Cucumber blends fashion and technology to create beautiful, seasonless sleepwear and leisurewear that keeps women looking and feeling cool. Sustainable, breathable, anti-crease, quick-dry and beautiful, we are the future of fashion.
How did it all begin?
Cucumber is the brainchild of North London friends Nancy Zeffman (formerly in advertising with Saatchi & Saatchi) and Eileen Willett (ex-Nicole Farhi). They are friends who met at the school gates almost twenty years ago, and who recognised the need for stylish, sustainable sleepwear and loungewear using cutting edge fabric technology to help maintain an even body temperature and keep the wearer cool day and night. Between Nancy and Eileen, their complementary characters, two dogs, six children and continuing friendship have helped create their vision for Cucumber.
What sets your business apart?
Our fabrics! Imagine wearing luxuriously soft sleepwear and loungewear that incorporates the clear benefits of performance fabrics. Whether sweltering in hot yoga or running a marathon, technical, performance fabrics keep you cool, dry and comfortable. They also wash and dry easily, stay fresh smelling and are anti-crease. Cucumber does all of the above, in simple, fresh and seasonless designs that feel lovely against the skin.
What is the concept behind your business or the problem you’re solving?
We wanted to create a collection for every woman who gets hot. Monthly cycles, hot weather, or hormones overlaid with busy lifestyles can make anyone overheat. Our cutting edge fabrics help women keep their cool.
Where to next/What is your brand vision?
Continually using the latest fabric technology, Cucumber Clothing would like to lead the way to the next generation of clothing. Seasonless, multifunctional, luxurious and technical, we would like one of our pieces to be in every woman’s wardrobe – the one she goes to time and again as her absolute favourite.
Eileen Willett & Nancy Zeffman
Cucumber Clothing Limited
What do you feel passionate about/what drives you?
Kindness. The world is too short of it. Everything we have created with Cucumber has been helped along with large doses of kindness from others. Our interest in sustainability and circularity stem from trying to make certain we make the world a better place.
Share an example of early life that has shaped you?
(Eileen) My father was a professor, so I was lucky enough to tag along on a few of his sabbaticals, including a few years abroad. Being thrust into a foreign culture forced me to look outward, to celebrate difference and understand there is no one ‘right’ way of doing things. (Nancy) I am the third of four children, so I always had to shout to be heard, but no one ever listened anyway. My older brother and sister used to tease me horrendously. I think both these factors taught me that being the loudest, doesn’t necessarily mean you get listened to and that treating people kindly often generates better results. I think it taught me resilience too.
Highlights of your business journey so far?
Two days after we launched, Lisa Armstrong, the Fashion Director of The Telegraph, wrote a big piece on Cucumber. Our sales went through the roof. Since then we have been featured in almost every major UK paper, on TV and radio and in numerous blogs, vlogs and podcasts as well as in foreign press as far afield as Brazil. This has all been generated without the use of ad agencies and we are proud that this seems to underscore the unique qualities of our products and our company.
Key lessons you have learned along the way?
Organisation is key. Co-founders are excellent things to have. Regularly update your business plan. Even if you don’t stick to it, it gives you a road map to follow. Always trust people the first time. However overwhelming things seem to be, there is always time for a cup of tea and some yoga.
Best piece of advice you have received?
Just do it. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan’.
Advice to an aspiring entrepreneur or woman just starting her career?
Gather every contact you have, however tenuous, and work it to the bone. We discovered that 99% of people we approached were happy to give their time, energy and advice for free. Cumulatively, this made an enormous difference.
What funding route have you chosen for your business and why?
Self-funded, which has its own challenges, however the positives of being in control of our vision has kept us focused, lean and creative.
Some of the challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?
We realised early on that we didn’t know what we didn’t know. To counter this, we have learned to look and invest in specialist advice. One of our earliest mistakes was to move to external fulfilment which proved to be an expensive disaster. Though it’s not easy to have fulfilment in-house, it has meant that our reputation for customer service remains excellent.
Why is it important to support women-led business?
Mao-Ze-Tung famously said that ‘women hold up half the sky’. The reality is that for centuries more than half the sky has been strictly off limits to women. In so many areas of the world, female oppression is culturally and governmentally sanctioned. Those of us lucky enough to live in countries where female entrepreneurship is celebrated and encouraged have a duty to nurture and support female-led businesses, which is something we have worked hard to incorporate into our company ethos.
Eileen Willett & Nancy Zeffman
My inspiration is...
(Nancy) My children. All of them are pursuing careers that they love. It’s important to wake up and enjoy what you are doing. Follow your passion. Life is too short. (Eileen) My parents have always been a beacon of light guiding me through life. Their unspoken mantras of everyday kindness, lifelong learning and perseverance have stayed with me.
My greatest fear is...
(Nancy) I hope that I can stay fit in both my body and mind as I grow into old age. (Eileen) becoming a pessimist. Despite the many troubles our world suffers, there is still very much to hope for. I always want to be on the side of hope.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is...
(Nancy) I’m not a very courageous person, launching Cucumber in my 50s when I could be settling down to an easy life? (Eileen) Kept going despite very difficult times. Sometimes it is easier to carry on for the love of others than for yourself.
(Nancy) Chocolate buttons at the cinema, way too many of them! (Eileen) Cake, any kind, especially with a thick layer of frosting or possibly frosting, with a bit of cake.
Mantra you live by?
(Nancy) Just do it! (Or someone else will). I’m really not a procrastinator. That’s how Cucumber was born. If we had thought long and hard about it, I think we may have wavered. (Eileen) Be kind – however hard it may be. Life is circular and I’ve been shown time and again that kindness shown is inevitably returned in some way, shape or form.
Female role model?
(Nancy) I guess that has to be my grandmother who was an amazing business woman, she and my grandfather had a string of tailors in the 50s and she was super stylish too. (Eileen) My lovely mother. She was funny, intelligent, and filled with warmth and generosity of spirit. Teenage friends congregated at my house to download their problems on her. Throughout my life I have cannot remember her being or saying something deliberately unkind about another person.
Women-led brand you love?
(Nancy) Alexandra Soveral. I love her facials and her creams that are all personally made by her in her tiny studio in Maida Vale. (Eileen) Divine Chocolates, another guilty secret, but not too guilty since Sophie Tranchell MBE runs it incredibly ethically, while producing the most delicious chocolate!
Top productivity tool?
(Nancy) Team Up diary. It means that Eileen and I know when the other half is busy. It saves a lot of time when trying to arrange Cucumber meetings (Eileen) Nancy. Having a Co-founder who is a brilliant list maker and likes nothing better than to tick things off, keeps me from going creatively too far off piste!
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