Whittle-le-Woods' Chic Happens: the ultra-sleek and très magnifique fashion boutique bringing a personal touch to the shopping experience
It's been a tricky year for retail and, what with everybody existing mainly in sweat pants and t-shirts over the past 18 months, not the best time for fashion boutiques, either. Unless you're Chic Happens in Whittle-le-Woods, that is.
An online fashion boutique founded by former lawyer and law lecturer Claire Robinson, Chic Happens was born in April 2019 at Claire’s kitchen table at home after she decided she fancied a change.
The decision came about after Claire grew disillusioned with the corporate nature of her legal career, wanting instead to spend more time with her three sons and to do something she loved.
Leaving a well-paid career as a solicitor, however, was still a big leap.
Combining the services of a personal shopper, a stylist, and an online supply guru, the motivation behind Chic Happens was Claire's desire to provide busy women who have little time to trawl around shops with the chance to cultivate a personal style. On her dedicated Facebook group of over 7,400 'Chicanistas', Claire even holds weekly style drops each Thursday.
"Everything has gone brilliantly," says Claire, 45, with Chic Happens having also opened their first bricks and mortar store in Whittle-le-Woods in July 2020. "We're definitely fortunate to be a good news story because retail has struggled in the main over the last year but, because we started out online, we were able to ride it out a little easier.
"Don't get me wrong, it's been challenging but we're lucky that the business is thriving," she adds, with Chic Happens now employing three people. "I've loved moving into the actual store because it's meant we've been able to meet people face-to-face and provide an environment where people can try our stuff on. Bringing that personal stylist angle to shopping is our USP.
"People end up spending more because we're able to style them and put together outfits," Claire continues. "It's a friendly and relaxed environment, so women feel that they can try on things they normally wouldn't try, things out their comfort zone. You don't get that same level of service schlepping around the Trafford Centre where changing room lights are horrendous!
"We've had ladies in tears in the shop saying they've never felt as good in clothes - that's been lovely."
In September 2019, Claire was wandering around Gok Wan's One Size Fits All show in Blackpool when she was approached by a member of the production team who asked if her dress was Dolce & Gabbana. She proudly told them that it wasn't Dolce & Gabbana but Chic Happens. They loved it and asked her to support Gok on the rest of his tour, even having a Chic Happens dress chosen for one of the fashion consultant's final makeovers.
Off the back of her experience supporting Gok Wan, the same production team have now asked Claire to work with on the upcoming Lunch and Laughs Live Tour with the likes of Zoe Taylor, Carol McGiffin, Lisa Maxwell, Claire Sweeney, Kate Thornton, and Rustie Lee, with Claire to do the styling for the makeovers and running a pop-up boutique.
But, in the meantime, Claire's focus is on Chic Happens.
"We've got such a good community," says Claire, with the online group having raised £2,400 for Gorgeous George One Big Fight and made two large clothing donations to a women's refuge in Lancashire what with domestic violence increasing during the pandemic. "I'm really enjoying the work.
"I found things tough during the lockdown in January because I'm a mum of three so we had to do a lot of home-schooling after which I was going into work while it was cold and dark and it just felt like Groundhog Day," she adds. "But we've still had customers getting in touch saying how much they love the clothes, which has been a real joy in a difficult year.
"It's amazing to think I started out on my kitchen table and it's incredible what we've achieved so far," Claire says. "I'm really excited to see how far we can go."