Women in Business Q&A: Cecile Reinaud, CEO & Founder, Séraphine

Businesswoman, designer and mother Cecile Reinaud is the founder of international maternity fashion label Séraphine, who won the Queens Award for Enterprise in 2015 as well as Richard Branson's Fast Track 100 Ones To Watch 2015. Her brand of maternity wear became a household name when The Duchess of Cambridge wore a dress for the first official picture with Prince George during her first pregnancy and this year whilst Kate was expecting Princess Charlotte, Séraphine was dubbed "her favourite maternity label" as she wore it on numerous official occasions. Reinaud's business has a turnover in excess of £12 million, with a newly opened flagship in London's Kensington, and New York and is planning on continued fast international expansion for the year to come including Dubai and China.

The French born entrepreneur has lived all her adult life in London and is now launching a new line of baby wear in Partnership with the Diana Award foundation. Reinaud was approached by the Diana Award, which is the only official charity working on the legacy of Diana the Princess of Wales, to develop a baby wear range using the iconic Diana Pastel Tartan.

Cecile has two sons, Florian aged 7 and Lorenz aged 12 and lives in North London. Originally from Paris where she studied business, Cecile first moved to the UK to work at high profile advertising agencies including JWT, where she was appointed as the youngest Account Director in the company's history. Inspired by her grandparents who owned a fabric company that supplied iconic fashion houses such as Chanel - Cecile's true passion has always been designing and creating clothes, so it wasn't long before pregnant friends began approaching her to tailor make styles to form and flatter their growing bumps. In particular Reinaud revolutionized the maternity jean, creating the under/over bump jean band that has served as a sartorial savior to pregnant women since its inception. It was at this point that Cecile spotted a business opportunity for fashion-driven maternity and nursing style solutions and in 2002, founded Séraphine.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm originally from France, went to senior school in the UK, moved back to France for university and then came to London to start my career. My experience of moving and living between countries at a young age has given me the confidence to expand my business on a world-wide scale. Our web platform ships to over 30 countries and we have Seraphine stores in London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Dubai.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Seraphine?
After graduating I started my career in advertising at J Walter Thompson. I was very driven and progressed quickly through the ranks, becoming the youngest account director at the agency. I took on a lot of responsibility at quite a young age, and I learnt to think from a customer's point of view and to spot commercial opportunities. When I spotted a gap in the market for fashionable maternity clothes, my leadership experience at JWT gave me the confidence to strike out on my own and set up my own business.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Seraphine?
Seraphine has given me so many highlights! It's always a thrill to see celebrities wearing our maternity clothes - every time I get a real sense of achievement dressing some of the most beautiful and glamorous A-lister mums on the planet! This month, Anne Hathaway looked super stylish in our Leather Leggings and coat. And I'll never forget the moment I first saw The Duchess of Cambridge looking beautiful in our Fuchsia Knot Front Dress in the first official pictures with Prince George. We had no idea she was going to wear it, and then suddenly the images went viral and our little dress made headlines around the world! And of course last summer I was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen after Seraphine won the Queen's Award for Enterprise 2015.

But of course it hasn't always been such smooth sailing, especially at the beginning. I fell pregnant with my eldest in the first year of starting Seraphine, so I was trying to grow my budding business while combatting morning sickness, and then of course as a first time mum with a new born baby. It was the most challenging time of my life and certainly taught me resilience and how to operate sleep deprived! But I got to meet my wonderful son Lorenz and also got a real insight into what is important to women when looking for maternity clothes.

More recently having to move offices every two years because of outgrowing our space has been a real challenge for the business. Good London office spaces are so hard to find and so expensive, so it has become a permanent challenge to optimise our working environment.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Creating a fashion brand from scratch is a real challenge and I always advise not to under-estimate the enormous amount of work it will take - especially if you are looking to balance a family with a growing business! Make sure you have a unique selling proposition before launching and a thorough communication plan. You will need to adapt to your customer demand and sometimes go places you never thought you would; stay flexible, agile and open minded at all times.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Trust your instincts! Whether it's about choosing products, recruiting people or entering into a business deal, always listen to your first impression. Let your intuition guide you in your decision making process and if you perceive negative things at all, just don't do it. Women have great intuitive powers but often we are too insecure to listen to them: believing in yourself is the first stepping stone to success.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Running a business with two young children in the picture is no walk in the park. By nature I'm a perfectionist so when my boys were younger I used to get frustrated about not having enough time. I've since learnt not to beat myself up too much about not being the perfect textbook mum. My trick is to make a list of ten things I want to achieve in a day, then cross out the four least important ones and accept that they just won't happen today. I aim to feel 100% satisfied when I've reached 60% of my daily goals. With this perspective of glass half full I find I have more positive energy that I can redeploy to both my business and family.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Being respected as a female boss was not always easy and I found it hard at times to get the balance right between being a friendly female boss and having people accept my authority. But as time goes on and the business continues to grow I find that this is less of an issue. I believe that talent and hard work ultimately shine through regardless of gender - Over 80% of my staff are women, and we are a super girl team!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've never really had a formal mentor as such, but I am a member of The Supper Club, which is a networking group for fast growth CEOs and entrepreneurs. Something I didn't realise when I started out, is that being your own boss can be quite an isolating experience. I find the meetings a great opportunity to learn from other people in similar positions to me, and to pass on what I've learnt to others - I highly recommend it.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Firstly Arianna Huffington inspires me hugely. I had the pleasure to meet her last year on her book tour and was utterly inspired by her and her book. There are plenty of strong female role models in the fashion industry that I look up to - Tamara Melon and Nathalie Massanet have certainly paved the way in the past decade.

What do you want Seraphine to accomplish in the next year?
This year I'm focused on rolling out more store in America as our two New York stores have been so successful. I'm also really excited about my new baby wear line The Diana Award Collection. I have partnered with the Diana Award, which does amazing charity work to continue Princess Diana's legacy and support young people who are doing good in their communities. The baby wear range is made with their signature pastel Tartan fabric and we give 12% of all proceeds to the charity, it' been fantastic to give back to the community whilst creating an iconic baby range.