Friday interview | Kate Walton on business, fashion, pilates and puppies
Voted one of Drapers '30 under 30' and featured in Vogue magazine twice, fashion entrepreneur Kate Walton talks to HLN about her highs, lows and everything in between...
By Laura Kingston
In a prime retail location at the top of Gosforth High Street, Have to Love boutique has spent 13 years establishing a loyal customer base of women who want something different from the High Street fashion stores. Starting her business straight out of university, Kate has expanded the Have to Love business online with havetolove.com and this year launched her first own-brand range of activewear.
Can you tell us about how you got started?
I was 25 when I started my business. I had just graduated from university and I’d had lots of interest in my collection at Graduate Fashion Week. Both of my parents have their own business and for that reason they really wanted me to get a job to gain some experience. Because of that I was applying for jobs and starting Have to Love on the side but the shop took over and I’ve never looked back.
What is it about Have to Love that women particularly enjoy?
I think its the really personal service I offer. Not just in-store when my customer’s come in, but I’m also in touch with them all of the time, texting them when I know something they’ll love is in stock. We sell boutique pieces at affordable prices so women can get items which are fashionable and different from the High Street stores but don’t cost the earth.
What are your greatest achievements?
Over the years we’ve received a number of national accolades which I’m really proud of and were completely unexpected. I was voted Drapers ’30 under 30′ people to watch in the fashion industry which was fantastic and we’ve also been recognised in Vogue, listed in ‘100 best boutiques’ and ‘100 best shops outside of London’. All of the awards came completely out of the blue and really helped me keep going when I was working so hard.
We’ve talked about imposter syndrome before and I’m always in awe of your confidence when it comes to business and your decision-making. Does that just come naturally to you?
I just never stop! When you have your own business you have to keep going, keep looking forward and constantly think of new things. I’ve got to believe in myself and have confidence in things like the stock I’m ordering in and the approach I’m taking. I don’t give myself time to doubt myself because if I did, that’s when things would stop. I think my work ethic is definitely bred into me as both of my parents are the same. My advice to anyone feeling imposter syndrome would be to throw yourself into work and don’t give yourself a chance to think about it.
What obstacles have you faced as you’ve grown your business?
I started my business in 2006 and the recession hit three years in, which was a real learning curve. My customer base changed a lot in a short space of time and I had to reassess the stock I was ordering in, change my offering and change my approach.
Tell us about your support network. Have your friends’ taken similar career paths?
My sister lives in Dubai – she’s a great support to me, we’re really close. We text all of the time and she gives me really good feedback on the stock I’m ordering in. I also ship a lot out to Dubai for her and her friends which is good support! My parents are great mentors and have been right from the beginning. My boyfriend Chris had a shop and an online business himself so he’s also a good mentor, offering a different perspective.
Friendship-wise, when I first left university a lot of my friends got jobs. They were happy and I was struggling to try and get myself up there. Most of my friends realise that my business is my life, my baby. I haven’t gone out as much as I’ve wanted to because I’ve had to be focused and put Have to Love first.
You always look so glossy and groomed! Do you feel pressure to always look good because of the industry you’re in?
Not really, I actually quite like the routine of getting up and getting ready to come in every day. It’s almost like my equivalent of a uniform. When I was little I used to watch my mum get up and get ready every day, putting her lipstick on, and it’s just something that has always been part of my life.
Four years ago you were diagnosed with breast cancer – how did you deal with that?
It was a real challenge. There is no help out there for people who have their own business when they become unwell. I thought to myself, I’m strong, I’m going to get through this and actually, having the business and staying busy helped. It took six to eight months to go through all of the treatment but at the end of it, that’s when I crashed. It hit me hard and at that point, I got mentally quite ill. That’s when I got into mindfulness and had counselling. If I didn’t have the business and didn’t have to come in every day I think I would have really struggled to keep going.
I now live a clean lifestyle. I was pretty healthy before but now I always have smoothies. I don’t supplement breakfast or lunch. I always eat and I snack regularly. I make own protein balls at home. I do enjoy myself at weekends though, I like good wine and dinner rather than going out.
I’m just careful, I do a lot of reformer pilates, a lot of yoga and I still practice mindfulness.
Have to Love activewear
Have to Love launched its first own-brand activewear collection in April 2019. With women spending more and more time in activewear – not just to work-out – Kate decided to design a range which is flattering, high quality, washed well and is affordable too.
She said: ‘When I wasn’t very well I wanted to be cosy and comfortable but a lot of the stylish activewear that I looked for came in at a high price point. I wanted to develop something for women which is functional, stylish, lasts well and doesn’t cost a fortune.”
With squat-proof leggings and padded sports bras, what’s not to love? What’s more, 10% of the sale of every item goes to Breast Cancer Care.