Podcast #5: Emma Marshall of Miss Bush, on Body Confidence & Size Diversity, Empowering Women Through Bridal Fashion & Feminism, and Success in Bridal Retail

Emma Marshall of Miss Bush bridal boutique wearing a bright orange and pink floral dress.

My guest in Episode #5 of The Love My Dress Podcast is Emma Marshall, Managing Director of Miss Bush, a leading bridal boutique located in the town of Ripley in Surrey in South East England.

This year, Miss Bush reached the incredible milestone of thirty five years in business – but don’t for a hot second think this means that Emma or her brand are in any way past their best. On the contrary, She is the OG of bridal fashion retail – a natural born leader, visionary and innovator who is constantly reinventing and forever re-imagining how she can evolve and enhance the experience for brides in finding their wedding day attire.

Thirty five years is an exceptional achievement for any small, independent, creative business, but a magnificent one for anyone working in the turbulent world of retail.

I met Emma in 2011 and fell instantly for her positive, bad ass attitude and desire to disrupt the bridal fashion scene. She is a proud feminist – and – I know she won’t mind me saying this –  both opinionated and somewhat outspoken on matters that she holds close to her heart.

Emma has never been one to sit back and let the media get away with their strange portrayal of a money-grabbing, soulless, wedding industry. Instead, her powerful, articulate and highly eloquent rants against accusations of a ‘wedding industrial complex’, help to dismantle outdated perceptions of the wedding industry, and serve as a rallying call to everyone who earns a creative living through weddings, to be proud of the impact they have on the lives of others. 

Emma is a mother, daughter, sister and wife and some one who is fiercely loyal to all those who orbit her world. Over the past 12 years, Emma has also become a dear friend of mine  – and someone who has influenced me on an extraordinary level, in my roles as a blogger and editor, digital influencer and creative entrepreneur. 

Emma is a trailblazer and true pioneer, a naturally talented and gifted stylist who is passionate about empowering other women. I am delighted to be able to introduce you to her today.

missbush.co.uk
Emma Marshall Miss Bush Bridal

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Podcast Transcript

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Welcome to the Love My Dress podcast. I’m your host and founder of Love My Dress, Annabel Beeforth, and I’m so thrilled that you’re here. 

This podcast is a tribute to the world of weddings and the people who make them happen. It has been created for anyone planning their wedding, for all wedding business owners, and anyone interested in the world of creative business entrepreneurship, whether you’re deeply involved in the wedding industry, on its periphery or just generally curious. 

In each episode I’ll be engaging in conversation with inspiring business owners and exploring topics from weddings and business, to personal life experiences that have shaped the careers and lives of my guests. 

I feel a very strong sense of purpose for humanising the wedding industry and revealing the incredible creative talent that thrives within it. In today’s fast paced, tech dominated world that we are all navigating, I also feel a profound desire to encourage slower, more meaningful consumption of digital content. I’m passionate about storytelling and creating spaces where others can share their stories freely and authentically. Stories are the universal currency of our communication. They weave invisible threads that connect us all on a human level, that help us to understand better, foster kindness, compassion and empathy. They spark ideas and inspire us to do new things. So storytelling is very much at the heart of this podcast. 

If you enjoy listening to this conversation, please take a moment to leave a friendly rating or review. Your support and feedback really means the world and makes such a difference, and now it’s time to introduce my latest guest. 

My guest in this episode is Emma Marshall, the managing director of Miss Bush, a bridal boutique situated in the town of Ripley in Surrey in South East England. This year, Miss Bush reached the incredible milestone of 30 years in business. But don’t for a hot second think this means that Emma or her brand are in any way past their best. On the contrary, Emma is the OG of bridal fashion retail, a natural born leader, visionary and innovator who is constantly reinventing and forever reimagining how she can evolve an enhanced experience for her brides.

Thirty years is an exceptional achievement for any small independent creative business but a magnificent one for anyone working in the turbulent world of retail. I met Emma in 2011 and fell instantly for her positive badass attitude and her desire to disrupt the bridal fashion scene. She is a proud feminist and I know she won’t mind me saying this but both opinionated and somewhat outspoken are matters that she holds close to her heart.

She has never been one to sit back and let the media get away with their strange portrayal of a money-grabbing and soulless wedding industry. Instead her powerful, articulate and always highly eloquent rants against accusations of a wedding industrial complex dismantle outdated perceptions and serve as a rallying call to everyone who earns a creative living through weddings to be proud of the profound impact that they have on the lives of others. Emma is a mother, a daughter, sister and wife and someone who is fiercely loyal to all those who orbit her world. 

Over the past 12 years Emma has also become a dear friend of mine and someone who has influenced me on an extraordinary level in my role as blogger and editor, digital influencer and creative entrepreneur. Emma is a trailblazer, a true pioneer, a naturally talented and gifted stylist who is passionate about empowering other women. I’m so delighted to be able to introduce you to her today. Emma, welcome to the Love My Dress podcast. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I’m so delighted that we’re finally getting to do this. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I am delighted too, it feels really really really exciting. 

So what I like to do with my podcast recordings is go right back to the start with my interviewees and find out about the person before they entered the wedding industry.  So can we, I don’t know, maybe go back to childhood? Was this something you always wanted to do? Let’s find a little bit more about the pre-Miss Bush Emma, what you were like growing up, what did you study and how you got into the scene that you are today? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, I was a very bookish child, quite nerdy, I guess. I was always, bearing in mind that my childhood was in the sort of 70s, there wasn’t a lot to distract you from being a sort of bookish nerd. I always loved dressing up. I loved performing. I love art and so I’ve always been quite creative. I had the sort of parents who really, or particularly my dad, wanted me to go to university and do something academic rather than kind of pursue a sort of an arts-based course. Although I sound quite posh, I did come from a very solidly working-class background. 

I did very well at school and so ended up going to art college against my dad’s wishes and then decided I was actually too lazy for art college and then went to university to do an academic degree in film and literature. But always, what I’ve always wanted to do was be a fashion designer or a hair and makeup artist. So I didn’t really have any ambitions that looked academic, I don’t think. 

So I found myself being a sort of clever person with what, and back in the day, I can’t even describe how people would channel you down sort of class and gender expectations of what you should do for a job. And like, for example, now, like one of the most favourite things I do as part of my job is the styling and being a stylist. And I don’t even think I knew that was a job. And certainly it wasn’t an ambition that someone from the working class would have, you know, and that you’d actually go on to shoot some style people and things like that. 

So I think my, yeah, my education was sort of classically sort of 70s and 80s based and I bearing in mind I graduated in ‘89 I feel like this is like pre any tech, pre internet, pre anything so I feel like it looks quite a halcyon kind of education now because although it was, I mean, still competitive, you still had to work very hard, you know ,actually it was quite blissful, I mean, I just can’t think of anything better now than sitting with your nose in a book or just doing art and all being very kind of, you know, tactile and real life and not screen-based and all those kind of things. 

So I do really think that it’s actually a like a, you know, I think there was quite a good education from that point of view. 

And I always had to work very hard, you know, obviously coming from a sort of, I mean, I don’t want to say like, get out a tiny violin. We were like, not, we weren’t absolutely destitute, but we, I always had to work for all the money that I earned. So I have worked in my parents’ retail business at the age of about 13 onwards. Worked every weekend. Never had a holiday. I couldn’t take off for holidays or travel or do some of the other things that my more affluent friends at university did. So I’m just a bit of a grafter, really. And I think that’s also been. So that’s really my background, is a bit of a grafter and a bit of creative. And I went to university, and then I had rubbish careers in London, like no career. I went and did bits and pieces of work, some friends in graphic, like communications business and things like that. And then suddenly I found myself married and pregnant and moved back to Surrey from London and sort of fell into working for my mum at Miss Bush. And that’s really my story of going into it. So actually being in bridal was never an intentional thing. It wasn’t a career choice. I certainly didn’t want to work in retail. I definitely didn’t want to work in the family business. So hey, there I am sort of 35 years later, and that is exactly what I’m doing. 

I suppose really what I did when I found myself in it is try and make it a place that I wanted to be. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

OK, so you return back to Surrey, Ripley, the village you grew up when you fell pregnant and you started working for Miss Bush, which you mentioned earlier on your parents’ retail business. So tell me about this. So Miss Bush’s been in the family for some time then. How did that come about? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

So my family retail business that I worked in before uni and during uni was electrical retail. So basically we sold TVs and stereos and white goods and things like that. So that was the family business. My mum actually went to work for her friend, Jean, who originally started Miss Bush, when she got divorced from my dad. Basically, my mum’s a really good seamstress, so she went and did production, like fittings and the alterations for her friend, who started Miss Bush. 

And then a few years after my mum had been working there, Jean, the original owner, really didn’t want to have the shop anymore. 

Interestingly, like quite a lot of people that do it as a hobby realise it’s actually not a hobby. It actually like really monopolises your time. And also, Jean also never paid herself a salary. And I do also find that is something else of a curse in the bridal industry. So hobbyists who don’t value themselves and actually will keep going and paying themselves very little. So effectively warping the perception of the industry quite strongly. So my mum took over the business and I found myself in Ripley. 

We bought a house in Ripley. I don’t really need to look back at the kind of failings of my first marriage, but there’s quite a lot of them. But one of the things, I was there without a car. And again, my daughter is 29. So, I probably, yeah, probably was, well, she was probably about one when I started working there, but it was really pre-internet, pre-mobile phones. I felt very alone, I didn’t have any friends in the village, I was the youngest of all my friends to have a child, I felt very isolated. I now realise in retrospect I probably had postnatal depression, and really I just, going to work was the only thing I knew how to do, basically. 

So, yeah, so that’s how I ended up there. It’s not very romantic, is it? Or very visionary? 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

It’s not. It doesn’t sound… I think it sounded incredible, like fascinating to me knowing you are now running one of the most successful businesses to have come from that beginning, which I guess was by chance you ended up working there, perhaps out of desperation or something else, you know. And to see how far you’ve brought it over those years, I find honestly quite astounding. 

So, you know, you must have seen some hugely significant changes occur within the bridal fashion and retail scene since that time. Can you talk about some of those? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yes, I mean, God, there’s so many. I mean, I remember when I first started working for my mum and my daughter went to a little nursery, a little day nursery in the village. I was at that point, this sounds going to sound really bad, I was even shocked that one of the mums from the nursery came in to buy a wedding dress. And I was like, oh, I thought also, because I felt like, at that point still, that that was quite a sort of, like, wild thing to do, to have a, already have a child and then come and buy a proper wedding dress. 

So I mean, if you look at that kind of, you know, how that, that, that reads compared to now, obviously, where, particularly over the COVID period and things like that and how we’re so involved with people’s fertility journeys quite often. Do you know what I mean? We’re planning things around cycles of IVF or we’re planning things around pregnancies or breastfeeding or, you know, so actually the normalising of just that one tiny little kind of aspect of bridal is quite strange. 

And actually, one of the reasons I’ve kept the name Miss Bush, even though for years I’ve like initially really wanted to change it because of its sort of weird, it’s just a weird name. So yeah, the original Miss Bush was actually an unmarried mother and back in the sort of like 60s, even, like it wasn’t normal then, it wasn;t the done thing, so Miss Bush actually was one of those quite fearless people in the 1960s who had children out of wedlock, as they would have called it then and actually, you know, refused to be shamed for it. 

So in a way, that’s why I quite really, really love the name, because it has got a much more contemporary feel, or Miss Bush herself had a much more contemporary kind of point of view on motherhood and parenting and work. That’s why when the original shop was opened, it was in what was Miss Bush’s sweet shop, hence they kept the name to Miss Bush. So I feel like actually now, although Miss Bush does always get the kind of like, you know, slightly snorting with laughter, because it sounds a bit like your lady garden. It is quite a good name, and I do appreciate the woman basically for that. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Yeah, I think she was perhaps an early feminist and paving the way for you and your future business endeavours, which makes me feel really happy because knowing you, and I’ll come back to that feminism aspect and the ideology that you bring into your business and how you run it shortly, but I want you to just describe Miss Bush as it is now. 

Obviously, you were once in a sweet shop, but you’re now in this glorious converted chapel. So tell us about your beautiful chapel. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yes, well, basically, the glorious chapel is fabulous. And I think when we launched it, I think, which was back, or launched, like, you know, as our main site, I had just been through horrific negotiations with the landlord of the original shop, which had been sort of, I think my mum had mistakenly signed a full repairing lease for sort of an 18th century shop. And it was collapsing and we were on a sort of rolling contract. My mum had been very much sort of like head in the sand about quite a lot of the business aspects of it. And I think I’d been slightly asleep at the wheel. I always thought that if you sold loads, then everything would be fine. And it really came to our attention that we had like the shop and then we had, that we were just using the front part of the chapel and it was very scruffy and very bad, just as a sort of production space. So the decision to move solely to the chapel was one of economic necessity, and we needed to get out of the lease of this collapsing old building, basically, which we did. 

I’ve had to fight my mother, teeth and nail, to get that through, and Mashyi, myself, and a couple of willing or unwilling press gangs, labourers converted the chapel from what looked like a really unlovely sort of village hall on the inside to a glorious luxury retail space inside six weeks with no budget. And truthfully speaking, no, not really the proper planning permission for it either. So, which is all now in place, you’ll be pleased to know. 

So there was a lot of smoke and mirrors going on with the move. I also had to gamble on the fact that our social media presence was strong enough not to need a shop window. So I think we were one of the first, I mean, it’s quite common now to have bridal shops in barns and kind of churches. There’s quite a few church ones now actually, stately homes or in other places. So because the destination retailer of the nature of it, you don’t actually need to have a window on a high street really to get your trade. 

So the chapel itself is beautiful. From the original move in there, we’ve slowly crept and took it over until we bought it in 2018, which again was another Herculean struggle to actually get anyone to take my business seriously, because people don’t expect bridal boutiques to make money, and they don’t expect women business… It was quite, you know… It was a little link nicely into the feminist kind of attack as well. 

But yeah, so we have got this really beautiful space now, which feels very soulful. It feels a bit spiritual, but not in a denominational way. I don’t know, maybe it’s something’s hardwired into our souls that because you’re in a building with a pointy roof, it somehow kind of feels calming. 

So, and we’ve tried to make it, I think I’ve said before, I wanted to take the line from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to have somewhere where the mean reds can’t get you. So it just feels somewhere, you know, people’s bridal journeys are emotional. I mean, obviously, you and I were very close and talking a lot during the whole COVID pandemic, you know, and the level of emotional kind of journeys that we went on with our clients during that was just off the scale. So it needs to be a place where you can cry. It needs to be a place where you can have a minor nervous breakdown. It’s private. It’s welcoming. 

You know, so it is a really lovely space. Because part of getting a wedding dress, I mean, obviously I love the fashion from a very, very shallow perspective. I absolutely adore the fashion. But it is a rite of passage, buying a wedding dress. It’s weirdly symbolic, spiritual, whatever you think about it. It’s got an odd little place in our culture and I think for a contemporary woman, I feel like that kind of privacy and that respect, that emotional kind of support is also really, really important.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Yeah, it’s fascinating. The thing that’s striking me is how much the culture of weddings and bridal fashion has changed over the years. It’s so, so very different now and in a way that really enables people like you to bring your feminism into it and really make your mark. 

And I think we’ve talked quite a bit about, you know, the kind of the psychology of finding a wedding dress. It is such an important thing for so many brides. And yet so many of those brides are really anxious before stepping into a boutique, because I think sadly, there’s this myth that does the rounds. When you start planning your wedding, you need to go to the boutique, and they’re going to put you through this terrible experience of plonking you on a plinth.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I feel like that is true. Most people look terrified when they come in, excited sometimes, but with a lot of trepidation about it. I think the trope of the bridal shop bitch is just, it was one of those things that somehow we’re going to be judging, we are going to be snobby, we’re going to be body fascists. And we all have elements, do you know what I mean, of that experience in other parts of our lives, do you know what I mean? So I think that it just becomes very heightened that that could be the expectation. 

I mean, some parts of the bridal industry, wedding dress shops, maybe have got some weight, they need to do some work. And also it is very possible that even I would say that I’ve done my body positivity work, but even then it’s trying to understand that really unique aspect, that unique relationship that a woman has with her body is, it’s a very, it’s, it’s, there is a potential for disaster there, just generally, there is, because you’ve got to be uber sensitive, and even when you’re picking and choosing your words carefully, it is possible to not, you know, not get something or not be told something or not realise something about a person, but, you know, we are trying our level best. 

I even have a problem with the word flattering now. Do you know what I mean? And I have a problem sometimes when I hear language being used by some of the people that come with our brides. And I’m just like, this person’s worth more than their waist size,do you know? So it is a sort of, yeah, people are nervous. I can understand it. And also, if you could design a more difficult to wear dress for a woman, it would be a long white one. If we all got married in black. I don’t think anybody would be quite as bad. I just think the symbolism, the purity, the difficulty in wearing a long white dress, like so many things going on there. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

So you must employ, very skillfully, such a diverse range of techniques when you’re working with these women, once they’ve stepped through your doors. Because I know so many of them, they contact me. They’re worried about the boob size, the bum size, they’re too skinny, they’re too big. We’re always bombarded with messages that are not good enough anyway, aren’t we? 

So I want you to talk a little bit more about the feminist values that you bring into that experience for those brides. Once they’ve stepped through your doors, can you share some insight into how you do navigate those really sensitive moments where a bride, you’re encouraging them to open up to you and you’re wanting to create this really transformative and empowering experience for them. 

How, you know, can you shed some more light on that for us? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I mean, I think possibly, you know, because I’m not young and I’m currently quite curvy, I mean, I’ve been all shapes, but I’m currently quite curvy and I’ve always had quite big boobs.

I think I have a natural level of empathy that’s, it’s always, shopping for me has always been challenging. So that empathy has to, you can’t make that up, it has to come from within, you have to understand it, you have to probably have had that lived experience. 

I saw someone on an Insta story recently, a bridal shop owner, she actually said, luckily I’m slim, and I was like, wow, okay. So, so like I would be unlucky then to you, would I? 

And I feel like if you’ve got that, oh, unlucky you, chubby. Do you know what I mean? If you had that as your mindset, I feel like it would be hard to kind of, you know, do the work maybe. I don’t know.

But I just, that sort of, it just was a sort of glib passing comment. And I was like, really that speaks volumes, I suppose, about what a lot of people might experience. So I wouldn’t really want to have that experience. 

And so I feel that actually you really need to also tell people in a really frank way what’s beautiful about them. And it’s quite disconcerting for people, I think, sometimes. But also, so I feel like that really, I don’t know that we ever hear that in any way. Like, people will, with their wedding dresses, will be like, oh, yeah, your bum looks good, your waist looks thin. It’s like, but really trying to actually dig into what’s beautiful about someone is quite a different look. 

Basically, me being able to put a dress on someone that flatters them in huge inverted commas, i.e. that it defines your figure or disguises your figure, depending on which way you look at it, that should be like, that’s 101 of my job skills. But really looking for the beauty in the person and also looking to dress them in a way from a sort of an objective point of view about, like, if you were my model and I wasn’t giving you a choice in what you were wearing, what would I put you in? Because that is actually, it is, that sort of also finds like that essence of beauty in that person and actually helps you to kind of dress them in a slightly different way, in a more of a kind of like spiritual way first before the body. 

The body is easy to dress. I use analogies about carpet fitting or kitchens all of the time. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, if you have to fit a carpet, you’re going to have to measure the room. That’s it. Do you know what I mean? It’s not… Making a dress is obviously far more complicated than that, but the size of a person is a technicality. And also, like, the kitchen one is a good analogy I use the whole time. It’s like, so we’re like the kitchen showroom, and you come and browse the shiny stuff, but then at some point, I’m going to have to measure for the kitchen and I need to know where the taps go. 

I feel like the body is easy to dress. The soul is more difficult and the soul is the bit that I find so interesting. So gripping. Part of it is quite shallow. I just want to make them look beautiful. Do you know what I mean? But part of it is literally trying to, yeah, to have a connection that goes a little deeper than whether there’s buttons that go to the bottom of the train or not. 

I mean, those technicalities are whatever, you know, the fashion will come and go. That’s just a fact. And I love the fact it comes and goes, which is not a very, you know, it’s not a sustainable idea. But I don’t think I’ve ever really approached it as I want to be authentic. But that’s just how it seems to have come about. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I think hearing you speak, it’s saying to me that you are, from the start, trying to find a very authentic way of connecting with these women. It’s a deep relationship for you. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, because I think that I look cool in some of the things I wear. I’m like 56 and I’m probably a size 18 overall but with maybe size 22 boobs, 24 boobs. Like, I don’t think I’ve ever, I don’t think I’ve got anything in my wardrobe at the moment that shows my waist. I’ve seen we’ve got one, it’s certainly smaller than my boobs, do you know what I mean? But it’s like, I don’t think like what flatters me is something that talks about my body necessarily. That’s what I find odd because I think flattering in bridal terms means that we’re supposed to make you look slim. We’re supposed to make your waist small. We’re supposed to make you look like you’ve got perky boobs and a peachy bum. Do you know what I mean? That’s the sort of thing, but it’s like, maybe we don’t have perky boobs and peachy bums or thin waist, so then the whole word flattering falls on its arse a bit, doesn’t it? So you know where you go with that. 

You know, and also the other thing I’ve sometimes people have said to me is like, well, you don’t you don’t show enough plus-size people on your Instagram. It’s like, I do, but if you have clothes that fit well, you can’t really tell whether, what size someone is, whether they’re an 8 or an 18. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST

It’s a nice segue to my next line of questions because I wanted to ask about that size diversity thing. It’s obviously become something that people are, it’s part of the narrative more now than it has ever been before. And I know that some wider boutiques come under criticism for not having sample sizes beyond their 12. What’s your response to that?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Collectively, as an industry, we all need to hang our heads in shame and we should probably take the criticism. I mean, I sample from an 8 to a 20, but our industry doesn’t do enough to insist that there is more to be done for that. And also, the other problem is, I guess, when you’ve got curve labels, they tend to either be just a sized up version of a 12, say for example an 8, and sometimes that pattern grading doesn’t work very well. I’ll go into a bit more technicality about that. Also, you’ve got curve labels that will make a lot of presumptions about their clients.

Again, you will have lots of corsets, backs, strapless dresses, or lots of things that are – I don’t know. I just think we should take the criticism on it as an industry as a whole. Like the curve labels are apologetically bad. But we also need to be really honest with each other about why we can’t do many samples over 20. Because basically, once you get over 20, you can just keep making the dresses bigger and bigger, but that isn’t the way that women scale. I would wear something bigger than a 20 in a bridal dress. But I measured my shoulders the other day for some reason because I was checking a pattern on something. So my shoulders would sort of sit in a size chart of a 14. My bust would sit in a size chart of maybe a 24 to 26. 18s in places. My frame is probably quite small, a bit short-waisted. My legs are longer. 

So the trouble is, is when you go over a 20 for samples, women don’t scale in increments of 4 centimetres. And that’s really the way the pattern grade goes. So what happens when you go over 20 and you want a beautiful fitted thing? The shoulders get, like, enormous, because the pattern cuts will scale up the shoulders. The pattern cuts will scale up the arms. So it’s really, really hard to get good dresses over 20 without actually having some fit models and without seriously investing in some proper pattern cutting, and nobody in the industry has been prepared to do it. So, you know, we’re right to get the criticism. And we all collude silently with our industry and don’t complain and we don’t make enough fuss and we don’t hold the suppliers to account on it. 

So yeah, I think people could relatively speaking, and I’d say I was quite good, and we don’t have a size ceiling. So whatever size anybody is, they can try stuff on. But similarly, there is also an underserved petite market. So if you look at small Asian women who want a like Western wedding dress, they’re not served well either. I always thought I was going to be like older than my brides, but we still have brides who are over 55. So like very much like we dress people into their 60s and your body shape post-menopause isn’t the same either. So we don’t have a pattern cut that reflects that kind of male pattern weight gain, or just that thickening of the waist and slight kind of like increased bust size and things like that. 

So like, we’re not served. We’re not served by the industry at all and standardising is a horrible, misogynistic, out of date concept. And actually, if there was just a little bit of will in any part of the fashion industry, we could put it to bed forever. 

In a way, I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t think it sounds positive, but it sounds like we should take responsibility for the fact there isn’t enough sizing, definitely. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

It sounds very humble and it sounds very brave of you to say that. And I’m wondering if, given all the other changes occurred in bridal retail up to this point, that could be the next stage, you know, trying to actually make that difference? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, I think it should be. So the thing that will make a difference is people wanting to do well in the States because the States has got a much more pre-existing diversity of sizing and they have a much more, they’re much more open about this. Do you know what I mean? There is a much more diverse like offer in the States. 

So if a British or European brand wants to do well in the States, they are going to have to address their curve and plus size problems because it won’t be tolerated in the States, whereas we sort of suck it up in the UK. 

It is difficult though. The other thing that is difficult, and I think we’ve touched on this before, maybe privately, is the dressing up experience, i.e. coming to a shop to put on dresses, people do see that as a bit of a kind of birthright, that the industry should exist as part of the entertainment industry and that trying on dresses is something that you do for fun. 

So it is also the thing is thinking that actually, if, like me, you’re sort of like a bit of an unusual size, it isn’t really realistic to expect an industry can be profitable or even remotely viable to have a shop full of dresses that would fit me perfectly to try on, because it just wouldn’t happen. 

However, the, I want to steal a line that I heard on Queer Eye the other day, it was in like in terms of someone saying, I don’t want to be tolerated, I want to be celebrated. And I feel that’s where we are at the moment with anybody. So we can celebrate at Miss Bush. We can celebrate the female form because there is no impediment for you having a beautifully fitted dress. We don’t offer standard sizes. We don’t stop at a 20. We don’t stop at a 16. There is no impediment. We celebrate that.

However, I do think some people will tolerate it. They won’t, you know, they’re tolerated. They will do a like, maybe they’ll throw an odd 16 into their offer, but that’s not celebrating it. We can celebrate any size, but the actual trying on experience is, I mean, bridal retail is not profitable. I mean, we’re in one of the really unusual ones that has made it profitable. We make a living out of it and employ people and have done for years. We’re not typical. That sounds really awful as well, doesn’t it? 

So, but you can’t, there isn’t a possibility of creating a dressing up experience that will be inclusive for everyone with the vast array of people that we see from tiny to not tiny, from young to old. You can’t, you can’t have a perfect dressing up experience. It just isn’t possibly viable, but we can have a perfect dress, but you need to kind of go into this with, with some demands as the consumer needs something like, okay, so say I’m a size 26 with big boobs, I don’t want to be tolerated, I don’t want you to just get me the nearest size and make it fit me, I want you to celebrate me and make me something that properly fits and properly looks gorgeous. And that’s really, I think, the long-winded way of saying it, that we’ve got to have some limits on the expectation of what people think they can get out of a bridal shop experience if you are petite or tall or something. Do you know what I mean? 

It is difficult. We have got to draw the line somewhere and say there can only be an amount of samples to try on. And it is, but you shouldn’t be limited on what you can possibly wear. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

It’s really fascinating. And I think it explains very much to me when I read your Instagram bio, which states, no dress sizes, we’re all about the perfect fit. That just explains everything to me, everything you’ve just said.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, it’s a bit of a rant, though. I do alert my clients to the fact that they’re going to get a bit of a TED talk, you know, that perhaps some of the seriousness of how I describe bridal, the fits, the industry, the tech behind it, the lack of will of the industry to change itself. I do feel sometimes people are like, I thought this was going to be a bit of a Dixie dressing up experience, and we were going to all cry and do this. And I’m like, we’ll do that as well. But let me just tell you, do you know what I mean, how I’m trying to counter what I find unacceptable in the wedding industry and how we want to celebrate, not tolerate people. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Well, that leads me on very nicely to my next question then, because in research for this podcast interview, I did some re-reading of the articles that you’ve published on Love My Dress Emma, which are amongst my absolute favourite articles and still hold true now everything that you say. So I want to read you some of the quotes that I picked out yesterday from the articles I read. 

So this one here says, in the UK, there is no powerful wedding industrial complex. It is a female first collection of artisans and producers who from dress designers to stationers, florists to foodies, photographers to boutique owners could not produce a more impressive group of strong women that handle business with empathy and expertise for their clients. 

Can you talk to me about this? Because you’ve been very vocal in the past about the way the legacy media take pretty regular punches at our industry for a reason I’m not really sure of. So let’s hear what you have to say about that.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, they do, don’t they? It’s an easy intellectual point to have a pop at things that look girly or and therefore basically like, well, I am such a feminist that I couldn’t possibly ever wear pink or go to one of those horrible wedding dress shops. 

So there is that, there is that intellectual snobbery that thinks that bridal must be somehow, that it’s either, and actually it’s pretty snobby intellectually, it’s pretty snobby from a class point of view as well, because also there is definitely that point of view of, you know, well people go, I don’t want…? And it’s like, right, okay, well, because you’re too classy for one of those, right? 

Nowhere could you examine the British class structure more fantastically than in bridal. So I think there’s a bit of a sort of class war going on there. And as I say, so those that work in a newspaper, there will be brands and looks that they find acceptable. And your regular, you know, bridal shop will not be one of those. It’s very London-centric as well. 

I mean, I do agree to a point that I’m quite snobby. I know that our shop looks nice and expensive, and I know some other shops that don’t look nice and expensive. But that is the British class system, isn’t it? Do you know what I mean? So I think that that’s one of the reasons that there is an intellectual and just a class-based system at work here, which I also think that people get funny about the amount of money people spend on weddings as well, as if it was a sort of like frippery, like a vanity project, as opposed to seeing it as a major cultural landmark in a family. So I think there’s that as well. 

I think that we got a lot of that during COVID, didn’t we? It’s like we were definitely not, we were seen as something very secondary and not that important. Inverse snobbery as well. So yeah, I think there’s just that. So whereas, because it’s seen as very female, even though if you’ve got two guys getting married or you’ve got somebody marrying a bloke, it’s just still seen as a very, very female arena and a waste of money. Whereas we obviously discovered through your fantastic work that it’s not a waste of money. It’s a fantastic revenue generator for the UK economy and also for the tourism industry and things like that. But it’s being questioned because it’s seen as girly, whereas a golf club membership or a sports car or golf clubs or whatever. I don’t know why I’m thinking of golf clubs. I know they’re a lot of money. Nobody says, well, that’s just a waste of time and money, just batting a ball around a field, is it? That’s ridiculous. You know, we just get—there is a very definite kind of hierarchy of what they think we’re worth. 

Also, like, even from modelling agencies, for example, quite often you get a real problem trying to book a model if they know they’re doing bridal because they don’t want to do it because they think it’s naff. So model agencies, so the fashion industry thinks we’re naff. And yet the fashion industry will run with open arms to crappy high street brands that decide to do a tepid, like, bridal edit. They’ll lap that up. But, you know, as anyone that’s ever hosted a wedding and has had to build a sort of venue, say, from the ground up, with a marquee in the garden, it is, you know, a team, teams of really incredible people work really hard, weekend in, weekend out. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

From my observation, and I’ve been doing this, what I do now, since back in 2009, I just can’t imagine a harder-working, more creative bunch of people who literally have the most, they make, they change people’s lives, they give them these, they gift them with these beautiful memories and experiences. It astounds me that legacy media still treat them like that.

But I’m going to read you another one of the quotes that I picked out from yesterday. And it says, dresses should be rare, beautiful, emotionally loaded and adored for a lifetime. This means that they could range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand, but the ability to custom make, to support, to care, to fit and to finish or to provide an alternative to the size 8 to 16 off the peg option is not one that can be delivered at high street prices. 

So can we talk a little bit now about the craftsmanship that goes behind the production of a dress and the criticism that I think some of these designers, brands, boutiques like yourself face for selling dresses at the prices that you do? Because I feel really passionately about educating brides and helping them understand the craftsmanship that goes behind this and how important it is to keep these creative skills alive. Because, you know, these skills are largely, and certainly in the dressmaking business, fulfilled by women. 

What’s your response to that? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, I think the thing is, we’ve got a generation of kids now who have been brought up on ultra-fast fashion and excess. And I include my own children in this who age between 23 and 29, who’ve had more clothes in their lives than I’ve ever had in my entire lifetime.

And certainly, so we’ve got this kind of sense of excess. We have a false impression of what the cost of clothes should be based on the high street. We don’t, as consumers, still really embrace that kind of idea that it is maybe immoral, amoral, the cost of some clothes to be actually made and done. I mean, you know, we accept it. We sort of like, we give lip service to the provenance and things of dresses, but we don’t. We just, these things sort of, so it’s very hard then to have that as our normal, regular expectation of how a dress is made. It’s immediately available, it can be dropped at your house within a moment’s notice, it can be sent back, it’s very cheap and you know you can have a lot of it. 

To get to a bridal thing where it’s not instantly available, it’s not cheap. It’s almost unlearning for like particularly younger brides everything they’ve ever learned about shopping and to try and look at it as a different way, to look at made to order in a completely different point of view. And also, even within our industry, the narrative in different bridal shops is fairly foggy, shall we say it like that. People are deliberately sort of opaque about where dresses come from. 

So again, one of my TED Talks with my clients is this is made here, I can take them to the person that’s made it. This is its process, this is its journey, this is how far it travels. These are who make it. But other people will bandy around kind of concepts like couture, about a dress that is maybe a mass market produced dress that’s very, very far from couture, that is ordered in as the nearest size and probably made in a non-specific far eastern country and probably container shipped, which is the cheapest way to get things here, which is why when sometimes things say they take six months, it’s probably because four months of that time they could be in a container, not actually being made. 

So it is actually quite tricky, because even within our industry, artisanship is wildly different. I think it is quite hard to do. But I mean, I would say that we are under pressure. I mean, we sell Suzanne Neville, which is a British-made designer, and I know how the challenges they face continuing to make in the UK, the continuous kind of recruitment that they have to be doing, the lack of skills of people in this country, being able to make things, that sort of thing. They have to do their own training, so I know the challenges and I know that the challenges can do that to the profits, but that’s what you have to do and I would say that Suzanne Neville is at the very sort of, their dresses will be like a standard size, starting price is about 3,000 pounds. And frankly, I don’t know how they do that. We do made to measure with 12s, all of their stuff, and they can still manage to bring that in at sort of like from four and a half thousand pounds and that is actually, it’s got great value for money because you just can’t get that. It’s a rare skill and it’s a rare treat. 

But on the other hand, there is options to have things that are a lot less money than that and you can get off the peg, bridle and it will, maybe its provenance is not as clear, but that’s, I mean it’s kind of hard really, isn’t it? It’s down to somebody’s conscience on what they feel about that, and what they want to spend, and whether or not they’re bothered where it comes from. 

But I don’t… I think that if you look at the hourly rate or the salaries that seamstresses get paid, it’s still far less than any other skilled worker. It’s less than when train drivers were striking. It’s certainly less than a train driver. So it really isn’t valued. And I just don’t think anyone can see. Like, I would say to people sometimes, like with Suzanne Neville, I’m like, can you see the turnings in this seam? And they’re like, oh, no, it looks like it’s poured concrete. I mean, they are that well-made. But I don’t think people necessarily appreciate it. 

And also, weirdly enough, even from Suzanne’s point of view, I’ve got a film I made with her where we go inside her atelier and look at everything. But she doesn’t share that publicly either. So I feel like she shares the glamour and not really where I think her DNA is, which is in the construction of her dresses. But there’s a lot of also like, there’s a lot of industrial espionage, shall we say, goes on in Bridal, and a lot of copying.

So basically, they’re not gonna be very keen to have cameras in their workrooms, because when I did film with Suzanne, she went around putting stickers on all the kind of like labels of the fabrics so that anybody watching the film wouldn’t see where she got her fabrics from and things like that. 

So I think that it’s quite hard, whereas I think you could, I think people would be astounded to go into her work and see this being, that work. But I don’t know, I still think there’s not an appetite even from the designers to show it that often. I’ve seen a few people doing it recently, but not really. Because also the other thing is, is like, even the most beautiful artisan thing, it still looks a bit like a factory. And I feel like there is that sort of idea of treating brides a little bit like a sort of unicorn that might sort of like run away. If you showed them the facts of the fact that it’s not, this is not being made by magical creatures in a hollowed out cavern in a mountain somewhere. Even your most beautiful artisan dress is made by a woman sitting at a sewing machine, which looks quite a lot like a factory. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I was going to say, it makes me feel sad. I understand, you know, your comment about industrial espionage, but I guess I’m a little biased. I’m married to somebody who graduated in fashion design. He’s an incredible pattern cutter, a dressmaker. 

So I understand. I’ve got that experience of understanding the magic that gets poured into it and the craftsmanship. And it might look like you’re hunched over at the sewing machine, but the transformation and the empowerment that you can gift to that woman wearing that dress at the end is all part of it for me. And I’m fascinated by the process. Like, I’m constantly wanting to lift the lid and reveal these scenes and these moments and the hands at work and the skill and all of the talent that goes in. I find it a little sad. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

But do you know what I mean? There’s not many people. I think you get the odds bit. I mean, Jesus Piero have released pictures and imagery of their very impressive HQ, which I’ve been to many times. And you look at, I’ve had the tour around there. I’ve seen their kind of, they have a digital pattern cutting system, which is incredibly clever. But then if you go for, if you want something particularly special, they will still do it in the old fashioned way of like sort of hand cut patterns and things like that. So I kind of know the reality of it. 

I think the problem is, as well, I feel like if you did start to show people where some stuff was made, I don’t think they would be that impressed that one of the very big names was being made in the same factory as something that was very mass-market, because that would be the other reality of it as well. It’s a collusion in our industry. 

So I know there’s one particular manufacturer who manufactures in China. There is one very famous British household name designer that they make. They also make a very high-end couture level of dress. They also make quite a mass market one and a fairly low market one, and they’re all made in the same place. And I think that actually people would be slightly scandalised, I suppose, or slightly put off, if they thought that was the case, that actually the marketing and the branding is the differentiation, not actually where it’s made. And that is kind of, yeah.

But we collude on this. Like, I’m colluding now. I’m not saying who it is. It’s not. It shouldn’t be a secret. It’s not a secret. But on the other hand, if brands are unwilling to show their provenance, it is quite hard to make them. And it’s not my job to out someone, be like, do you know where that dress is made? 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

And one of the things I wanted to ask you was, obviously, you’ve had to make a lot of adjustments like post-COVID and Brexit as well. I didn’t want to get political at all in here, but I do have to ask about the B word, because it’s changed how you operate in your procedures. And that obviously impacts the experience that Bride has, perhaps in terms of waiting times even, has it? 

Like what have you had to do to adapt to everything that’s happened in the past three years? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, so basically I’m quite happy to be political. I’m a solid Remainer. I never wanted to leave Europe, didn’t vote for it. I think it’s still a bad idea. I mean, everyone, I was at the previous governor of the Bank of England this week said like, our problem with raging inflation inflation and everything is down to Brexit. So it was a bad economic move for the country. It was like a dick move, as my kids would say. And it still continues to impact us on a day-to-day basis, because we have goods get stuck in customs, it’s difficult to get move things back and forward to the administration. And at the time, the cost, the money on physically just moving parcels in and out of the country is ridiculous. Getting loan samples is hard. There’s still bits of legislation, like financial legislation, that we didn’t know. So you’re supposed to have a REX number on certain deliveries of a certain cost. So I’ve been stung for import duties on things that I shouldn’t have done, which meant that Jesus Peiro have had to credit me. It made me dealing with Lily Ingenhoven completely commercially not viable, unless you’ve got a company that can really afford to do the shipping properly. It’s not really viable, so you can’t pick up small labels that easily. It’s endless. It’s endless, endless, endless. It’s horrific. We should never have done it. It’s caused a skill shortage in the UK as well in terms of production staff. Yeah, it’s just pathetic, and we should immediately rejoin as far as I’m concerned. 

But the challenging part of it, I mean, like someone like Anna Kara that we do, her base in Poland, they withdrew their sample loan kind of scheme because it was just too complicated and too expensive to get loans in and out. If people want to borrow a dress and like, it’s 100 quid, and they’re like scandalised. In fact,  you don’t understand the amount of work it does even just to send something now and send it back. So you have to raise invoices, export invoices, import invoices, just horrific. And FedEx don’t even know what they’re doing. Do you know what I mean? And we have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis, and they don’t know either. So horrific. Everything about it is bad. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Completely disabled you on multiple levels, which is really, really sad, isn’t it? Really sad and frustrating for you. 

But let’s get onto a more positive note, because I’m going to share with you one third and final quote from my readings yesterday, which is, until you have seen the power of a good dress on the wearer’s self-esteem or its mystical power to transform, you will never know the witchcraft in the weave. I just, I love that quote, Emma. 

Tell me what makes a really great wedding dress for you, and can you talk to us about some of your favourite brands and why you love them so much? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, okay, what makes a really good wedding dress? Oh God, isn’t that really like hard to actually put that into words? I think what makes a really good wedding dress brand, I’m going to start there, is a solid sense of who they are and that they’ve got a signature which is absolutely ingrained in their DNA and so that you really understand their thoughts. 

So you can always really see when somebody’s copied a dress or tried to just chuck one in their collection because they think it’s popular. It just falls flat. And so I, for example, with Suzanne Neville, who we’ve dealt with for years, I would say they have two things which they do, like two kind of looks they do brilliantly, which is solidly classic or solidly sexy.

They do that. I don’t know if their marketing really suggests that, but it kind of, that’s what they do.  They cut a brilliant corseted dress, very sculpting of the body, and they do it really well in slinky ones, and they do really well in big dresses with that as well. 

However, if you wanted something bonkers or a bit like left field or a little bit avant-garde, you certainly wouldn’t go to Suzanne Neville, do you know what I mean? Because it’s not in her as a person. She makes beautiful things, but they’re not weird. Do you know, they are literally solidly, beautifully made. I always think they’re a bit like a sort of, like a rolls or something, coach built, solid. You can sort of feel the quality of them. So I love those because of that essence. 

Where, and say, for example, like a few little trends going through at the moment, she’s not really on them. She doesn’t, they don’t, they don’t suit her. I mean, she can’t, she doesn’t get it. It would feel very inauthentic. 

So what I love about Jesus Peiro is that they’ve got this head designer, Merche, and then they’ve got two other younger designers. And I love the fact that they’ve got that youth input into their collections. So they feel young. To me, they feel light and they feel comfortable, which is a watchword for all the youngsters as well. I just want to feel comfortable. Yeah, that sort of thing. 

So they have that easy glamour, which I love. So for them, I get that sense of place, of Barcelona, of crispness, of that. I get a sense of the designers behind it. 

So I suppose that’s what I really love about people and dresses, is that real sense of that you know what this designer’s about, what they’re going to do for you. And it’s like, if you find the right designer for you, it’s like finding the good jeans or the good trainer that you really love. It’s just a nice meeting of minds. 

So the magic in some of the dresses comes from that ethos, from that, you know, and if you look at, say, someone like Suzanne, whose brand has been going for 30 plus years, then again, that is, their dresses just didn’t spring from nowhere. They’re an ongoing evolution of that complexity, which I think is interesting to see. 

And if you look at something like, say, Jesus Peiro, there’s a dress that, or they do a, famously, they do a dress with a sort of high collar. And that’s been in, that’s been one of their signature looks, you know, for as long as I’ve been working with them, it’s probably nearly 18 years. 

So that, that kind of crisp shirt, dressy, preppy look is something that they’re known for. And I’ve seen other people copy it. And it’s like, oh yeah, you put the Jesus Peiro dress in your collection. 

It’s like their quilted handbag, you know, or like the Chanel quilted handbag or the Burberry trench. You can play with it, but effectively the, you know, the philosophy is there in that look. 

So that’s why I think that the magic is, is if you’ve got someone that’s really authentically putting their own sort of stamp on that and then connecting with a bride that that really resonates with. 

Similarly, the things that my brides don’t connect with, glitzy, sparkly things just don’t sell with us, and I don’t know why. But if you look at the designers that do that fantasy fairy tale, well, do you know what I mean? That’s somebody else’s fairy tale. Then, as I say, it doesn’t fly our place. But you need to go and seek out the person that does do that, hugely embellished dresses and things like that. That, again, is another gift in its own right. So, but yeah, anyway, so that’s the magic, I think. And then of course, fitting it.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Are you trend driven? You mentioned the word trend a couple of times only responding, are you driven by trends or do you follow your own thing?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I think that, yeah, inevitably you’re trend driven. It’s quite slow and bridal, it’s glacial actually, in fact. Do you know what I mean? It takes the product cycle in that you would see it from regular, any other product where you’ve got a sort of steep uptake from early adopters to a new look. Then you will sort of flatten off for mass market. And then that, whatever that will happen will just then drop off a cliff. 

So that kind of classic arc of a product life cycle is much, much slower in bridal. So the sparkly belts, for example, that was a thing. Now it’s not. The split and wrap skirt is a thing. The puff sleeve is a thing. Do you know what I mean? These are things that weren’t a thing a few years ago. But I think COVID slowed down the trends to a walking pace as well, because people bought things in 2019 and just didn’t wear them for four years. So you’re still seeing things. 

So I think that, yeah, trends are a thing. you know, quite often, and I suppose in particularly in like in the 25 to 35 year old age bracket of brides, you tend to go through a phase where, you know, you go to 10 weddings a year for like about five years. And so you’ve also like the necessity to not wear the same thing as your friend drives trends. And we also do some things like help lots of clients who have faith based ceremonies as well. So like the trend for being plungy and sexy has not really taken off with us because it’s not really suitable or respectful of somebody’s faith. So, we haven’t really done that. So, that’s not really a trend, but I suppose an enduring look with us is modesty, but within, but fashionable modesty, if you see what I mean, as opposed to tragically bad dresses. That sounds awful. 

Like, the sort of thing is like, a deep V plunge to the waist, like it may not be suitable for church, you know what I mean, and it may not be suitable for all sorts of people, people may feel uncomfortable, but it is nice on the right person and who loves it. 

But the way to make that modest is not to make the V really, really ugly and unattractive, it’s to not have a V, do you know what I mean? The way to do modest well is to do something completely different, which is not messing with that inherently sexy style and try and like lift it to cover boobs and make a really horrible, boring, low V-neck that barely gets to a rib. So I feel like that’s a sort of… 

So the trend for ultra sexy dresses is great, but it’s not gonna be suitable for everyone. So I guess there are some classic looks that we know that we have to have because if you serve a market and this multiple different face, but that kind of look is very important to those brides that we have as well. So that is not so much trend driven, but even within that, you’re going to find trends. So a sleeve can go from a long fitted sleeve to like much more exaggerated statement sleeves this year for people that feel they want to be covered for the ceremony. 

So yes, I suppose trends, yes, I do follow them. But yes, there are, like there’s not any said trends like in silhouettes. I mean, we’ve sold like straight dresses, ones that stick out a bit and ones that stick out a lot for 35 years. So that is like, that’s a, you know, those are things. And also like the trend, I suppose, for like trousers and mini dresses and things. I think that most of that is made up by the press because you need to go back to look at sort of like 60s weddings or 70s weddings, like, you know, Cilla Black or Bianca Jagger to find that they’ve always been there, but it just serves the press to kind of be like, oh, look, people are wearing trousers. 

It’s like, well, yeah. I tell you what the one trend is that I really love at the moment, actually, which is the most radical trend, is for the dresses that look very much like what we would wear normally, so they don’t have a waist in them. And some people are really good at that. They look incredible. And people are like, suddenly, like, on the floor, fainting. It’s like, I can’t see my waist. It’s like, I know, but you can wear big pants, right, they are really comfy and you can have all the cake. So, like, why are we not adopting this immediately? 

So, yeah, that’s the one trend that I’m finding difficult. I mean, I will continue to buy it, because people do buy it, but they are the early adopters. They are the ultra cool girls. But you’ve also got to be able to stand out, you know, you stare down your family. They’ll be like, but I can’t see your waist. I can’t see your waist, which is, like, something you hear the whole time, so. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

That makes me think of Coco Chanel and how she changed everything from the teeny tiny drawn in waist to these gorgeous drop waist loose garments. It makes me think of that and I love those Sophie et Voila gowns as well because they bring a really cool modern contemporary silhouette into the mix, which I just really adore. But you’re right, it’s not for everyone. 

But another thing you tapped on there about, you know, the whole press thing perhaps being responsible for, are they trends or are they not? The mini dresses, what have you. 

I know that most brides tend to stick to a more traditional silhouette. That is just a fact and that traditional silhouette can still be really, really cool and really, really beautiful and head-turning, you know. But yeah, the vast majority of brides I know tend to go for that kind of look. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, I think it’d be really interesting to dig up all those articles that were going around during the mini Covid weddings where like all the mainstream press declared us dead in the water. I’ve never sold so many wedding dresses since, do you know what I mean? 

It’s like it actually is just you just have to go, no, that’s actually that wasn’t true you were actually rubbish at your job that isn’t if you actually picked up the phone and spoke to someone in a bridal boutique, you’d actually know that. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Yeah very, very interesting. 

So you got married some years ago. Did that experience change your perception of the industry in any way, being the bride on the other side? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

No, I think the thing is, I only just did the like, I literally had a COVID wedding before COVID. Me and Marshy got married, and it was like, there was just like 20 of us in a registry office, which was supposed to be the precursor to a much bigger wedding, where, you know, the exaggerated dress of dreams, like the like of which, which never has been seen before, has not happened. 

So I, in a way, it made me, I think it made me realise that, I think it made me much more empathetic to brides of my own age. I was 49 when I got married. So it made me understand that point of view a lot more strongly. I also realised that it’s possible to look nice in a dress and not really like it. This sounds really bad, doesn’t it? Like, I look nice in my wedding dress. It’s universally agreed. People go, well, that’s cool. But it wasn’t really what I wanted. But I just at the time, I was like, oh, well, what else? You know, it doesn’t matter because I’m going to have this other wedding. Do you know what I mean? So I will get the one I really wanted then, because what I wanted was a high neck, long sleeve dress. And it’s not what I got. 

I made a weird colour choice in blue when I should have really chosen black because that’s what I wear. So oddly enough, I like my engagement photo pictures, the fashion in those more than I like my bridal pictures, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look nice and my dress was good and everybody else liked it. Do you know what I mean? So it’s a kind of strange thing. So I think I’m more empathetic now with brides. Like if they make a wrong decision and they’re like, I don’t like this. I’m like, oh, okay. What we can do about that then? 

So if they can tell me they don’t like it, then that’s really good. Whereas I think sometimes people are worried about saying that out loud because there’s always a solution. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes it’s an expensive mistake, but there’s always a solution. And I think I, cause I thought I was going to be having something else. I thought, well, I don’t really matter and pictures look nice, get a cool photographer, all that sort of stuff, had fun. 

So it’s, but it’s, it’s, I think I’m much more sympathetic to people now if they’re like, I think I’ve had a change of heart. It does happen. You just got to be, you just got to be like, I don’t like it. But that’s the, that’s the thing I would say is like, if you ever make a mistake, don’t, really, really don’t try and swing it on past the shop of being mis-sold or this, that and the other, because there’s nothing more aggravating than having to deal with that level of bullshit from a client. It’s like, it’s possible you made a mistake. If you own it and tell me, I can do something about it. But if you start like, if you start from a combative point of view, just doing a dress for someone at the moment who had a bad dress or bad jumpsuit from someone, and that person, that shop, knew immediately it was a bad thing and they refunded immediately, which is what they should do. And it does leave sometimes, you know what I mean? So like, you need to be really straight with that relationship with your… you know, and if you don’t like it, fair enough, but just be reasonable about it. It’s perfectly possible to change your mind. It’s an expensive mistake, yeah, but I’ll own it.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Hopefully it doesn’t happen too often.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

No, I don’t think it does happen that often, you know what I mean? 

But it’s like, you know, the other thing is, if you get your dress in and you don’t like it, or for whatever reason, you got to look at it and is it a fit thing is it this thing, but if you’ve actually just like actually there’s nothing wrong with the dress I just don’t like it don’t get it fitted just leave it it’s a much more sellable item if you just have it and don’t mess about with it then, so that’s like a top tip there. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I was gonna say I suppose one of the pitfalls that brides can fall down is looking at dresses once they’ve chosen a dress and would that be some would that be advice you would give to brides, like just stop looking now? You’ve chosen your dress, because then of course you always risk that change of mind and deciding that you hate the dress you’ve just invested in. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I don’t. As I say, I think stop looking is quite a, yeah, I think it’s quite difficult. I mean, once the algorithms know you’re getting married, it’s quite hard to avoid, isn’t it? 

So I think that you should be, I try, at the moment, if I heard one of my staff or my team members talking to a bride like I’m talking to them, I’m like, oh, we do need to sell some things, you know. 
At the moment, I’m saying to people, don’t give me your money now, like, right this second. Like the rest of the collections from Jesus Peiro is going to be in by the end of July, but I don’t want you to buy now and then get FOMO because I put up a new dress because once you’ve ordered it, it goes into production and you can’t get your money back. 

So I give people quite practical advice about when to buy. Some people make quite emotional decisions and some shops use emotional tactics to close the sale. So we don’t do that. 

So I would, and also if somebody’s like going to a bunch of weddings this summer, I’d be like, why don’t you just hang back maybe until you’ve been to the weddings so that you know that you’re not wearing the same as something else. And then also you can have a stealth kind of look at your partner’s reaction to the dresses as well. 

I think you’ve just got to make the right choice first and I think very very often people do get a bit weird about their dress like everyone’s quite nervous when they come for their styling appointment like just to be sure whether they did make the right decision but that is that level of anxiety is amped up by everyone else around the bride not us. 

Oh we’re going to go try your dress on, oh we’re going to lose weight, oh we’ve done it, you know, I think that is, it’s like, and at the end of the day in 25 years time, like, your dress will have dated, something else will be fashionable, and as long as you look, it’s a bit like my feelings about my own wedding dress, it’s like, it looks nice in the pictures, I look great. Is it the dress of my dreams? No, not really. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Do you think there’s value in advising brides to come on their own to try a dress on, or do you, you know, do you welcome the mother of the bride and friends along too? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I think one of the upsides of Covid was like putting squad shopping to bed, because I don’t think it can be that helpful sometimes. I just think it’s, and I think sometimes bringing like the mother of the groom, I think people quite often doing it from a place of thoughtfulness can actually be a bad idea as well, if you don’t really know the person, particularly if the mother of the groom only has sons, that’s why people invite them, but their tact levels from not having had teenage daughters to go shopping with are a little bit lacking. 

But yeah, I think sometimes people want the comfort blanket of all of their friends. Sometimes people just come with their mums, and I see sometimes people come with their mums and their mums literally need to take another course in parenting and actually learn how to be a nice mother. Not all mothers are like motherly, so it appears. 

So most of them are bloody lovely, I have to say, but some of them are like, wow that’s that’s a lot.

So yeah, it really depends and like some and I will say like recently, not recently, a year or so ago I had somebody that came with just the mother of the groom, I think her mother was not either not alive or not in this country and I can’t remember what the circumstances were. 

Anyway, the mother of the groom clearly had wildly different tastes from our taste in wedding dresses and the girl was so excited to show her and I was like, yeah, no, she’s not going to like these and I was like, and she’s not going to cry because she’s not your mum, do you know what I mean? And it’s, it’s hard sometimes if you do believe that nonsense about crying and all that kind of stuff, to get this sort of reaction that you want, it’s quite a lot, it puts a lot of emotional kind of, you’re giving a lot of other people a lot of power over things, which I don’t think is always a good thing, so. And it makes you second guess your own choice. 

I mean, I wouldn’t let anyone look shit. I never would let anyone have a bad dress. It’d be like, you can’t let somebody make a decision say yes to something that looks awful. It’s just not gonna happen. You know, it’s an awful, again, that’s awful is a like one, my version of awful would probably be like, it’s the style of wedding dress that is not to my taste. So that isn’t that isn’t a fact. That’s just a personal taste. 

But yeah, so I do think that having a lot of people it was quite but I but I didn’t really love the joyless COVID appointments with masks and no booze and all that kind of stuff. It is much more fun again now, which is lovely. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

It’s just made me think, one of the questions that was on my list, and I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not, was around AI, because AI is just part of the common narrative now. It’s everywhere I look and everything I listen to is AI, AI. And I’m wondering how the bridal experience, the boutique experience, might evolve in the future, and if AI will play a role of that, or if you think that it’s just one of those very human experiences that has to remain a human experience. 

When you start removing some of those elements, like you just said, during COVID and having to wear masks, it just takes away from it.

Is there anything you want to say to that?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

It’s quite tricky because I think that also people before they go wedding dress shopping, they’ve got a very limited vocabulary to describe what they want. We’ve all been there, like on the trends, boho, whatever, classic, vintage, all of those sort of things, meringue. 

People don’t really have the kind of language to describe what they’re looking for. So even with Google, and also people use the word fit and flair. I can’t believe, literally, that gives me the ick that does. Can’t anything with an and in the middle of it. It’s like, unless it’s fish and chips, I don’t want to hear it. 

So I’m not sure that the AI thing would have the right information in the first place, because I don’t think people have got the right language skills to discover what they’re after. And again, our industry is pretty opaque. It’s not, it doesn’t explain itself very easily and there’s so much, I mean, maybe websites might be better if people stopped writing their own bullshit copy on it of like, here’s your special day and they’ll treat you like a printer. You know what I mean?

Maybe some AI might. actually is like, are you quite intelligent? Do you want to stop reading now? Let’s talk about this properly, shall we?

So I don’t know. I think it’s, yeah, I haven’t really seen it. Because people do love the fact that it is, you know, I mean, the rush for appointments when we reopened after the lockdowns and things like that is testament to the fact that people really love it. 

So I mean I don’t know, I mean I’ve seen like you know people are doing some rental stuff so maybe some back end things to kind of manage rental would be useful. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

What are your thoughts on rental? We’ll come back to that in a moment then but I’m interested to know what your thoughts are on the whole rental market. Is it something that you think is a viable thing for the wedding industry?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

No not really. I don’t know, have you seen the state of people’s wedding dresses after they get married? They’re filthy, disgusting. Would you want to be the next person to rent it after that? 

I don’t know. It would either inhibit you having fun in a dress. Also, when I put my details into some of the rental sites, and if you put anything in the search box more than a 12, you can’t find anything. I don’t think you could get an amazing fit. I don’t think the wedding dresses that… I mean, I have a shop full of depreciating wedding dresses, do you know what I mean? It’s quite hard to keep even them looking nice when they’re just being tried on.

Yeah, I think that like, you know, people rent bags and things like that, don’t they? So I think that that’s a possibility, like some of the accessories could possibly go into the rental thing. 

But I just, I always say there is that idea, like, I guess the concept of like having a white, clean dress, symbolic virgin kind of look. It’s not very symbolic if it’s got some stains and some invisible mending on it, you know what I mean? It’s like that’s not as symbolic as one would like. 

So I don’t know, it’s literally like, even if people get a tiny mark on something in a fitting, like in their own dresses, like brand new dresses, we have to get like a completely spot cleaned and all that sort of stuff. So people have the purity of it. I mean, I get it, but I can’t see it. I’d love to think it, because obviously rental would be a fantastic earner. I just don’t see how you can do it, though, without having it like by the second or third person wearing a dress, it looking revolting because of the colour and because of the fabrics and because of the trims. You know, you can’t put them through a washing machine, you can’t put them through a local dry cleaner. To get a really good dry clean on your wedding dress, it costs hundreds. So how are you going to make the money? 

If you’re a landlord with a property portfolio, you want, you love rental, you’re making money hand over fist. So rental has the potential to be a massive earner. I just don’t see how it’s, I can’t see how it’s going to work unless, I mean, years ago, there was a shop, no longer in business, that rented bridesmaids dresses. I remember the woman telling me that every Monday morning, she’d go and put them in an industrial washing machine so they were ready for the next week. And I was like, well, actually, what kind of nice wedding dress would you be able to put into an industrial washing machine? You wouldn’t. So maybe you can get away with that. Probably the bridesmaids dresses, but I don’t know. 

Anyway, interesting concept, though. But also, the other interesting concept, which it also flags up, is the massive amount of overstocks that there is in the country, far too much inventory, so like maybe people want to kind of rent stuff to kind of like get that inventory making some money for them, I don’t know, but it’s, yeah, there’s more wedding dresses than ever possibly can be worn already available in all of the UK bridal shops. 

So I would just hope someone wanted a real bargain and wanted to do their bit, I would buy a sample dress and then get it cleaned and then resell it. That would be how I would do it. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Okay, I’m going to switch up now. We’re going to talk a little bit more about tech. I think you’re brilliant at social media, Emma, and I think that you’ve utilised it, you’ve harnessed it to your strength.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, but Leah, let’s just, Leah, let’s get Leah’s name big and loud. I harnessed Leah at an early stage. So Leah, I met on Twitter back in the day when we used to still have arguments on Twitter, not me and Leah, arguments with other people. I loved a bit of Twitter back in the day. And she was at your event in Gateshead, or wherever it was, Newcastle.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

The Love my Dress Summer Soirée in 2011, was it?

2011, it’s where we actually met, Emma. I think… I don’t actually remember meeting you on the evening, but I can remember it was that event that we met. We’ll come back to that anyway. You tell me about Leah. So you met her there. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

So I… Whenever anybody writes about anything to do with the…, I don’t know what she did to start with for us, but eventually she took over everything. 

So she’s been the architect behind our website, behind our social media, our, like, email marketing, just generally, like, been my sort of IT Crowd meets kind of social media person. And she is incredible and also a graphic designer as well. So she’s just this very unique person that can fully understand the concept of what we do from a brand point of view, but also knows how all the buttons on the internet work. So that’s been really good. 

So if I have any level of visionary skill, it is the fact that I have got her and am prepared to have… I mean, she doesn’t do 40 hours a week for us, but she works a lot for us. And I consider that to be as valuable a salary as any of our salespeople, any of our stylists, any of our seamstresses, because I think that that is how important it is. 

And when I see shops fanning about with their shop windows, but not actually getting the kind of tech right on all the different social media platforms and things like that. And I’m like, stop it. I’ve always said to people, just go and paint your windows white of your shop and then work out how you’re going to promote yourself. 

So it’s, you know, so she’s really, really good. She does everything that makes us look good. And she gives me the platform to do what I do. Yeah, which is sometimes to write. Oh, I haven’t done enough of it recently. The stories, I’m allowed to do the stories. And we work together creatively on, like, if we do an event, we’ve got event graphics, if we work with third-party companies. 

So, yeah, she’s brilliant. And I sort of have to say that she’s like a muse to me for this. And she’s a facilitator. So it is really good. And I think that most people don’t have that. And I think it’s not exactly a secret weapon, but even like some of our designers, for example, like Suzanne has got like a brilliant social media following, she’s got her blue ticks and all that kind of stuff. If Instagram went down, her website’s not as good, shall we say? Like, where would that content be?

Do you know what I mean?

So I feel like Leah’s always had that kind of thing as well of the belt braces, the insurance policy of like, make sure everything’s on the website, make sure that we’ve got all the correct permissions from photographers, make sure we don’t breach any copyright rules. Very, very… So I literally, I do look good. She makes me look good. She looks like I mean, over the years, like the, you know, looking at the tech, looking what it means, looking at which platforms are going to be the most kind of beneficial, meaningful, the best kind of platforms for certain kind of topics and subjects and things like that. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

So I was going to say it’s a privilege to have Leah, isn’t it? I know that she is so important to your business. And not everyone might be able to afford a Leah if they’re running a bridal boutique, but by God, it sounds like one of the best investments that you have ever made. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

You can, yeah. The thing is though, people should like, people should like drop one label and have a Leah. Do you know what I mean? That isn’t, it’s not even, it’s not even really negotiable, I don’t think. Or you have to do the training yourself and you have to do it because it’s not viable. You can’t run a viable business on a footfall and passing trade in a high street, it’s just not going to do it. You need to drive the traffic. And your value as a company, your worth, the goodwill is tied up in your digital presence as well. I have no idea how I would value that. But if someone were to buy Miss Bush, they wouldn’t not want our Pinterest account, and they wouldn’t not want our Instagram account. And that digital asset is part of the value of your company. And yet people, some shops don’t do it, and they are wrong. They are very, very wrong, and that’s it and all about it. 

So, you know, and I see amateur nonsense put out, and horrific reels, and horrible kind of TikToks that are brand damaging, and they should stop doing it. And it also makes the rest of the wedding industry look bad. And this is why the people that have a go at us or think that we’re not fashionable think that we’re not fashionable, because there’s some crimes committed in the arena of social media by other retailers. 

But the problem is, in our industry, is the advice is very sketchy, very patchy. The people giving the advice are not declaring their interest in certain things. And also, I watch people be really easily parted from their hard-earned cash to go and buy brands and labels and things like that. And they’re really, they love it. Like literally, it’s like a feeding frenzy. And yet they won’t spend the money in other areas. And it’s just mystifying to me why that happens, really. 

I have to say at the moment, I feel like also you just need to look at the dominant brand, the ones that crop up the whole time. They don’t do that by accident. They do it with a solid social media campaign. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I was going to say, Leah, on your behalf, has ventured into TikTok too. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, I don’t know anything about that, literally. I don’t know. I don’t go on there. 

So basically, I had something of a sort of hit with one of the things where I talked about veils, which I thought was about as interesting as listening to paint drying and yet 40,000 people seem to have liked it, do you know what I mean? 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

We’ll have to link to it in the show notes afterwards because I’ve seen actually it’s a really good video. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Somebody asked me about veils, I don’t realise how long I can go on about it because I have an opinion about everything, like every minutiae thing that to do with the kind of bridal style, so I probably could do that about all sorts of things. Sleeves, train details, matching jewellery and earring sets, yack. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

The thing is, Emma, you’re living and breathing this every day and perhaps forgetting just how interesting and helpful those visual insights are for brides. 

I mean, most brides enter the world of weddings with very little or no knowledge of bridal fashion, so they don’t know if they want to wear a veil, or if they’re thinking about it, they have perhaps no idea what kind of veil might work well with what kind of look.

I remember being adamant that I would never wear a veil. I just dismissed it altogether. I thought, that, you know, not for me, too princessy. Then I visited a boutique and tried it on and completely changed my mind. I fell in love with the whole vibe and ended up wearing a veil on my day that I just adored. 

But look, I want to move the conversation on for a moment now and talk about change in the wedding industry. So earlier on in our chat, we talked briefly about how you and I met, which was through an event that I hosted back in 2011 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead. I organised this event to help bring the industry together for a really glamorous night of fun and networking and it was a huge event that, anyone who might be listening, who was there will remember as the Love My Dress Summer Soiree. 

And looking back now, my gosh, things have changed so much in the past decade in terms of everything really. How people plan and style their weddings, how they’re getting married, bridal fashion, the wedding industry, how it markets itself. 

I don’t even think back then that the term social media had even been coined yet. And it was a time when traditional print media was starting to wane in popularity. And, you know, lots of exciting blogs like Love My Dress were popping up. It was a real, really pivotal time for digital media and just so much has changed since then. I wondered if you had any thoughts around that?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, I mean, I think that like of all of the kind of blogs, I guess that’s like, it was a really, I did think it was a fascinating time actually, because it just seemed so, well, I suppose it went hand in hand as well with people’s like wedding photography being worthy of inclusion as well. Do you know what I mean? Because I feel like that new breed of creative wedding photographers, quite avant-garde and things like that. 

So I think there was a, and I think at the same time, a few other disruptors around doing other kinds of things. So I think there was a sort of, it was a moment, wasn’t it? And I think what’s been really interesting to see is how those brands have evolved. And I think you’re very true to your brand constantly, which is, you know, I’ve always really loved that. And you’ve been such a passionate supporter of kind of particularly the fashion and the craft and the art and also like fearless when it comes to issues, politics, and, you know, that sort of vocal support of the industry. 

So I think that’s been really good. Whereas I think some of the others, you know, and it’s a perfectly sound business decision, have peeled off, have become more like databases, or they’ve sold, or they’ve sold out, or whatever. 

Again, it’s a very credible business solution, do you know what I mean? But what I do think is there is no, I mean, aside from yourself, I think I’m missing the print mow more than i did then, the more sort of style authority, a bit more, do you know, and I think that quite a lot of the, it’s a bit, it feels a bit rudderless, do you know what I mean, without…

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I understand what you’re trying to say completely. I was going to say when we had the likes of Brides Magazine, it felt like we had a Vogue for the wedding world, didn’t it? And it was full of inspiration and aspiration and all these beautiful editorials, and you feel like that that’s missing now. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, people are very good at having a go and doing it themselves. People hate me because they phone me up to see if they can borrow some dresses for a shoot and I’m really difficult about it, really difficult, like a total pain in the ass. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Why, why are you difficult? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Because quite a lot of the content production, people will use a pretty mate or something and or they don’t get the models in, they don’t fit the dresses properly and they don’t really invest in that kind of… they don’t invest in the kind of production standards that you would get if you were on a magazine or in any other kind of fashion-led work or fashion content or editorial work. 

So I think there’s a lot of amateurness in that. So I always insist on seeing the models, I insist on veto rights over the imagery. And I just… and I think that people like are like well-meaning and enthusiastic, doesn’t always necessarily bring out the best content in people. And I think a lot of things are very derivative. And I think a lot of people copy things that they’ve already seen. And I think most of the stuff that’s done in terms of content production is shit. It’s really bad. It’s really, really bad. I’m not going to lie, it’s just actually bad. And the thing is, I see the effort that goes behind it, and the effort’s huge. But most of it isn’t really working against the industry. But it’s well-intentioned, and that’s why I feel like such a cow, because I’m basically having a go at people that have tried really hard. But it isn’t an industry that applauds effort. It’s an industry that applauds results. And that is it and all about it. 

I mean, and you can have some really lovely dresses with some really bad photos and they’ll just kill off the brand. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I think one of the things that is really, really important, a message to come out of this is that if you’re working on an editorial, you really do need to have an experienced fashion stylist on the scene. They will understand how to, you know, avoid all of those slip-ups where perhaps the bra strap’s showing or something hasn’t been pressed properly or just isn’t literally fitting properly. And all of those things that you and I would notice straight away. I just think it’s often overlooked, the fact that you need somebody who’s an experienced stylist actually there on set. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

We did a little mini shoot yesterday, actually, because we accidentally had a model spare. So I was like, right, let me grab a photographer and let’s use this spare model to…. and we’ve got some brilliant photos. But actually, I really like it because I didn’t have too much time to think about it apart from a pair of earrings. We didn’t have anybody else involved. There was no hair and makeup team. There was just the photographer and the model and some new frocks. But it was really nice to keep it very… There was no clutter getting in the way. I didn’t have to make sure a bouquet was being held the right way up. I didn’t have to have somebody looking to see if the hair and makeup was right. You know, it was just very fast and all about fashion and nothing about how beautiful the model looked. 

It was a very clear directive and it took an hour and a half. And I would say that I’ve got more good usable fashion imagery from an hour and a half of non-clutter in my mind than some of the things where I’ve lent dresses for and I’m like, hmm, I might be able to use one or two of these. And I also think that people need to think when they’re putting these crews together for content. I’m not saying nobody cares about the rest of the styling, but if the fashion’s bad, your shoot won’t get a look in. So it doesn’t matter how beautiful the flowers are or how everything else or what everyone’s done, if the dress is slash outfits, the apparel doesn’t look good, the shoot fails, and when they work well, they really, really work well, so that’s just a general message for people. 

Otherwise, you’re just wasting quite a lot of people’s time. I know you get the brunt of it. If you refuse content, people get offended, and it’s not necessarily the quality of the photography or the light or the this, that, or the other. It’s just like, as a thing, it’s like it doesn’t have a point of view. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I think I’m quite good in feeding back and most of the time, in fact, the vast majority of the time, the creative that sent me images that perhaps I’ve declined as part of the submission, if they ask for feedback, and I’m honest, they’re very, very good at accepting that. And most of the time, it’s a learning experience for them. And they genuinely hadn’t given the due credence or the necessary consideration to the fashion element. 

So, and I, I therefore feel, you know, job done. They’ve learned something there for the next time. 

You’re continually seeking to evolve and push boundaries. Obviously, you know, I think you’re a true innovator and I want you to talk to me a little bit about your partnership with Nortier Shallow. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, Nortier Shallow, that’s Ben Shallow and Adrian Nortier are, they were people that we were working with as an alterations company, but not really, really closely. A few years ago, we used to recommend them for doing alterations for people that maybe bought sample dresses from us or something like that. Nortier Shallow is a standalone alterations company. and then when basically, like one of my long-time team members, Corin, went on maternity leave, and also somebody resigned at the beginning of peak season. So we ended up doing a lot more work closely with both Ben and Adrian. And I love them. They’re just really, really cool, creative people, really hardworking, really fantastic. And I knew that they’d actually created a collection in lockdown. And it was lovely, but it was designed to be in their own shop in competition with major existing brands at the moment. 

So I was a bit like, yeah, no, it is really good. But at Miss Bush, we have big commercial brands. So what we’re missing, I think, is complete creativity. We’re missing someone to make one-off bespoke pieces and items for our clients. 

So we have now a separate company called Nortier, which is their really sort of their creative arm, so more than the alterations business. And then we’ve really worked on the branding with that and tried to encourage them to really think about what really motivates them. I know they’re huge fans of McQueen and Vivienne Westwood and things like that and they love the sort of 90s vintage and things like that, 80s vintage and they’re both very theatrical and work a lot and they do as hobbies musical theatre and I was like for your own brand can we not look at what’s already existing is commercially available because I do find that quite often in designers it’s like you suddenly see a version of the same dress from everybody. And what I’ve tried to encourage them to do is think about creating the first collection. 

It sounds really bad. It actually doesn’t really need to sell, like, very strongly. Do you know what I mean? We’re only going to have it through Miss Bush, and we’re sort of market testing it there. To go into doing wholesale or to do it on a much bigger basis, you’d need a significant level of investment, and I’m not sure that we’re ready to do that yet. But I really wanted to do was to hark also back to the golden age of what I consider to be the golden age of British bridal design, which was in the 80s and 90s, where there was many, many beautiful individual labels making stuff, and much more of a artisan craft level in the UK which doesn’t exist now. I mean arguably there’s, the offers are more sophisticated, but you know we have quite often, in the UK, gifted our industry to lots of players that have won the internet. So like the Aussies, the Israelis, and the Americans, they all just do their marketing better.

So I’d just say it was one of those things that it’s just trying to kind of like, so my role is really just to be a mentor, to try and encourage them to think about their own, really their own personal style and not to look over their shoulders. And for me to keep saying, we have things that sell in the hundreds, but what we don’t have in a store is something that we can create one-off pieces for brides where we’re starting from a very creative, very theatrical kind of style. And I think it’s sort of like, we have got that tradition of that more theatrical style. But it just seems to be a little bit homogenised at the moment. The offer is a little bit sort of, dare I say, it could be a little sterile across the board. It’s a lot that looks the same.

So I think it’s just quite nice to have a few maverick kind of concepts going on there. And hopefully, it will evolve into something solidly commercial. But I don’t think you can start by trying to be commercial. You’ve got to start by defining who you are and what you think and believe and then work through from that point of view. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I think that’s again, it’s golden piece of information that you’ve shared just now because I think if you enter any entrepreneurial project with the goal of just making money and being commercial, I think it will eventually fall flat. It has to be something that comes from your heart. It’s got to be what’s authentic. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

If you wanted to do anything just to make money, you would literally, you would be well served to move well clear of the bridal industry, specifically bridal fashion.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

You’re not making it sound like a very prosperous career opportunity.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

No, it’s not. It’s not and I would say that it’s quite an addictive thing to do, and it can make you a living, but in a frighteningly huge percentage of cases, it doesn’t. 

And it’s a very, very quick way that a lot of people have lost inheritances, or they’ve lost money, or they’ve lost, you know, like, redundancy payouts and things like that, buying a dream that turns into be, you know, some kind of horror. A

And I’ve seen it too many times, do you know what I mean? I’ve seen people that have never made any money, that literally have been working in a kind of unpaid role to be in bridal retail. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I just want to say at this point, actually, because some of the most incredible entrepreneurs I know, work in bridal retail, including yourself. And there are some amazing businesses out there. 

And I think what you’re saying is how people get married and they get bitten, don’t they, by the wedding bug? And they think, oh, this is amazing. I want to run my own wedding shop, without realising actually what an incredibly serious business it is. And it’s part of that misperception, isn’t it, that we were talking about before, that you were always so good at fighting vocally. There’s a massive misconception that it’s just this bunch of fluff and how lovely it would be to go and do that. It’s a serious, serious business, and takes so much skill.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, it is a serious business, and I don’t think it’s given, like, you know, I’ve just done it a long time, so I know loads of really good retailers that are in it, and they are fantastic. And they’re not necessarily the ones that, oh, there is fantastic young retailers, fantastically, you know, like other like feisty retailers. 

I mean, I would say like sort of Heart Aflutter, like Cecilia in East London is amazing, thoroughly solid sort of business head. 

Yeah, I think Gemma from Halo and Wren like saw a market opportunity and took it and I think her shop looks, it serves a really kind of like, it’s got that, it’s just got kind of youth kind of coming all over it. 

Millie, who I’ve spent a lot of time with from the White Closet in Manchester, hers is, you know, like a fantastic… So there’s, these are people that they’re not like, I don’t, you don’t have to be my age to be good. You can be good in your 20s. Julia, Frances Day, do you know what I mean? There’s loads of really good ones and really established shops that are good, like Ellie Sanderson, or like the Wedding Shopping in Colchester, or Bellissimo in Essex. 

There is loads of really good ones, but there is only about 50 and then the rest of them, and if you want a hobby, then that’s fine, if you want a hobby, but it’s an expensive hobby, and it’s a hard hobby, do you know what I mean? And you can lose just a lot of money doing it. But there are really good, really, really solidly good retailers out there. But there is also people that I know that have closed, never really paying themselves what they were worth. And it’s a hard business. It’s hard to work every weekend. And it’s hard to work in retail. You don’t really get much respect for your kind of role or your business. If you just want to put on dresses on like Instagram on yourself, I’d suggest you look to be a content creator for something else, because it’s not going to make you any money in bridal. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

So looking ahead then, what excites you most about the future of bridal fashion industry and the world of weddings that you are a part of? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Well, I literally, what’s not to love about bridal fashion? Okay, so it’s like being in the sort of fantasy end of the fashion industry, which is brilliant, but that doesn’t necessarily, like, I mean, I’m really excited about some of the new labels I’ve got that aren’t like literally they’re not selling tons of stuff like say the Maticevski and the Sophie et Voila and things like that. 

So it is I’m excited about the more niche labels and about groundbreaking labels and that kind of thing really excites me keeps me interested. I’m really excited. 

But I actually do I like being a mentor. I find it quite challenging to be a mentor. Why didn’t you I tell you, I feel like I’m just, you know, like, I didn’t tell you to do that. Why have you rushed ahead with that without asking me? 

So apparently it’s quite – I was reading something about this. It’s quite hard to do mentoring and you have to have like the right mentee as well. So it’s – yeah, so I – but I do love that side of things. I love styling. I styled a shoot for like Ben and Adrian’s dresses a couple of weeks ago when I just went down my own little kind of like rabbit hole of thinking of like quite an androgynous sort of look and trying to do a sort of, you know, I’m really really inspired by Harry Styles’s stylist who’s called Harry as well.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Harry Lambert.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yes, that’s it, well done. Yeah, Harry Lambert. So he basically styles Harry Styles and he has also styled Emma Corrin. And I really love the, like, everything I’ve ever seen Emma Corrin in, and I like that kind of… edge of gender kind of look that he does. 

Doing styling gives me a chance to reflect on what I’m currently thinking and channelling my sort of passions and hobbies and things like that, and looking at things. And I feel like I thought that putting, like, petals over somebody’s boobs would make more of an internet star, and it didn’t. I was kind of surprised it didn’t like, or maybe people don’t comment on things anymore, people don’t see them, or maybe I don’t know what we’re doing wrong, but I just thought it looked really beautiful and it was kind of quite avant-garde looking, but, and a bit sort of 90s. 

So, yeah, so that’s what excites me, I suppose and also like, I guess the freedom, I’ve got a brilliant, brilliant team. I need to shout out to my team that allows me to not have to be literally at work every single day. I’ve got Corin back from maternity leave. So it also excites me that I could get maybe a little bit of balance, because I think that will help me bring more ideas and more verve to what we do as well. 

So yeah, it was exciting to go to Barcelona. I’m always excited by people putting real design effort into what they do and it takes away the cynic out of me sometimes. No, it doesn’t go completely, but it turns the cynic down somewhat. 

So yeah, so I get excited about ridiculous things as well, like a veil with a frill on, do you know, or some other thing. I’ve got a dress that I’m really excited to get in from Sophie et Voila, which is like this shapeless dress that hasn’t got a waist, it’s just got flowers around the shoulder. And I’m really excited to get it and get it on people. And I probably won’t even hate it when it doesn’t sell that well. 

I know you can’t continue that philosophy for long though. I would just say that is not a piece of business advice I want to hand out. You need to have a solid couple of like brands that repeat well and are your absolutely kind of, you know, the cornerstones of your business, which we have. So you need to do that, definitely. Don’t just go and buy things that they don’t sell that’s bad advice children. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Emma you’ve obviously mentioned your incredible team and a couple of times and in fact way back at the start of the podcast you mentioned Marshy and I didn’t get a chance to clarify that Marshy is your husband. 

Can you talk to me a little bit about, before we come to the end of the interview, how you balance your role as a wife, a mother, daughter, sister against all the demands of running a successful business like Miss Bush? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

There is absolutely zero balance, completely zero. There is absolutely no balance in my life. There’s absolutely zero balance. There is, currently I have a studio in my home, so because we needed to make more space at the chapel because of the health and safety requirements of the Covid risk assessments and things like that. 

So I have production work being done, sacrificed, my dining room, to be made into a production studio. Those I have literally have no, like Marshy, like my husband, whose actual name is Andrew, just for anybody who wants to have a fun fact, just the roof on the chapel and I made my son do labouring for him. And Rosie’s boyfriend, Rosie is my general manager, her boyfriend also was doing that as well. So there isn’t really a line. It’s very all-consuming. 

And I was just looking up a new shop that I saw mentioned somewhere and I looked at their opening hours and they’re open from 10 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon. And I literally just nearly spat my tea out. I was like, what? No. It’s not realistic. Do you know what I mean? That isn’t a thing. 

But then, you know, what I’m trying to do now to try and get some balance is to try and maybe not work like a block of days together. Like I say, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’ve had a very challenging year with my personal life. My son, who’s 27, has just been diagnosed this year with a late diagnosis of autism. So he’s very comfortable with me talking about this in case you think I’m giving out stuff that I shouldn’t be. So he had autistic burnout, so it’s just like having a nervous breakdown if you are neurotypical. So he had autistic burnout, real big problems. He’s always had big problems with anxiety and depression, and he was suicidal. So oddly enough, because I’ve had to go and support him, it’s made me slightly rearrange my working week. So like Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I try not to be in the building. And that’s been quite an interesting thing to take something quite as massive as that to try and actually realise that you’ve got to carve out time to be able to be available to people.

I feel like also, again, far too much information here. I was also found out from my doctors because I was talking about having like, I found a piece of paper saying my mirena coil was out of date. And I was like, okay, I should have had this taken out and I was like do I need to have it taken out? So I went to my doctors and they told me that I was like fully post-menopausal, not a single hormone left in me of any use whatsoever from that perspective. 

So I think those two things of suddenly realising I’m not actually as young as I think I am and also with my son that have actually made me try this year to get a couple more boundaries around my time because it isn’t, you know, infinite. But on the other hand, I don’t think that I could have done, Miss Bush would not be successful if I’d put boundaries in there. I feel it’s inevitable that you, it’s all consuming. And even when I am making these times, I don’t turn off my email notifications on my phone. I’m constantly aware of what’s going on on Instagram and I am available for everyone. 

So, you know, those are the, you know, that’s the realities and also, I’m sure, like, your listeners would like to know that I’ve also been divorced. So I’ve also showed up at work, you know, the morning after I found out that my husband was having an affair, not Marshy, obviously, my husband was having an affair with one of my friends, you know, so, you know, and it’s kind of like, and you’ve still got to be cheery about weddings when you’re going through a divorce. And, you know, we’ve experienced quite a lot. 

So I would say that I’m trying to put some boundaries in now. But actually, I think with most people, you’ve got to be passionate and committed to it. And I think it’s quite hard to put those boundaries in. And as you will find with Love My Dress, I mean, Love My Dress is as much about Phil, the girls, the flower farm, the location. I feel like all of that, it comes as one big understanding of what you do. When I think of you, I don’t think of you in an office being Love My Dress. I think of you and the family and the dogs and the landscape. And that all informs my thoughts about you.

So maybe like people will still have the same thing when they think of me. I went to Barcelona Bridal Week this year without Marshy and people are like, where is he? So it’s like me, Marshy, the chapel, my mum, the whole lot comes as one big kind of package. And there is no boundary between my home and work and my family and work. So yeah, it is. Yeah, I don’t know if that is, but you know how this feels, I guess.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST) 

I do and I think a part of what I want to achieve through this podcast is kind of revealing more of the humanness, you know, the reality of what goes on behind running a business in the wedding industry. So I’m really humbled that you’ve just shared what you did with our audience. Thank you, Emma.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I think people, I would tell it to people in the shop, do you know what I mean, or in the chapel, people would know this. And particularly what’s interesting about this learning about the autistic spectrum as well, and learning some of the challenges of a neurodiverse mind as well, and actually realising that one of the things I want to change about Miss Bush is we’ve got to be more mindful of that, because I realise some of the things, not we don’t do them actually, I have to say, but some of the lies that people tell people to help them, in inverted commas, to make a decision about a dress. For a neurodiverse person, that’s extremely stressful and is very unhelpful and unsettling.

So you’ve got to be, you’ve got to, like, I’m not there yet, I’ve literally so much to learn, but I am starting to understand and see and recognise a neurodiverse person when I see one now, do you know what I mean? Without actually asking and sort of being aware that that is to try and make our, also make the chapel a safe space for neurodiverse people as well. 

So it’s like, it’s just, you know, it’s that sort of, yeah, I don’t know how I got onto that, but what I’m saying is, is I have these subjects with customers and clients because I don’t think it’s going to do any, it doesn’t serve anyone, doesn’t serve my son or like anyone if we, if these things are not very, very openly discussed. So, so I’m kind of cool about discussing those things, I have to say. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s fascinating and I’d say it just brings a layer that people just wouldn’t think of, you know, what are these people go, what’s happening in their lives? There’s always something going on behind closed doors, isn’t there? And I love the fact that you have obviously been through something that’s been very traumatic for your family and being able to bring that in a very empathetic and compassionate way into your professional life, I think that’s really inspiring. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I had a really weird complaint from someone this year, like about something, and it was all a bit odd, but I really wanted to go back to them and just say, I’m sorry, I just had to call the police, like, because I had to do like a welfare check on my son and report him as a missing person because he’s a suicide risk, do you know what I mean? And this person is complaining about something and you want to go back to them and go, like, literally? 

Do you know what I mean? And yet you can’t. You still have to have that, you know, like, literally you, whilst I don’t have a boundary, you can’t, do you know what I mean, to be able to continue to do this, to continue to have the patience with people to answer things, you know, and to deal, you have to have, you know, so I’m saying I don’t have a work-life boundary, but you can’t bring all of your personal life into work, but you need to bring some of it, because otherwise you don’t seem human and you do look like you’re reading a script. Yeah, really, really important point. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Let’s bring this conversation to a close now and I’m going to ask you a couple of lighthearted questions just to kind of, so that we can finish on a real fun high note. If you were to host a dinner party,

Emma, and could find any three people living or deceased, who would you choose and why?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST) 

So I did give this a little bit of a thought. So like one of the people that I would invite to dinner is Siouxsie Sioux because basically like I have been tracking down Siouxsie Sioux tickets all year because she’s like doing her first set of gigs for ages and she’s doing Latitude Festival. I’d already bought tickets for Tramlines and all her gigs sold out. So I’ve actually bought tickets to go to a festival in Lisbon in Portugal, just so I can see Siouxsie Sioux. So basically, it would have been a lot easier if I could have her at my house for dinner. That would have been like childhood ambition and everything kind of sorted right there in one go. 

I would have, I know this, you’re just like, everyone’s going to yawn while their eyes will be like really sad. I would literally, I would have my husband, do you know what I mean? I can’t, like some of my most fun times.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Oh, bless your heart.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST) 

I know, that is literally so pathetic. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

No, no, no, not at all, he’s a legend. 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST) 

But I can’t imagine hosting without him. So, and then I was like, umming and ahhing about my third person, like someone, like it would have to be someone who regularly makes me laugh and is like constantly…. I think it would like, have to be like, I’m umming and ahhing between Kathy Burke and Alan Carr and I’m not quite sure which one. I think I’d probably go Kathy Burke actually. So that’s quite a weird little kind of dinner party. So yeah, she’s got quite a good podcast at the moment called Where There’s a Will, There’s a Wake, asking people how they would die, how their funeral would be and what they would do with their inheritance. It’s very funny. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

If you were stranded on a desert island, Emma, what three items would you want to have with you? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

I think that I would want to have a sketchbook, a pencil and a massive book. So I could be quite happy with that. 

Like literally, I know I’m not eating obviously or doing anything, but I, all the time that I’ve been on the phone to you, I’ve just been scribbling. I feel that it’s possibly because I may have ADHD. 

Now I’m investigating the spectrum, but I’m quite happy as long as I can just scribble the whole time. So there’s scribbles and sketches all over my office and things, so that would be that. And yeah, a book, probably like a massive like war and peace type of book, but I do love nothing more than a read. 

So if I’m on a desert island with a beach, it would be a book. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Oh, it sounds blissful, honestly. I can completely relate to that.

And one more question Emma, if you could travel back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Oh my god, just the one piece of advice, oh my god. 

Well actually though I’m going to take it really, really, really back to like absolutely young advice, like school things because it would be, I’m going to try not to use the like C-bomb as well, it’s like I was one of those girls at school that was massively shallow, a little bit, like I was head girl and I feel like I would have been like a Heather or one of those things, you know what I mean, like one of the like, like sort of popular but probably quite a lot of people hated me.

So I think that I would like to go back to myself and probably have been less shallow, less judgy, and worked harder on my friendships with all sorts of people. And I think I’ve really learnt that lesson much, much later in life. But I was just a bit like, do you look cool enough to sit with me, that kind of person? I feel shame about that now still. So I think I would like to have been a lot more open. 

I don’t think I’m not even entirely sure that I was a bully but I feel like I would have disregarded people. I just like a little bit unlikable, do you know what I mean? So I think I’d like to go back to myself and tell myself to be better. But apart from that I have got a full encyclopaedic work of advice to give to my younger self in many respects. 

So like you know, from, like, parenting to being married, to work, to all sorts of stuff, do you know what I mean? But that would be like, yeah, that would be, you haven’t got another two hours, so, but that would be the thing that I would say that I really try to do better now is to, again, march nicer paths. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Work hard and be kind. I think that’s a nice message to finish on, isn’t it? 

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

Yeah, work hard, just be really, do you know what I mean? And just don’t be judgmental. And I just think I was, I think I was…tried so hard to be cool that I forgot to be nice. Do you know what I mean? So I was a bit of a C-bomb. Yeah, literally. 

So, um, and now I think the interesting thing now about this age is people tell me I’m cool now and literally I did, there is not one single thing that I try to do to be cool. So actually, so kids, it was the wrong thing to do is like, you just, if you just then become more yourself, people either find that cool or they will find it repellent, but do you know what I mean? It’s nothing you can do about it.

So that’s when people try and tell me they want to be a cool bride. It’s like you either are or you are not. You cannot buy it. 

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

Emma, it’s been such a pleasure having this conversation with you and I want to thank you for your time because I know how busy you are.

Thank you so, so much.

EMMA MARSHALL (GUEST)

You’re very welcome.

ANNABEL BEEFORTH (HOST)

I hope very much that you enjoyed this conversation, but before we wrap this episode I need to ask a favour. 

A huge amount of time, love and effort is required to produce this podcast and in order to get it off to a flying start in season 1 we need your support. 

Please subscribe to the podcast and please consider leaving a short positive review. These two small things will take just a few short moments from your day I promise, but they’ll make a huge impact in helping the podcast reach as many people as possible. 

I really appreciate your support. Thank you so much and until next time, take care.

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Annabel

Annabel View all Annabel's articles

Founder of Love My Dress. Passionate Podcaster and Editor. Annabel lives in rural North Yorkshire with her husband and business partner Philip, their two daughters and menagerie of furry hounds. She loves photography, meditation, walking, being outdoors and star gazing. She is fierce when it comes to championing talent within the wedding industry and when she's not working on Love My Dress, she supports her husband Philip in the running of the family's sustainable flower farm and floral design business, Moonwind Flowers. In 2013, she became a published author.

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