Our latest foray into the world of local fashion takes us to the door of Monika Theodoris, founder of Moni Boutique…
Monika Theodoris used to dream of having her own boutique since she was little. Two years ago, she made that desire come true. Originally from Poland, this empowered woman moved to Bournemouth almost 15 years ago, where now runs the shop Moni Boutique in the Burlington Arcade. Under Coco Chanel’s quote “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself”, Monika pursues her goal to dress, help and inspire women. A passionate about fashion who tells us about her struggles and victories during an uncertain year, but also continue working to see her business grow and one day design her own collection.
HOW DID YOU START IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
Since I was little, I have always loved fashion. I always wanted to dress differently to everyone else. Having my own business was always my dream, but obviously, for many years I couldn’t afford it. It’s also more difficult when opening a business in a country you haven’t lived in all your life. So I worked for different companies, running their business for many years — always in retail. Shops like H&M or Zara don’t really do customer service, so I wanted to start my own company to do something completely different and unique. For women who wanted to dress differently from the rest. My goal was that any woman – any age or size – could come and feel comfortable, find out what suits them best, and not feel a push to buy anything.
Three months after I opened my business, I was shocked to receive a call from the presenter and fashion coach Gok Wan to work with him. He actually supports independent businesses, so we worked together and organized a fashion show in 2018. I learnt a lot about him in terms of fashion, but mostly in terms of confidence at the time to dress. He always says that age is just a number. The most important is to feel confident with what you are wearing.
WHO IS YOUR TARGET CUSTOMER?
To be honest, I have customers of all ages, from 20+ to 85 years-old. My target is more those ladies who want to be different and don’t know how. Also, some women don’t feel comfortable with their own bodies, or don’t know how to dress to make the most of them. So, the whole point was to show them that they can dress in different colours and forms in any size. Not just black, because it makes them look slimmer. They just needed help from someone to find out what suits them best, and then feel amazing in that outfit, which is most important.
WHAT DOES YOUR AVERAGE DAY LOOK LIKE AS A FASHION ENTREPRENEUR?
My days always look the same. I work in a boutique six days a week from 10am until 6pm. I deal with costumers and also I spend a lot of time on social media. Handling all the advertisements for the boutique on Instagram, Pinterest… all the platforms I can. Also, I deal with all the manufacturers I work with in Europe. I receive a lot of items from Italy, Paris, and so on. I think my boutique is so different because before I buy a new item, I go personally to my suppliers to see and touch them. Then I decide what I’m getting to sell.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART AND THE MOST SATISFYING PART OF RUNNING A BOUTIQUE?
The hardest part is that you don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. One day is very busy and the next one is quiet. Because you don’t have a normal income, it depends on the sales and changes every month. Sometimes you stress and struggle. Even when you have great months, you can’t assume they are always going to be like that.
Also, Bournemouth has changed a lot and it’s a very challenging town — it’s not how it used to be anymore. Especially, for me as a small business. I’m located in the town centre but in the Burlington Arcade, which is 200 metres from the main street. So it’s a place where people don’t need to pass so much. Some people do, but it’s better for a business to be on the high street. The problem there is that the rents are really expensive. That’s why there are so many empty properties now because businesses can not afford those prices.
On the other hand, the most satisfying part of my job for me is when someone walks out of my shop with a smile on the face. Sometimes people need time. They come and look around and then come back after some time and buy something. They normally agree that they came back because they felt helped by me and not pushed at all. I think it’s very nice when someone leaves the shop happy thanks to the customer service and the advice I gave them.
DO YOU THINK THE WAY THE FASHION INDUSTRY WORKS HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS?
Fashion always comes back every 15 years, let’s say. What our mums used to wear is now in fashion again. The way it has worked, since fast fashion started, is that new collections come to shops every three weeks, with totally different items. But to be honest, if you run after fashion and trends, you will have to change your wardrobe non-stop and spend a fortune. I think it’s more about changing to make the outfits look different, and finding your own style. It isn’t about buying clothes all the time for fashion. It’s not what you wear, but how you wear it.
Also, the UK is a bit behind in fashion in general compared to the rest of Europe. I don’t know why, but trends normally come one year later to the UK. It works in a strange way here. It’s like they need time to get used to the new trends, to try them and feel comfortable.
It’s very tricky with fashion — this is a very difficult business. You need to know and adapt to your customers; buy both revealing and comforting clothes for them, if you have both of them. Also some big brands like Gucci are able to design and show really eccentric clothes and maybe people will wear them just because it’s Gucci. But people in the streets wouldn’t actually wear something like that. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. You can wear Primark and look and feel amazing, or wear an expensive brand and not.
WHERE DO YOU STAND IN THE DEBATE ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH CLOTHES WE DON’T USE ANYMORE?
I think we need to check our wardrobes every three months and remove what we haven’t used for one season. In my opinion, the best thing to do with those items is to give them to charity or someone else. Never to throw it away.
The rhythm of consumerism we got into is crazy. That’s why it’s important to notice the difference between buying cheap clothes and investing money in good, quality clothes. Obviously, the latter will last longer.
DO YOU COLLABORATE WITH ANY CHARITIES?
I work with Dorset Cancer Care Foundation. We used to do events every year, like ladies’ evenings in the shops and some raffles for them to win some products. Of course, listening to some stories and struggles from these people makes your own struggles much smaller. And it also makes you think how important it is to collaborate with a charity. That’s why I give everything I don’t use anymore to charity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t organise any event this year because of the COVID-19 situation.
HOW HAS LOCKDOWN (AND 2020 IN GENERAL) CHALLENGED YOU?
In the first lockdown, I panicked because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Thanks to the support of my customers I survived those months. I started doing live videos on social media. At first, I didn’t want to because I felt shy on camera, but then they convinced me and I managed to do it once a week. I had three good months when my online sales through my website and app really increased.
It was more difficult after lockdown, actually. Because the customers of independent businesses like mine prefer to buy in the shop, not online, but the government was telling people not to go out, so not a lot of customers were coming. Even so, I made sure I had new stock for my customers, so it worked very well. I never have more than three pieces of each item. They know they are very unique pieces, so they buy them quickly when I have new stock.
Obviously, this year was very challenging and made me reinvent myself and my business. But in general, I did it pretty okay, and I do feel very thankful because for that. The money help from the government gave me some peace of mind. It was difficult times for independent businesses in the field, and in fact, a lot of businesses had to close down after the first lockdown.
Now that we are in a second lockdown, I’m more scared than the first time. These months before Christmas are a very important time of the year for a business like mine. So I think this time is going to be even more challenging and difficult.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO OTHER ENTREPRENEURS WHO ARE STARTING OUT NOW?
I don’t want to discourage people, but I would tell them that this particular time is very challenging. Much more than it used to be. I know that in the Arcade where I’m located, two businesses are still planning to open this year, which I think is crazy. I’m in the business, so I know what’s happening. And I think some people don’t research enough and think that’s so easy. Like you open the door and will just have customers. It’s not that easy — it’s actually really challenging.
Obviously, if we are back to normal next year, and people have money to spend, then it’s a better start. Like I did when I started for the first time. But it takes time to promote your business. People are not just going to come in because you opened. They have many choices nowadays, so they like to know who they are buying from. You need to tell them your story; why you are different from anyone else. I think it’s all about the storytelling.
When you own a business, you work 24 hours a day, and you stress so much. You need to work harder than working for someone — even when you are sick. You care a lot because it’s yours. You are not working for anyone, so you can’t stop caring when you finish your shift. Some people starting a business think that’s very easy and they are not really aware of this.
WHO INSPIRED YOUR LOVE OF WHAT YOU DO?
I always loved fashion since I was little… it’s not like I wanted to follow in anyone’s footsteps. I always wanted to have my own unique boutique. What I give to my customers is the love and passion I have for it. I think that’s what my customers notice from me and the reason they feel happy with my work. And that’s the difference between someone who loves their job and someone who works to get paid. I’m so passionate about fashion, helping women, and inspiring them. Also sending the message to people about body confidence, because it’s something everyone struggles with and it’s very important to feel good with ourselves.
WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATIONAL FIGURE?
In the fashion industry, I admire a woman from my country called Ewa Minge. She is a very well-known fashion designer. She built her own business from scratch — her empire — by herself. She has a very expensive brand.
I admire the kind of person who doesn’t come from a rich family and didn’t get what they have from their parents or anyone. They started from zero and worked hard to build everything by themselves. There are a lot of people like that: self-made millionaires.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS?
I think my next step is to open a second boutique, or move the one I have to a busier place on the high street. But because of the situation we are now, I will need to wait to see what happens. Also, I wanted to organise a new fashion show with Gok Wan this year, but it hasn’t been possible. So hopefully we will do it next year.
WHAT IS THE DREAM OR END GOAL FOR YOU?
The main one is to see my business grow. On the other hand, I have always wanted to design my own collection, but I haven’t been able to, so far. I think that would be great — it would be a different and unique collection. So, in the next few years, that’s a goal I would like to achieve. It would also be lovely if could work with a celebrity, which will make my business grow straight away.
To find out more about Monika Theodoris and Moni Boutique, check out the website, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more local fashion stories, click here. And don’t forget to follow us on our social channels – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube!