In conversation with Alice Whiteley

Former consultant turned nightwear entrepreneur, Alice Whiteley knows something about the challenge of finding time to relax. We discuss start-up culture, the pleasure of making things and the merits of growing slowly.

Where did the idea for Yawn come from?
Exhaustion.  I was a tired working mum – clichéd but true – and working long hours as a management consultant.  I imagined a colourful, characterful brand all about relaxation that appealed directly to me and helped make me feel good.

Tell us about a memorable turning point in the business? 
We are constantly experiencing turning points which for me is part of the joy of it all – but a recent turning point was a beautiful piece of coverage in the FT ‘How To Spend It’ magazine.  They picked a pair of our PJs – “Float  Away”, our limited edition print for Galeries Lafayette — and profiled them on a massive A3 spread.  This resulted in near meltdown on the website as we got a phenomenally high amount of interest from around the world – and a pleasingly high amount of sales!

What’s been your greatest mistake and what did it teach you?
Agreeing to do a consignment deal with a department store when my gut was telling me not to.  I was dazzled by their scale and should have stuck to my guns as they didn’t have the level of commitment that is required when launching a new brand to a new market.  A lesson learnt.  I don’t see this as a mistake as such as it is only by trying and failing that you learn!

Why is design and branding important to Yawn?
It is totally central to everything that we do and provides the beating heart of Yawn – from the product and the photography to the website design and the language we use with customers.  Design inspires and excites people and is critical to Yawn and our future.

What’s the best reaction anyone’s had to Yawn? 
We get fantastic comments from our customers and the classic pyjama set and the dreamcoat (a seriously snuggly affair) probably provoke the most love.  Recently the Irish have been loving Yawn – we launched in Arnotts in Dublin and the buyer there has been delighted as we are currently doing similar levels of business to Ralph Lauren nightwear (not bad for a toddler business).

What’s the future for Yawn?
We are growing fast, attracting amazing talent to work with us and developing product that gets better and better.
As long as we continue to nurture our customer relationships, the future continues to look good.