Essex student, 24, who started business with £500 founded international fashion label

An entrepreneur who started a business from her grandmother’s house with £500 has revealed how she created an international fashion label loved by celebrities.

Mollie Ward, 24, from Essex, founded luxury clothing label So Monroe in 2015 after hearing the news that her beloved grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

Just starting her degree in fashion journalism at UCA at the age of 18, Mollie decided to fast track her lifelong dream of setting up an online fashion business – in time for her seamstress grandmother to see it take off.

The now celebrity-credited fashion label, which she runs with mother Sarah Ward, has been worn by the likes of Bella Hadid, Paris Hilton, Nicki Minaj and Zara Larsson, without ever having to pay for promotion, and earning Mollie a six-figure salary. 

Mollie Ward, 24, from Essex, founded luxury clothing label So Monroe in 2015 and revealed how she transformed her £500 business into an international fashion label loved by celebrities

Just starting her degree in fashion journalism at UCA at the age of 18 (pictured, graduating), Mollie decided to fast track her lifelong dream of setting up an online fashion business

Just starting her degree in fashion journalism at UCA at the age of 18 (pictured, graduating), Mollie decided to fast track her lifelong dream of setting up an online fashion business

Mollie now runs the celebrity-credited fashion label with her mother Sarah Ward. Pictured, together

Mollie now runs the celebrity-credited fashion label with her mother Sarah Ward. Pictured, together

‘My nan was previously a seamstress when she was younger and I’ve always had a passion for fashion myself,’ said Mollie, ‘So I knew it was something I wanted to get into after studying. 

‘I’ve always loved the idea of starting a small business of my own, I’ve seen so many successful women from Essex start with a small simple idea and build empires, so I thought why can’t I do the same? We’re all hard grafters after all.’

‘It wasn’t until one evening whilst sitting in hospital beside my nan in intensive care, I thought to myself, it’s now or never. I wanted my nan to see what I could achieve and also for her to be a part of it somehow.’

With no real experience in fashion designing or buying at the time, Mollie set up an Instagram page, borrowed a humble £500 from her parents and started selling designer inspired t-shirts and sunglasses, which she would sell through her social media.

Mollie managed to persuade Paris Hilton to not only wear her designs, but to have a one-on-one interview with her for her university coursework

Mollie managed to persuade Paris Hilton to not only wear her designs, but to have a one-on-one interview with her for her university coursework

‘I had no money for a website,’ she explained. ‘I didn’t know where to begin but Instagram had just started blowing up, so I knew I had to get my designs out there and it was the only way I knew how.’

The young entrepreneur was keen to make a name for her brand, and constantly tried celebrities, attempting to get someone famous to wear one of her pieces in exchange for free products.  

‘It was around the time brands had just started realising the exposure celebrities could give them by wearing and tagging a product on their social media page’, said Mollie. ‘But I had no budget to pay a celebrity so I could only offer them a free t-shirt or sunglasses, which of course a lot of people said no to.’  

Having been born and bred in Essex, Mollie would also quite often see the faces of the TOWIE cast around her local high street filming, and admitted she once approached Lauren Googder on the train heading back to their local station.

‘I just decided to pluck up the courage to approached her and asked if she would like any pieces,’ said Mollie. ‘She gave us a follow straight away and asked for one of everything in every colour. I was made up, I couldn’t believe it.’ 

The unlikely encounter later resulted in a full-on collaboration with the reality star.

‘I remember getting my first reply on direct message on Instagram from Lauren’, said Mollie. ‘I was sat in my room working on one of my university essays, it was late at night and I was shattered from studying and working part time at a jeweller. 

‘I was so excited I remember replying so fast, it seemed only a minor win but for me it was everything at the time and felt like my dreams were finally coming true.’  

Mollie had an unlikely encounter with former TOWIE star Lauren Goodger (pictured)

It resulted in a full-on collaboration with the reality star

An unlikely encounter with former TOWIE star Lauren Goodger (left) resulted in a full-on collaboration with the reality star

Mollie recalled her excitement after receiving a direct message from Lauren Goodger (centre) on Instagram

Mollie recalled her excitement after receiving a direct message from Lauren Goodger (centre) on Instagram

Not long after, Mollie managed to do the unthinkable and persuade Paris Hilton to not only wear her designs, but have a one-on-one interview with her for her university final project. 

The pair had been messaging over Instagram to arrange Mollie sending Paris some necklaces, and after taking weeks to reply, Paris gave Mollie her direct mobile number and told her to WhatsApp her.   

After exchanging a few messages about the necklaces and thanking Paris for wearing them, Mollie spotted an opportunity while Paris was in the car on the way to Coachella Festival. 

‘She replied in a heartbeat and I couldn’t believe it,’ said Mollie. ‘She messaged me last year to say Happy Halloween and I sent her some pictures of Lola my chihuahua, I still have her on there.’

Paris wore some of the popular diamante chokers that Mollie and her Grandma had been making by hand in their living room – a pinch me moment she still can’t quite believe.

Mollie launched the clothing label after hearing the news that her beloved grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer

Mollie's grandmother (pictured) saw the label take off

Mollie launched the clothing label after hearing the news that her beloved grandmother (pictured, left and right) had been diagnosed with terminal cancer

She explained: ‘Seeing Paris Hilton wearing one of my designs and seeing my brand’s name being tagged by her was probably one of the biggest achievements of my life to date. 

‘We sold out within an hour of her crediting So Monroe and my Instagram went crazy, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a dream come true and I was so happy my nan was there to experience it with me.’

Another milestone for Mollie was dressing Bella Hadid, who personally requested one of the brand’s corset belts after Mollie’s constant Instagram tagging paid off. 

‘I remember my mum frantically waking me up early one morning shoving her phone in my face, said Mollie, ‘I was so bleary-eyed I had no idea what she was showing me. 

‘Then I realised it was the pictures of Bella in our belt walking side by side with Kendall Jenner. I had no idea she’d even received our package let alone whether or not she was going to wear it. I remember sitting on my bed with my mum and us both being teary.’ 

Mollie's (pictured) designs have been worn by the likes Winne Harlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B and Ashanti

Mollie’s (pictured) designs have been worn by the likes Winne Harlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B and Ashanti

Since then Mollie’s designs have been worn by the likes Winne Harlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B and Ashanti – but she still has big goals, ‘My dream would be to see a Kardashian/Jenner in So Monroe, I think then I’d know, yes this is it!’ 

Unfortunately, Mollie’s grandmother passed away in October 2018, which she admits put a huge strain on the business.

‘My mum and I both felt like throwing in the towel completely,’ said Mollie. ‘I had no desire or motivation to carry on, I was heartbroken, my whole family were and when it’s just you and your family running the business, everyone was in the same boat.’ 

With fast fashion also rapidly on the rise during this time, Mollie felt lost trying to compete with the big names, something to this day the brand still struggles with.

With lockdown giving plenty of time to rethink the direction of the brand, So Monroe has taken a step back and returned to its original roots of creating and selling, one-off designer inspired pieces, which Mollie knows will sell rather than trying to keep up with ever changing monthly trends.

Mollie was once approached Lauren Googder (pictured, centre) on the train heading back to their local station

Mollie was once approached Lauren Googder (pictured, centre) on the train heading back to their local station

Mollie said that Lauren Goodger (pictured) followed her on social media sraight away and asked for one of everything in every colour

Mollie said that Lauren Goodger (pictured) followed her on social media sraight away and asked for one of everything in every colour

‘Nicki Minaj wore our Céline inspired sunglasses, Nicole Scherzinger a Balmain inspired bandage set and now Winnie Harlow in our Bottega dupe bag’, said Mollie. ‘Which shows even the celebs want to get the luxury look for less!’

‘Especially in the uncertain times we find ourselves in, people are less likely to splash the cash on designer goods, so our inspired items might make for a better alternative.’

While many have told her fashion is an impossible industry to succeed in, especially now, Mollie says her late grandmother is what drives her to succeed.

‘I’ve come this far and achieved so many goals and I’m only 26, I know if I am persistent So Monroe can continue to go the distance,’ she said.

‘I’ve had a few companies interested in partnering with me but nothing has felt quite right just yet. So Monroe isn’t just another clothing brand, it’s a part of me and a part of our family, My nan’s spirit will always live on through our designs.’

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