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Authors: Michelle Mone

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BOOK: My Fight to the Top
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‘Go to sleep,’ Michael would say. But I couldn’t, my mind was buzzing.

I wouldn’t have achieved any of the work if it wasn’t for my mum and dad. They looked after the kids all the time. They did everything. My dad packed the chicken fillets from his wheelchair, working really hard. He came in every single day. I’ll never forget when we got our first fax machine. Dad was staring at it like it was from outer space.

‘Dad, that’s a fax that’s coming in,’ I explained.

He looked gobsmacked. ‘Where’s the hole in the wall?’ he asked.

I burst out laughing. ‘What are you talking about, Dad?’

‘How’s someone sent that fax through? Where’s the hole for it to come through?’ He thought someone had delivered it through the brickwork like a letter through a letterbox. I tried to explain, but he shook his head in disbelief. ‘I don’t get it, I don’t get any of this,’ he said, throwing his hands in the air. I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was a really happy time having my family all together, all around me. And I think Dad was happy because he was working again. Dad was popping pills every day to keep him alive but he never let the strain show. I was making money from Elle, I was making money from the chicken fillets and what did I do?

‘Michael, we need to buy this house,’ I pushed. I’d spotted a beautiful, five-bedroom house with a mock castle parapet in an even posher area than the one in which we lived – Newton Mearns. It would be our first stand-alone house. It would be our castle!

‘We are not doing it, no way,’ said Michael.

I stood with my hands on my hips. I wasn’t budging. ‘No, we have to do it. We will stretch and we will manage. Let’s just do it.’ I guess a lot of people would have been terrified to make that move when they were unsure of what the future had in store, but I’ve always been a massive risk-taker, I’ve got balls of steel. Michael is a very safe person. He’s clever with numbers in an analytical kind of way. I’m the creative one – the entrepreneur. But Michael didn’t come up with the idea of chicken fillets and he didn’t wander around the stores trying to find breast enhancers. There would have been something wrong with him if he’d come up with that idea! He didn’t design a bra or work with Elle Lingerie, but he was highly intelligent: he understood the legal stuff, the accounts – all the areas I wasn’t good at or interested in.

I not only pushed for the house but I also bought a brand new Audi that I leased through the business. I also hired a nanny to help take the pressure off my mum and dad. Then I stood back for a moment and thought, Wow, Jesus… We are living in this beautiful house, I’ve got my own office, I’ve got a new car, I’ve got two wonderful kids, things are good with Michael… I’m on my way to the top.

I was close to getting my final prototype back from the factory in Portugal when I found out I was pregnant again, in December 1998. It wasn’t planned, but it was a nice accident, shall we say. Because I was an only child I’ve always wanted a big family. I’d grown up watching my friends muck about with their brothers and sisters and I wanted what they had. Some people like being on their own and they love ‘me’ time but I hate my own company. Michael was happy with the news because he was very much a family guy.

I’d barely had time to celebrate when another box of samples arrived from Portugal. I remember it being a horribly cold January day. I whacked up the heating in my house and tried the bra on. ‘Bloody hell! This is incredible,’ I squealed.

The bra was plain white and quite ugly compared to what we design now, but I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. It was so comfortable. It gave a natural cleavage rather than looking like you’d just stuffed your bra with toilet paper. It was so smooth, so natural. When you bounced up and down, it bounced with you. It looked like real breast tissue. I knew this was it. I jumped up and down and phoned everyone to come around and try it.

‘I’ve only just gone and done it!’ I said to my mum. I was over the moon. I had different sizes in the box and I gathered all my family and friends into my bedroom to get stuck in. I remember my aunty trying it on and my mum trying it on. My best friend Ilene gave it a go. They all said, ‘Wow’. Good thing Michael was at work as our house was full of semi-naked women jumping up and down!

I watched the smiles on their faces and I broke down in tears. I had put three years of hard work into making this day happen. Michael had been telling me to get on with my sales career but I knew that it would be worth it in the end. The breast enhancers hadn’t been mine. Elle Lingerie hadn’t been mine. In order for me to break through and make a big name for myself, I had to invent something of my own.


If you really want something, work really hard, take advantage of opportunities, have a can-do attitude and never give up – you will find a way.

was panicking.

We were £480,000 in debt. Our house was acting as security to the bank. I’d given up my distributorship at Elle so I could focus on my dream. Everything was riding on this bra I had invented being a success. I needed to place an order or we were going to be homeless. The question was this: should I take the prototypes around all the independent boutiques? Throughout my life I’ve always looked at the bigger picture. So I thought big. What’s the most famous department store in London? Which is both prestigious and trendy? Where would be the best place in the UK to launch my bra?


I’ll never forget that day I turned up at the buying office just off Oxford Street in London. I was pregnant with Bethany and I begged to see the lingerie buyer. I told the receptionist I had the best bra ever. She said, ‘Do you have an appointment?’

‘Er, no,’ I said, confused. I was used to the beer industry where you just turned up to somebody’s pub, they greeted you with a smile and would ask if you want a whiskey at lunchtime. From beers to bras – I thought you could do the same thing.

‘No, you have to have an appointment,’ she said in this very posh voice. ‘What’s this about?

‘My name is Michelle Mone. I’m from Glasgow. I’m pregnant with my third baby. I’m £480,000 in debt. It’s taken three years of my life to invent this bra. It’s the best cleavage bra in the world and Selfridges need to stock it,’ I blurted.

‘I’m sorry. It doesn’t work that way. You have to send in your prototype and we will get back to you if we like it,’ she cut me dead.

I didn’t have time to wait. ‘Please, I can’t go home, I need to sell this bra,’ I begged.

She eventually took pity on me and phoned the buyer. The buyer came out. I remember her name to this day – Virginia – and she was Canadian. ‘I’ve heard you don’t have an appointment. Can I help you?’

I told her the same story, with even more urgency. ‘Please, try it on. What size are you? I’ve got all the sizes here,’ I said, holding out my carrier bag.

‘Well… I’m a 34B.’ She was taken aback.

‘Great, please try this on,’ I thrust her the prototype.

She obviously felt sorry for me but she had rules to follow. ‘I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You have to send in your prototype. We have a selection meeting and we will call you if we are interested.’

I started to cry. ‘Please, I can’t go home,’ I sobbed. Tears were dripping down my face. I was crying through fear of being in so much debt and from exhaustion.

She panicked. ‘Do you want a seat? Do you want a coffee?’

‘Uh-huh,’ I sniffed.

‘Okay, just be careful about the baby.’ She got me a coffee and then I tried one last time. Virginia caved in. ‘Okay, I’ll try it,’ she said. She came out five minutes later with a massive smile on her face. ‘Oh, my god, this bra is incredible! I’m buying it. How much stock can I buy? What’s the minimum order?’

She asked for six months’ worth of stock. I couldn’t believe it. The problem was, we had run out of money. How were we going to place orders with the Portuguese factories in time for a summer launch? We had a listing in the best department store but we didn’t have the stock to give them to sell. Can you imagine?

Throughout my life I’ve always got to
and thought the job is done, but it’s not. Then I have to get to
and then when I get to
I have to get
over there
. That’s the whole story of business. Don’t think just because you’ve got an order, that’s it. That’s only the beginning.

‘The banks won’t give us any more money. We can’t remortgage our house again,’ I cried to Michael. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. But instead of the pressure crushing me, it made me want to fight harder. I hadn’t gone all this way and put everything in jeopardy to give up now. I needed to think outside the box. ‘I’ve got it,’ I suddenly screeched. Michael looked nervous. ‘Oh, my god, I’ve got it! I know where we are going to get our money from.’

I remembered reading in the papers about a Scottish entrepreneur who had just sold Sports Division business for £300 million. He had grown up in Dundonald, Ayrshire – a rough area like mine. This guy had started off selling trainers from his van. ‘It’s just like my story!’ I said. ‘He’s going to see himself in me, and give us the money.’

I remembered chatting to the guy in the unit next to my office, George, and finding out he was doing some artwork for Sports Division. I charged on around there. ‘George, this is really important,’ I said. He looked up from behind his desk. ‘You are doing work for Sports Division, aren’t you?’

‘Yeah, we did a point of sale for them,’ he said, confused about where this was going.

‘Right, okay, do you know Tom Hunter?’ I said.

‘Yeah, well, I don’t really know him, but everyone wants to know him,’ he rattled.

I steamrolled in. ‘How can I get to him?’

‘Oh, I think that will be quite difficult.’

‘No, I need to get to him.’

So he gave me the details for Tom Hunter’s friend, Ian Grabiner, who now runs Arcadia Group, the high street retailing giant taken over by Sir Philip Green. I practically sprinted back to my office and picked up the phone. I managed to get through to Ian and I gave him the chat. ‘Ian, I’ve got this incredible idea for a business and I’ve got this order from Selfridges,’ I sang down the phone. I was unstoppable. ‘I need to see you. Please, just give me half an hour of your time.’

I had a meeting with Ian and he introduced me to Tom Hunter. Tom, who is now Sir Tom, was exactly like his picture in the paper. He was bald, with a grey goatee beard and looked very dapper in a blazer worn over jeans. He gave off an air of confidence and success. He had such a presence and I was in awe. Michael came with me but he let me speak. He didn’t have much choice! I was fighting for my life again. ‘We need the money to make the order. We can’t deliver to Selfridges in five months,’ I explained. ‘I swear I will make this brand the biggest brand in the country, I’m going to take on Wonderbra. Just believe in us.’

Michael chipped in too – but we were faced with two extremely clever businessmen, one of whom, Tom, had just sold out for £300 million. It was to be a seriously steep learning curve for both of us. Silence filled the room. I could tell they were chewing the idea over. Tom was the first to speak. ‘I want to look in the whites of your eyes,’ he said.

To any normal person that would have sounded weird. But it reminded me of the East End. I used to eyeball people to work out what their next move was. It was how you read people. So I looked straight back at him.

‘Okay, darling.’ He grinned. ‘You’ve got passion. We’ll help you out.’

I wanted to scream. Michael’s mouth fell to the floor. Tom and Ian were going to invest £200,000. In return, Tom got 20 per cent of the business and Ian got 5 per cent.

I made Tom and Ian a promise there and then. ‘I’ll never let you down. I will make you money,’ I said. We put the order in with the Portuguese and I got cracking on the marketing. I didn’t even have a name for my bra yet.

I worked with a marketing agency recommended through the Prince’s Trust. I sat for hours with the designer. She came up with loads of names. I came up with loads of names. ‘Ultimate’ was one, but we couldn’t register that because it was an actual word.


‘Nah,’ I dismissed it as tacky.


‘No, I don’t like it,’ I said.

‘Ultimo?’ I suggested.

Ultimo! The word just rolled off my tongue. The translation of this Latin term is ‘the end’. I interpreted that as the end of looking for bras for my customers – that this is
bra. I just thought it sounded very Italian and glamorous.

Then we started to work on the logo. ‘I want something curvaceous, that mimics a bust,’ I directed. ‘You know the Nike swoosh? I want something like that, that people will recognise everywhere.’

She drew a ‘U’ but it wasn’t right. We worked on it for hours until we got it just so. No sooner had I registered it as a brand than I started sending prototypes to film companies, designers, stylists…everyone and anyone who might be able to use it and give us publicity.

We planned the launch at Selfridges for August 1999, well before I was due to give birth. We were going to sell one design in both black and white. We had no pictures, no marketing and I only had £500 left for the launch of the bra. How do you launch a product on the global market when you are competing with the likes of Playtex and Wonderbra? I was still frantically trying to come up with a solution when my waters broke. Can you believe it? Four weeks before the launch in Selfridges and I was going into labour. And what was more, my labour lasted for an agonising 28 hours.

Bethany was born on 1 July 1999. She was tiny, weighing only 5 lbs 4 oz, and she had white blonde hair. She was born on the day Scottish Parliament opened. She had to spend a day in intensive care for observation, but it wasn’t anywhere near as serious a situation as it had been with Declan. I went back to work two days later. I had to – my house was up for security to the bank, I had new business partners and I had too much riding on this launch.

I can’t describe how I felt as Michael and I packed for the big day. My emotions were a cocktail of nerves, excitement and hormones going crazy from having just given birth. I had my foot on the pedal and nothing could slow me down. We booked ourselves into a Travelodge for the night before the launch, leaving the three kids with my mum and dad.

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
4.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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