We speak to Clare Hornby, founder of ME+EM on the inspirations behind the brand and why it continues to go from strength to strength
Frustrated by how hard it was to find well-made, on-trend clothes that didn’t cost the earth, Clare Hornby founded ME+EM in 2009. Ten years on and the company has become a household name with its staple transformer trouser taking you effortlessly from the office to dinner. Smart shoppers are queuing at the doors (now five of them) for a taste of the ME+EM magic formula.
From an early age, Clare was drawn to fashion and together with her mother made most of her own clothes. After working within advertising and as a graduate at Harrods, she fused all her experiences together to create the ME+EM label that we know and love today. Realising there was a gap in the market for high quality clothes without a ridiculously high price tag combined with the desire for on-trend clothes that would last the test of time was the starting point for ME+EM. “I was always around busy multitasking women whether they were working or not and creating contemporary fashion solutions was my ambition.”
Behind Clare’s key design principles is the knowledge of exactly who her customer is and what she wants. “The mission statement is intelligent style now and forever and it’s all about making sure that everything works really hard in your wardrobe. As a result, there are at least three different ways to wear most pieces, you can dress them up or down and many are reversible or in the case of our jumpers have detachable collars.
We have also just launched the Transformer Trouser, which you can wear full length or cropped. Ultimately, it’s all about getting more out of your product than you would anywhere else. We make sure that fabrics are practical but beautiful, that they don’t crease and can easily be washed. Fit is incredibly important to the brand and we use three different body shapes to make sure every piece of clothing is as flattering as it can possibly be. We then forensically edit the trends so that everything is contemporary yet has longevity.
It needs to be a trend that’s going to be as ‘now’ as it will be in three years’ time. It’s almost like a revolt against the high street where fashion is always moving and then chucked away. It’s not fast fashion but slow fashion.” This intelligent style is propped up by the brands three ‘F’s: Everything must be Flattering, Functional and Fashionable.
As well as her mother, inspiration came from Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet. “She saw a gap and went for it and was single minded in how she changed people’s shopping habits from offline to online. She really created that whole category and is the queen of digital success.”
Looking ahead to the summer months, Clare is very excited by her new dress collection and travel pieces. Her top picks include the Fit + Flare Shirt Dress, Removeable Belt Maxi Dress, Linen Halter Neck Jumpsuit and Cropped Trouser. If she was to take away an item of clothing what would that travel essential be? “It would probably be one of my most long standing products, the Palazzo trousers and cashmere hoodie – they are my travel friends!”
Clare has two teenage daughters at Marlborough College both of whom love working for the business when time allows. Finding a work/life balance can be hard but Clare will always find three hours a day even on holiday to focus on work. The family love to ski and for Clare, Pilates, yoga, tennis, riding and walking help to counter balance the hectic demands of running a business. “Evenings with girlfriends are also a great antidote to stress!”
When asking what advice she has for the next generation wanting a career in fashion, Clare believes it is all about experience and enthusiasm. “Get as many internships as you possibly can working for magazines or in shops, or offices even if you are not paid for it. Some small innovative businesses don’t have the resource for graduate training schemes but can be a great place to learn about the entrepreneurial skills needed to start a business. Bigger organisations can offer experience in specific areas – my advice is get as much experience under your belt as you can – it shows determination and an aptitude for hard work.”
Do you need to study a specific subject at school to help progress your career in fashion? “Education should be as broad as you can make it for as long as you can make it. Obviously if you want to go into medicine you have to narrow it down but I would say keep it broad for as long as you can. If you really want to go into fashion prove that you love it more than anything else.”
Looking to the future, we ask Clare how she sees the ME+EM brand developing. “We are best known for our trousers but our dresses are a rapidly growing category for us and there is a big demand for them now as well as for a shoe and a handbag collection. We have plans for the overseas market and are currently looking at America and Germany with digital catalogue acquisitions.”
With a flourishing business and family life, we want to know what Clare’s motto for success is and what advice she can give. “I say to my daughters, visualise where you want to go, visualise the end game and just be tenacious about getting there and you can pretty much do what you want! Don’t assume you can’t do something, assume you can and then find a way of doing it.” The sky’s the limit…