Meet The Founder : Ekene Pruce
We want to know more about the tall women behind the brands, they’re driven by passion and an inspiration to us all so we spoke to Ekene Pruce, Belle Grande designer to get her take on life in the tall lane!
Q1: A lot of women are stuck in corporate jobs dreaming of doing something more creative so we’d love to hear more about how you made the creative jump from lawyer to fashion designer?
A1: It wasn’t an easy decision but I realised that there was this fire inside me that was screaming and yearning to break through. It was during the Economic Recession in 2008 that I started thinking and making small steps towards creating my own designs. By 2012, after I had my son , I started attending fashions shows in Milan , Florence, Rome, Paris and London as well as managing small fashion projects on behalf of clients and exploring the Asian and Chinese fashion worlds. The Legal Profession is a reserved profession with huge expectations with respect to how you are seen and perceived. It’s highly conservative. For example after I completed my Masters degree in Law, I wanted to dye my hair Red! But I knew that nobody would employ me however it was my way of expressing how I felt at the time.
Dressing up as a lawyer can be boring, it’s not expressive! It’s all about wearing black and white and grey with little or no colour. As a Law undergraduate in Nigeria, we were forced to wear black/ white every day for lectures and to express my creativity, I got my mother to make a chiffon white blouse (see through fabric) for me, and I wore it to Uni. with white lace lingerie! I got a lot of stares and comments but then again I was still wearing the black/ white as instructed. My mother was a fashion designer, so she made most of my clothes. I grew up around clothes, fabrics, trimmings and haute couture. Fashion was ME and I was fashion! I wore what certain people would consider” crazy” but I called it being expressive.
Q2: Do you still work as a lawyer or have you now transitioned completely?
A2: I still work as a lawyer and also as a full time mother to 2 children aged 14 and 4. I haven’t transitioned completely as I am waiting for the right time. My time is very precious and of the essence to me. I utilise every second to do something productive. I am always busy. I use my lunch breaks to work on Belle Grande. A typical day in my life starts at 5am, work on Belle Grande till 6.30am, then get the kids ready for school, then I am at work for 8.30am, then work on Belle Grande again for another 30mins. During my lunch break, I am in the car, working on Belle Grande. I finish work at 5.00pm, go home, prepare dinner for the children and then off to the Gym for 6.00pm to 7.00pm but on Mondays and Thursday, I do Judo and I play tennis. I don’t get home till 9.45pm. Get the children’s things ready for school for the next day, and then I start working on Belle Grande again from 11.30pm to 2am!
Q3: Has your legal experience helped you in the world of fashion?
A3: My legal experience has helped me immensely especially in the areas of Consumer, Commercial and Contract law. The Fashion industry is a world that you can get ripped off pretty easily and quickly and it takes more than business sense to see through the fluff. All my manufacturers are aware that I am a lawyer and as such I pay particular attention to detail and will not accept certain terms in a Contract. I manufacture in Italy and as such governed by the EU Law and protected by the same, however I’m not so sure what the outcome will be once Brexit takes effect.Q4: From a personal perspective, what has surprised you most on this journey?
A4: I would say that my biggest surprise is the immense amount of support that I have received from fellow tall ladies and tall men. When I launched my first Collection, I wasn’t sure if it would sell or not as Belle Grande was just a new brand and most people had never heard of it, also the fact that I manufacture in Italy made it slightly high end and most people believed it was expensive; but I then started receiving emails and letters from customers telling me how much they loved the quality of the brand, the classic design and the fact that it wasn’t mass produced.
I was also surprised to find out that most Tall women lack confidence in their appearance, in other words, some find it hard to wear clothes that will draw attention to them. I would love to meet more of these ladies, and I would love to dress and feature them on the Belle Grande blog. These tall women are so beautiful, attractive and unique.
Q5: As a woman with seemingly abundant amounts of ambition, what and/or who has been your biggest influence in life?
A5: My late father was a big influence in my life, he was a big advocate on the Education of Women and he made sure that all his 5 daughters were professionals in their field.. However the biggest influence in my life is life itself. There was a time as a student, I had just completed the Solicitor’s Exam and was looking for work. My daughter was 4 years old at the time and all we had was £5 between us. My landlord had served me with an Eviction Notice to vacate his property and that was the day I decided that “this will never happen again”. (A story for another time perhaps on how I dug myself out of that quagmire)
“the biggest influence in my life is life itself”
Q6: Belle Grande’s mission is to create the perfect collection for the tall woman: As a designer, where do you get your creative inspiration from?
A6: I travel a lot, and I like to watch people. This aids my research and helps me understand the latest trends and how to fuse different trends to come up with a unique design or fit. I do a lot of market research by talking to a lot of tall ladies and of course going through their wardrobe, and I am always surprised to see and know that their favourite piece/ pieces is not a product of fast fashion which they have often owned for over 5 years. For example, the Eva Knitted Coat is made from the purest Italian yarn. Long coats are in trend at the moment and the design came to me when I was in Reggio Emilia in Italy in the winter of 2014 and I wanted a coat that was eclectic, warm, fashionable and could be worn with anything in my wardrobe. Also the Katherine Jacket was inspired by the fact that jackets made from quality tweed fabric are hard to find except if it is a designer brand. The Catherine Jacket and the Elegantia jacket are made from carefully and specifically designed fabric. It cannot be seen anywhere else.
Tall women inspire me to do what I am doing at the moment. And whenever I see a well-dressed average size lady, I always wonder what it would look like on a very tall girl. And guess what! It always looks better on a tall girl.
Q7: We love that your Belle Grande collections are designed in the UK. Can you tell us a bit about why manufacturing in Italy is such an important part of your brand?
A7: Working with Italian manufacturers and stylists has given me the opportunity to create designs that can stand the test of time. The opportunity to create timeless pieces that are made with the best fabrics and craftsmanship. Because of this, I decided to create a brand of haute couture tall clothing, hence the birth of Belle Grande. Italians are very good at their craft and their fashion knowledge dates back to generations and generations of great craftsmen. They are also very passionate about their craft and how to get the best result that will elicit uniqueness. My knitwear manufacturers have been going for decades, it is a craft that have been handed down for generations, the same goes for “my button man”, and his family have been making buttons for generations. Belle Grande is about quality, precision and great craftsmanship. Furthermore, I dislike wearing clothes that I know I will see a lot of people wearing; hence my fabrics are specially designed for the purpose for which they are intended. And can never be found anywhere else.
Q8: How many of you does it take to produce a collection and who are the most important members of the Belle Grande team?
A8: There are only 3 members in the Belle Grande Production Team, myself, my pattern cutter and my manufacturer. And the most important member is Silvia my pattern cutter. If she gets the design wrong, the pattern is wrong and the sample is wrong and every stage of this process is expensive. In other words, she will have to make sure that the picture I have in my head is the same picture she has in hers and the same goes for the manufacturer. It is a very lengthy, time consuming and expensive process.
Tell us more about your latest collection…
My latest Collection is predominately knitwear and 2 dresses. My knitwear collection is made with the finest Italian yarn Cleopatra, Alpaca and Fluido, with cashmere. They are ahead of trend and have never been seen before. The dress fabrics were uniquely manufactured for Belle Grande in Prato Italy and as such of very high quality fabric composition and limited. Personally, I have struggled with buying the right knitwear as most knitwear I have come across is rather itchy to the skin due to poor yarn composition and dye. The knitwear Collection will be available by the end of October.
Q9: What can we expect to see from you as a designer and from the Belle Grande brand over the next few years?
A9: As the demand for my clothes and designs increases, I promise to make sure that my brand becomes affordable even to the tall teenager. My aim is to make my brand affordable without losing its uniqueness or quality. I believe I can achieve this as I have a few plans in motion and still speaking to the relevant people irrespective of Brexit.
Q10: If you could have one wish granted for Belle Grande’s future, what would it be and why?
A10: I would like to see Belle Grande on the High Street, at Long Tall Sally to be precise. They have offered a lot to the Tall woman for decades but I think they can offer more. I have also designed an outfit for Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) and I can’t wait for her to see it and try it on.
TALL GUIDES TAKEAWAY: Having been there and done it, what three pearls of wisdom would you pass on to other women who might be looking to make the leap from corporate to creative?
- Go with your Gut
- In the words of Oscar Wilde “ Be yourself; everyone else is already taken
- There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.
Like what you see, visit the Belle Grande website or social media channels to find out more.