As part of our Designer Spotlight series we spoke with former marketing guru Lily Boulle, founder of Europe’s first online sleep and wellness boutique, Sleep Siren. The platform launched in January 2019, after securing finance and mentoring from Fashion Angel, via the government’s Start Up Loan initiative.
We were excited to catch up with Lily about all things Sleep Siren as it approaches a year in business.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Prior to launching Sleep Siren, I worked as a marketing maven and pun-slinger in the video-games industry. I loved my career but always had the entrepreneurial itch. In 2017, I took the plunge into marketing consultancy to foot the bill of my new venture.
What is your brand’s USP?
We are Europe’s first sleep and wellness boutique. We are an independent boutique that helps busy women design luxurious bedtime rituals so they can soak up the splendour of a good night’s sleep, every night. The kind of sleep that leaves you with a spring in your step, ready to take on the world. Our carefully curated product range includes only the best in luxury sleep and wellness products from around the globe.
What were you doing just before setting up the business?
I actually spent the year before launching Sleep Siren in and out of hospital. Not long after leaving my marketing job in video-games, my health took a turn. I’m extremely career driven and it was a big blow, so initially Sleep Siren was something positive to focus on other than being poorly. Back then it was hard to imagine I would ever be well enough to launch it, but slowly I got better and, with support from my partner and mum, I decided to give it a go.
What made you want to start your business?
Like many Londoners, I was commuting, working long hours, and trying to maintain a jam-packed social life. Sleep was the last thing on my list of priorities and it wasn’t until my health began to decline that I learned about the role sleep plays in our health and the long-term impact of sleep loss. I was absolutely shocked, particularly that more people didn’t know. Even my doctors didn’t acknowledge or know about it! I was horrified and decided I had to do something.
When did you launch and how was the response?
We launched in January 2019 with over 30 brand partnerships secured – from luxury fashion powerhouses like Olivia von Halle, and Chinti & Parker, to smaller independents like Violet and Wren – around the world. In the first eight weeks after launch I was also approached by London’s first wellness hotel to produce luxury sleep kits for their guests. That project launched in October, but it was very validating for the business and concept. Don’t get me wrong – the last year hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but I think the positive response showed what an appetite there is for the sleep-wellness space.
Who are your target customers?
Our target customer is female and aged 35+. They might be working in the city, raising a rowdy brood, or enjoying retirement. Sleep loss is very hormonally driven and affects women at every age and stage of their life. Women lose a significant amount more sleep than men, which is why we chose to launch as a boutique solely focused on females. We want to help solve the “gender sleep gap” and help women make the most of their days!
How did you hear about Fashion Angel?
I found out about Fashion Angel through the UK government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which helped finance the business. I did some research and they not only had fashion expertise that no others had, but they also seemed to have a much more personal approach than the other delivery partners, which I really appreciated.
What did you gain from the business mentoring?
Alison (and Sasha before she went on mat leave!) have been invaluable help to me over the last year. I had absolutely no experience in retail or fashion, beyond sporadic work in retail as a teenager. They have been great soundboards, or at times given necessary criticism, all whilst helping me navigate the world of retail.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Any new brand has to build trust with their audience in order to convert them to customers. I really like my privacy and it was a challenge for me to step outside of my comfort zone to put my face and personality into the brand so that people can see the person behind the business.
In hindsight, what do you wish you had done differently when starting out?
Ideally we should have started our social media activity far sooner. Launching the business single-handedly, I had to be a buyer, a marketer, a web designer, a graphic designer and much more. It was a challenge wearing all those hats and finding time for them all, and the one area that suffered most was our social media. We’ve managed to catch up (almost 5,000 Instagram followers in eight months) but I always think we should have launched a few months earlier.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
That’s a tough choice – I think it would either be the sleep kit partnership with Inhabit or some of the media coverage we’ve received. As well as the sleep kit, I produced a bespoke 12 page sleep booklet included inside, which was the perfect merging of my love of writing and my passion for sleep. It was a pleasure to produce and a real bonus that it was well received by Inhabit and their customers.
Have you secured any press coverage of your brand?
Upon Alison’s recommendation, we signed up to PR Dispatch, an online DIY PR platform which allowed us to really take control of our PR. In the first few months, we secured six superb placements, and we haven’t looked back since. I’m very proud of getting into the Guardian Christmas Gift Guide (2019). We sold out of the sleep mask, and two others from the same designer, the same day it was published – it was a real high for the business.
What would be your advice to anyone starting out?
Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Lean on your mentors as much as possible and reach out to networking groups. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times, until you go to a networking event or join a Facebook group and realise there are dozens of others in the same position.
What are your hopes for the future? Where do you hope Sleep Siren will be in 5 years?
I want to help more people sleep! I would love to have a little bricks and mortar store which can double as a small event space. I want to create a space for poor sleepers and anyone looking to improve their sleep with events like yin yoga, bedtime book clubs, better sleep talks, private sleep consultancy, and more.
Interview by Letitia Allman
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