A woman who went against the grain and left school when she was only 16 is now the CEO of her own company – and it’s set to turn over £1.2million.
Kirsty Gale, 43, Lincoln, UK, is the founder and CEO of Red Carpet Ready, the largest prom and eveningwear specialists in the country.
She started the business after she took a friend’s daughter shopping for a prom dress and was left disappointed by what was on offer.
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Through sheer determination and grit, she managed to grow the business despite the pandemic and now she regularly dresses celebrities and influencers, like model Penny Lancaster and influencer Olivia Atwood.
When she was a teenager, Kirsty had grown despondent with the kind of education she was receiving and didn’t feel like it was providing her with the tools she needed to succeed.
While many may doubt a 16-year-old’s decision to leave school so young, Kirsty had shown that she had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age.
She exclusively told the Daily Star: “Working from as young as 13 – in a care home and fish and chip shop – I developed life skills that seemed so much more applicable and worthwhile than being sat in the classroom.
“I was entrepreneurial and spirited however this wasn’t recognised or nurtured by teachers during school.
“As a result, I quickly saw myself going down an alternative route and starting work full time.
“School is too often about box ticking and results rather than nurturing life skills, creativity and business minds.”
While a teenager leaving high school so young may make you think of someone lacking discipline, this is far from the case when it came to Kirsty. She demonstrated from an early age that she was business savvy and good at making money.
Her friends and family were supportive of her decision to leave as it was clear to everyone that it was the right move for her.
“I was already living alone at the time and made the most of the freedom, juggling jobs to save as much as possible,” she said.
“I would eat beans on toast and shop at charity shops saving every penny to buy a 50cc bike so I could do even more shifts.
“I remember buying a red co-ord suit from the charity shop for my interview to join secretarial college. I still have the suit today, I’ve kept it as a lucky memento.”
Before starting Red Carpet Ready Kirsty faced a variety of obstacles, the biggest being people’s perception of her.
“Unfortunately, and wrongly, being a blonde female still carries stereotypes. Especially if you throw ambition into that description too,” she shared.
“I started as a personal assistant and I’m surprised at how some people underestimate and prejudge this type of position.
“When structured and fulfilled correctly, PAs are critical to the success of any business. As a PA you are exposed to all elements of a business and see the highs, lows and decision-making first hand.”
While in this role, Kirsty absorbed every detail and made sure that she learnt constantly. This enabled her to climb the career ladder fast.
She was promoted month after month and soon managed three divisions of a huge UK organisation.
Kirsty added: “To this day I bump into people who are amazed at what I’ve achieved in such a short space of time. I see it as a compliment that they perhaps underestimated my drive, entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen.”
At Red Carpet Ready, the initial obstacle was time as the business was growing quicker than Kirsty dared to imagine.
She worked every hour possible on all aspects of the business, from supplier negotiations and hosting fittings on the showroom floor, to handling supply chain problems and taking booking enquiries.
“The first few months were intense, especially as I sold my house to finance the business and had just had my first child. I quickly developed levels of resilience I didn’t know existed,” she said.
“Since then, the biggest challenge has been the pandemic. I was so lost. Not only did we have to close the business but we also had to handle calls from our customers who had found their dream dress yet had their proms and celebrations cancelled. It was heartbreaking.
“However I did what I know best – I embraced the challenge and turned it into an opportunity. I designed my own range of dresses, which has gone on to outsell all other designers available in the showrooms by 47%.
“Without having experienced the other obstacles in my career, this would not have been possible.”
Unfortunately, not everyone supported Kirsty’s decision to start the business and many told her it was too much of a risk.
From friends and family to business mentors and trusted old colleagues, everyone asked her ‘Why this? Why that? Why now?’.
Thankfully Kirsty trusted her own judgement and believed in her vision and now business is booming.
But being a business owner isn’t always glamorous, even if you're selling stunning dresses.
Kirsty told us that the hours are long, you rarely switch off and you regularly have to chase suppliers. The paperwork is endless, finances fluctuate, recruitment can be a rollercoaster and you have to be prepared for the unexpected.
“You’ve got to morph into being several different people at once. You’re not in just one job role. You’ve got to be able to diversify and quickly switch skill sets,” she said.
“This is where the long hours come in. At any moment you are leading marketing, buying, public relations, admin, customer service, finances, the list goes on.
“And in retail and fashion especially, the hours are unsociable. Everyone wants to shop on evenings and weekends. During peak season, we have back-to-back bookings until 10pm. It’s really challenging and a high-pressure environment.
“When you create your own business, the sky's the limit and the rocky patches only make you stronger and more resilient. You can push yourself and others to achieve what you may have previously thought impossible.”
No matter how hard some days may be, Kirsty wouldn’t change it for the world, as she is proud of her business and the opportunities it has been able to provide herself and others.
“I also love being able to give young people, especially our runners, the opportunity to grow, develop and flourish in the company and be promoted,” she said.
“Waking up, excited to go to work, and seeing the team arrive looking forward to getting started because we all love what we do and who we’re working with is an incredible feeling. We work exceptionally hard, but we have fun every step of the way.
“We have so many plans for the future. We have a very unique offering with our RCR Exclusives Range. Following its blow away performance this season, we are excited to be introducing even more designs. RCR Exclusives is definitely going to be an area of focus and development this year.”
Kirsty’s philosophy for Red Carpet Ready was to make a memorable dress shopping experience for everyone, no matter their size or budget.
From booking your appointment right through to receiving your dream dress, she wanted to create a unique experience.
She added: “I don’t want my business to look like anything else. If somebody else is doing it, I do the opposite. Too many people in business try to imitate or replicate. I won’t copy trends, I'm not bothered what the trends are, I steer the other way and create them instead.”
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