Q + A With India Hicks

When India Hicks’ feet hit the floor each morning, she moves with the same urgency as any working mother of five children. But Hicks is not any working mother. No indeed.

The former model and daughter of well-known interior designer David Hicks was born into British aristocracy. (She was a bridesmaid to Princess Diana at the royal wedding in 1981, and Prince Charles is her godfather.)

In 2015 Hicks became the creative director and founder of her own lifestyle brand, a company that sells handbags, home accessories and beauty products through thousands of brand ambassadors. Hicks visits Indianapolis on November 13 as part of a nine-city tour to promote her recently-released book, A Slice of England.

PATTERN connected with Hicks to talk about her namesake company and her message of empowerment, which strikes a timely chord, especially among women who want to run their own businesses.

Crystal Hammon: Your brand’s tagline is “Live an extraordinary life.” What does that look like for you?

India Hicks: Mine may not necessarily be an extraordinary life, but it’s certainly been unexpected. I live on a small island in the Bahamas where I have five children, and I have several interesting projects. I never imagined this would be the life I would live.

I love to use the word extraordinary because I think we can make every day extraordinary. We focus on that very much in our business, encouraging women to do things differently, to take a leap of faith, to believe in themselves. The extraordinary comes from that. You don’t necessarily need to move to an island in the Bahamas. You can have an extraordinary life wherever you are.

CH: Based on your experience with this startup, what skills do you think are most essential to starting and maintaining a business?

IH: When I started this, I wasn’t really aware of what my skills were. I believed in my story. I thought it was an interesting story with several chapters to it, having come from England to a runaway island, and it blended well to form the basis of a lifestyle brand. I knew I had determination, energy and passion. I hadn’t really realized the skill set that one needs for this, which is a lot of grit.

I think the greatest skill is recognizing where you can excel and where you can’t. I did recognize very quickly that I should not be the person managing the back end and the finances. I should be on the creative side. I knew I needed partners who did know about those things. As an entrepreneur, I would say that it’s important to recognize what you are good at. Find others who can do the bit that you’re not capable of doing.

Having said that, I do think you need to be overseeing, involved and aware of every aspect of your business. Even if I don’t completely understand the margins and the financial numbers, I’m in on those conversations, so I’m learning as I go. If we’ve had a big financial meeting, I ask someone to give me the bullet points from that, just so I know where my business stands.

Of course, I’ve had this incredibly blessed and lucky life, and I come from a very remarkable background, but sometimes, that actually worked against me. People didn’t take me seriously, or they imagined that because I had been born under such a lucky star, there was no need for me, that I might not work as hard as I said I would.

CH: You’re very explicit that your brand is about women’s empowerment. What kind of training does an India Hicks ambassador get that cultivates the skills necessary to be successful?

IH: We like to set everyone up with a jumpstart into success. We have a lot of tools and training that our ambassadors are able to access and take themselves through. We’re very aware that our women are incredibly busy, packing lunches, getting their kids on the school bus, cleaning their homes, doing the laundry. Some are working in corporate America. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to have success in the life they lead and to encourage women to fit this in around their lives.

We also mentor them. That could be one of our field development managers, which is a boring corporate title. It’s really just two great women who’ve been out in the field themselves. We have a head of sales, and we call her Mamacita. She has lived the life that many of our women have—of starting and believing in something—the nervousness of it, wondering how much you’ll invest in it, wondering if you’ll have your family’s support in it, wondering if it’s actually going to be successful.

We’re very conscious of all that, and now that we are four years on, we understand that conversation much better because we’ve lived and breathed it. We’ve seen how our business is slightly unusual to anything else. We’ve been able to curate the training to fit our program.

CH: What characteristics are true of an India Hicks ambassador and/or customer?

IH: We like to feel that we’re quite diverse in the field of women who join us as ambassadors. It may be a new mom, a woman looking for a second career, a woman whose kids are leaving home and she wants to do something, but doesn’t want to go back to corporate America. We really welcome anyone—as long as they feel comfortable around a $500 handbag and they feel that they’ve got access to a network of women who will want to buy something that isn’t necessarily a recognized luxury brand.

Our customer likes to feel that she has discovered something that is slightly more understated. It’s timeless. There’s quality there, and it’s very affordable. Our starting price is a $28 and 70 percent of our collection is under $70.

All of our bags have stories behind them. There’s a woman out there who loves to carry our Carmen clutch because she is reminded of Carmen, a wonderful Spanish aristocrat who ran off with a bullfighter.

Our customers and ambassadors are quite similar in their taste for timeless elegance and design. They want something that they can pass on to generations that follow. They’re looking for something that feels a little bit more unusual. They don’t follow fashion trends.

Certainly, our woman is spirited. She likes adventure, and she’s got the guts and determination to keep going.

The other thing we see consistently is that our ambassadors like to give back, and so do our customers. It’s a philanthropic-minded community, so we have a program called Get Together Give Together where a percentage of our proceeds goes back to a charity. As a company we do not align ourselves with a charity. The ambassador should choose which charity, foundation or cause she wants to be giving back to, and the customers are the same.

CH: Who or what are your inspirations when you are designing products that will be sold under your brand?

IH: We know which leathers are going to be more durable, and which fabrics are going to tell our story in a better way. We know which factories are going to respond to the way we think and the way we want to produce. We always position the collection around three words: unexpected, spirited and heritage. When we’re designing a product, we ask, “Does it have heritage?” If we’re taking a graphic design from one of my father’s archives, that will absolutely have heritage behind it. Inside one of our holiday bags—a navy blue velvet with gold—you open the bag and on the silk lining, there’s a little message that says, “Count your lucky stars.” So yes, that’s unexpected and it’s also quite spirited.

CH: Can you explain more about how you’ve updated the model of direct selling for the times?

IH: We have four big launches a year, and we release a new product each month, so there is always a conversation to be had with a customer or friend. This month, for example, we launched pajamas, and they did incredibly well.

Ambassadors don’t have to host a trunk show or a pop-up. They can ask their friends and family to go to their website, or say, “Pop over to my house and I can show you a sample.”

We encourage them to think about their own e-commerce. Each ambassador has a replicated website from our main site where their friends, family and customers can shop very easily and place orders with out having to attend a party. We have a lot of innovative ways for women to shop, including virtual parties. We love the fact, however, that the majority of parties happen at the hearth and home, and that women are shopping around the kitchen table and gently encouraging one another to shop.

We also host Live & Unbleeped every week. It’s a 20-minute episode where I’ll introduce someone, or I’ll do cake decorating at home, or show someone how to style a handbag, or have Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics play for us, or Nathan Turner and I will shop together in the farmers market. Each 20-minute episode allows the customers to come into the lifestyle and the brand, and to see the messaging and the fun that we have. There’s always a deal linked to that. Again, it’s just a different way for customers to engage with the brand.

CH: A weekly show sounds like a big commitment to content, right?

IH: Content is what separates us from the masses, and it’s the conversation that everyone is having at the moment. Luckily, as a brand, we’re very rich in content. Even my little three-legged dachshund is a hero within the brand.

CH: Any advice for people who are trying to build a brand linked to their name?

IH: Be cautious and make sure you have a financial runway. I think what jumps up with entrepreneurs is the financial stress and strain. Creative people are almost never thinking about how long it will take to build a brand and get it off the ground.

When your name is involved, you do have to be more cautious. I chose to put my name on the brand because I wanted to be accountable. I felt that if I was going to share my business with other women, I wanted them to believe that I really had their backs. With my name on the product, if there is an issue, I am bloody well going to make sure it gets fixed.

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