friends and wider family in their moments of need, (I have 7 siblings), but it is impossible to do it all.
Finally, what’s your approach to health and wellbeing. How do you look after yourself?
I am an early riser and therefore early to bed. I am generally an active person and am always running from one thing to the next whether it’s the school run or a board meeting. I run cross country at the weekend and do regular yoga, as an office, we have a weekly kick-boxing session in a studio next door which is great. We also try and do a daily office plank, so far, we’re up to 2 minutes 20!