Rate my start-up story: Claire Toole, The Bridal Emporium

Meet Claire Toole, founder of The Bridal Emporium, a bridal shop celebrating independent British designers and true vintage. You can buy online or from their shop in Leeds.

(This blog is part of a series to celebrate our event, Virgin StartUp Ignition: business tricks and insight for amazing women. Claire's blog is one of five published on Virgin StartUp, and the blog with the most views will win the entrepreneurs behind it the opportunity to present their business to our all-star panel at the event. So if you like it, share it!)

"In true independent style, The Bridal Emporium is giving brides a whole lot more than just bridal gowns. The Bridal Emporium is run by me, Claire Toole; I trained for five years in fashion design, tailoring and historical costume, and I worked for a couple of Yorkshire bridal shops after graduating and fell in love with the industry.

My ultimate dream - to make my own wedding dresses and stock UK-made gowns - has now come to fruition with the grand opening of the Bridal Emporium. I’ve recently opened a shop in the Grand Arcade, the only arcade in Leeds to solely house independent shops. The idea came from five years of training as a dressmaker and then working within the bridal industry for a further three years. The experiences and knowledge I gained drove me to start my own business. Working with brides-to-be gave me the opportunity to ask about their shopping experiences, and it soon came to apparent that many were sourcing overseas for unique handmade bridal gowns and accessories. I wanted to change this buying process and give brides-to-be a real British alternative.

I’m passionate about giving British Designers a platform, and already stock over 10 British designers online and in store.  After struggling to get my own work out there, I decided that I wanted to help give others a leg up into the industry - so I made it my ethos to welcome British designers into the fold, by letting them use the upstairs workspace and sell their designs instore and online.   It’s proving to be an attractive offer, and a good few designers have already taken me up on it, so you’ll find a surprisingly diverse range at The Bridal Emporium.

I’m looking to gain more British designers for my online store, so the Bridal Emporium can offer a large variety of products from many British designers - a one-stop online shop for the bridal party. The Bridal Emporium also offers something most shops in Leeds don’t – a wedding dress made just for the bride in the upstairs workshop.  This is far removed from the usual bridal shop, where the stock originates mainly from Asia and is mass-produced on a huge scale.

Looking towards the future, I am currently designing my own small bridal collection to be launched in January 2015.  Brides-to-be have already shown a great interest in me designing and producing their wedding gowns.  In the long-term I aim for the shop model to become a franchise business, encouraging others to open shops around the UK stocking British designer brands as well as dresses made from within the shop. By using The Bridal Emporium brand, potential like-minded entrepreneurs will be able to help their local and up and coming designers get noticed. And as a brand, we can share resources.

To find out more about The Bridal Emporium visit @_bridalemporium on Twitter, or search for @the-bridal-emporium on Facebook.

Virgin StartUp Ignition - business tricks and insight for amazing women will see the UK's top female entrepreneurs come together to celebrate Women's Entrepreneurship Day. A day of workshops and key-note talks, the aim of this event is to inspire and help more women to start their own businesses. Find out more information and grab a ticket, here.