Tina Iacovelli

Do you know?

Tina Iacovelli

Over a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit I asked Tina Iacovelli, whose eponymous fashion store graces our High Street, to share some of her heart-warming and uplifting thoughts about life, work and overcoming adversity to succeed.

Tina Iacovelli – sounds Italian?

Si, una vera Italiana. My Dad is from Puglia and my Mum from just south of Rome. But they met here in England at the Three Counties Show in Malvern! Funny old world.

Are you reading a good book at the moment?

I love reading and have got three books on the go. “Fire Under the Snow” is an autobiography of a Tibetan Monk named Palden Gyato who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 33 years before escaping to India. Something lighter is Marian Keyes’ novel “This Charming Man”. Erin Kelly’s book “This Burning Air” is a good thriller. Elena Ferrante’s wonderful story “My Brilliant Friend” resonated strongly with me, being an accurate portrayal of the life my mother had as a young girl in Italy.

Do you watch much TV? Or go to the Cinema?

On TV I tend to watch Netflix which probably reflects my interest in the movies. I thought “Oppenheimer” was very good, and “Wicked Little Letters” with Olivia Coleman is funny (and rude).

What’s on your play list?

In the shop we have a Bossa Nova mix of mainly 90s songs which are easy and bright to listen to. I like classical music and ballet, and I recently enjoyed a candlelight concert featuring Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in Birmingham.

Do you like to travel?

South Africa is a favourite place. The climate, flowers, food, and scenery in the Wine Region and along the Garden Route are magical. The evident poverty of so many lovely people though is something the nation must resolve.

What’s your favourite local spot?

I hope the hills above Malvern qualify as ‘local’. If you climb up early in the morning so you are above the clouds it is breath taking. You feel like you’re in heaven.

Guilty pleasure?

Chocolate. And Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Lots of both please.

What was your first job?

At 14 I was a B&B skivvy. Changing beds, washing up. Everything. Not for me.

My first full time job was as a foreign language tannoy announcer at Heathrow. I am a native Italian speaker and studied French and philosophy at university (Sartre and Descartes). We had a lot of fun.

How did you get into the fashion trade?

I had worked as a Saturday girl at Next and liked it. I looped back into Next as a graduate trainee and worked hard, moving up from a junior manager to become an area manager. I wanted to develop my career in buying but I think I was blocked because I was too valuable to them on the retail side. So inevitably I left. I went to work for Rag Doll Productions, who make Teletubbies, as their commercial manager. A number of my colleagues left and I found myself covering too many roles. I became exhausted and unhappy and had a nervous breakdown.

How did you overcome your breakdown?

I hit rock bottom, but I also had time to think and plan as I recovered. I determined not to work for anyone else again. I didn’t want to go out and so set up a curtain making business from home in Worcester. I was good at it. I made curtains for a pub in Worcester that labelled me, and over time I became inundated with work. But my heart was still in fashion.

How did you return to fashion?

I had been back to Italy to see family there and bought nice leather bags and clothes. My friends started asking me if I would buy some for them next time I went. So gradually I built a little business and started selling in houses and small venues and clubs. I was a mobile retailer. I was proudly independent. Then in 2014 I opened my first shop, in Malvern. A base at last.

What was your biggest challenge?

Sourcing. I was so small. I only wanted a few of each line. I researched the wholesalers in Italy, visited them and over time was able to earn their trust and grow into an important client. I only buy from Italy and only from suppliers I know. Nothing from eastern sweat shops.

You also faced a personal challenge – cancer?

I was diagnosed with cancer. But it actually made me a better person. It made more understanding and sympathetic to other people’s needs. I became a stronger person. I have been clear for six years now.

What was your best business decision?

To open and buy the shops I now trade from in Malvern and Campden (2021). I am not beholden to anyone.

What is so interesting about fashion?

It’s fast…. and two things really matter, trends and the weather. Forecasting the trends a season in advance is not easy. Forecasting the weather is impossible. So I keep my lead times as short as possible and re-order from Italy daily.

How do you help the community?

I source ethically and my shops are part of the community. I pick my team very carefully. You can come in and chat to us. We will give you a drink and our time. I have learned the bottom line is not the thing that matters most.

Tina Iacovelli was talking to Michael Allchin from Campden Business Forum CIC.