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Meet the East Anglian sisters whose designs are worn by the Duchess of Cambridge

PUBLISHED: 13:37 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:37 03 April 2020

Lucia Ruck Keene (left) and Rosie Van Cutsem (right), the Norfolk sisters behind the fashion brand TROY. Picture: Supplied by TROY

Lucia Ruck Keene (left) and Rosie Van Cutsem (right), the Norfolk sisters behind the fashion brand TROY. Picture: Supplied by TROY

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Meet the inspirational sisters behind the elegant country clothing global fashion brands, based here in East Anglia, whose designs are worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. As entrepreneurs they have seen the power of working together and sharing the same passion and goals to help them achieve success.

Here they talk to Gina Long.

One of Norfolk-based TROY's jackets. The label is worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. Picture: Supplied by TROYOne of Norfolk-based TROY's jackets. The label is worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. Picture: Supplied by TROY

TROY

Who are you both?

My name is Rosie van Cutsem and I manage the clothing brand TROY from my family home in Norfolk. TROY was founded by my sister Lucia Ruck Keene and I in 2015 in London before moving our HQ to Norfolk in 2016.

Rosie Turnerr (left) and Alice Leet-Cook, the Suffolk sisters behind the accessories label Hicks & Brown. Picture: Supplied by Hicks and BrownRosie Turnerr (left) and Alice Leet-Cook, the Suffolk sisters behind the accessories label Hicks & Brown. Picture: Supplied by Hicks and Brown

How did it all start?

In 2013 Lucia and I found ourselves hopping between our busy mid-week careers in London and weekends in the fresh air of the countryside. We have both always had an interest in fashion and design and realised there 
was a gap in the market for beautifully made clothes that look as good hailing a cab in the City as walking down a country lane. We wanted our designs to meet the needs of busy women and couldn’t understand why it was so hard to find waterproof coats that also look stylish. We get on really well, so the idea to set up a label for those who share our lifestyle was too tempting. We spent a year developing the brand and doing the initial designs during our evenings and weekends and launched the website in 2015.

A fedora by Suffolk-based label Hicks & Brown. The Duchess of Cambridge wears their designs. Picture: Supplied by Hicks & BrownA fedora by Suffolk-based label Hicks & Brown. The Duchess of Cambridge wears their designs. Picture: Supplied by Hicks & Brown

What is it like working with your sister?

Of course, family relationships are the most important thing so it was a big decision to launch a business together. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the best way to wind each other up too! There is however the benefit of a sister’s intuition and honesty which works brilliantly, plus the ultimate knowledge that we share a very similar set of values and aligned vision for the business.

What does your brand represent?

TROY designs are all about effortlessly adding a little more style and femininity to your wardrobe, without sacrificing the practical requirements of warmth, waterproofing and comfort. We are thrilled to now be selling our designs to busy, active women all over the world. Over recent years we have collaborated with leading British designers including Alex Eagle and Amanda Wakeley OBE, and this year we are scheduled to launch some beautiful knitwear with Victoria Stapleton at Brora. All of our designs are made in the UK, working with the best of British manufacturers across London, the Midlands and Scotland to create beautiful, timeless designs that are made to last.

Where is your business run from?

Our offices and distribution are all managed from buildings on our family farm, so I am very fortunate to be able to ‘commute’ to work with just a short walk each morning.

What are your products?

TROY specialises in coats and jackets, but we also design wardrobe staples including feminine shirting, knits, and stylish accessories. We are inspired by our love of the 
British countryside and love to draw on heritage styles using quality fabrics and unique detailing. Having been solely focused on womenswear since our launch, in 2019 we created our first wax jacket for men which has been an exciting success, and one we will build on through the course of the coming seasons.

What’s the impact of COVID-19 on your business and how are you adapting?

This virus is a frightening reality for all of us, and it brings much uncertainty for the year ahead. Our team is working from home and, fortunately, I am still able to be in the office to manage all sales, so, for now, we are processing all our orders without interruption. Despite the uncertainty, we are trying to contribute to the fantastic charitable efforts we are seeing around the country and we are now donating 15% of all our income to Age UK and supporting their invaluable work with the elderly in these isolating times.

How do you juggle motherhood and running your business?

It is indeed a juggle, but I am very fortunate to be a stone’s throw from my two boys and to be able to enjoy lots of time with them in-between my daily commitments to the business.

What’s your advice to other young fashion entrepreneurs?

Be brave and seek advice. We have been supported by so many industry leaders with their pearls of wisdom when we needed them most. We also benefit from some wonderful advisors and non-executives, some of whom saw promise in our venture from the very early days and we are now happy to call them great friends.

Where do we go to order products?

All our designs are available on our website troylondon.com and we offer a By Appointment service at our showroom in our headquarters, just south of Swaffham. TROY is also stocked by selected retailers around the UK and Switzerland.

Hicks & Brown

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Who are you both?

We are sisters Alice Leet-Cook and Rosie Turner and set up Hicks & Brown in 2014.

How did it all start?

We noticed a gap in the market for modern country attire. We used to create garments for ourselves or friends, and after such an amazing reception to the products, we felt we could potentially make a go of this as a business. In our first year we attended so many shows, to get our product out there. We were initially based at the kitchen table, just the two of us. We now run a successful e-commerce site, our products are stocked in over 80 retailers across the UK, and we continue to attend events around the country. We have just moved to larger premises and have a lovely team working for us.

What is it like working with your sister?

We like to think we make a good team, we have completely different skill sets based on our previous working life, Rosie as a bloodstock underwriter and Alice in rural property marketing – each of us London based.

We are lucky, we never argue and we completely trust one another. It’s good fun and we are so close. Hicks & Brown is just part of our DNA now, we are so proud we started it from scratch and have brought it to where we are today. We do talk shop 24/7 so have to make sure we talk about other things when at a family do! We are very lucky to have such a fantastic support network from our parents, our husbands and close friends who have all helped us along the way.

What does your brand represent?

Our hats are timeless, we pride ourselves on the high quality of our products, they are designed to last for years to come. We are farmers’ daughters and were brought up on Hicks Farm – from where the business name derived.

Where is your business run from?

We operate from a farm building on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. We are really lucky to be situated with fabulous views of the countryside.

What are your products?

Our range is predominantly made up of hats, Fedoras, Trilbys and Panamas, all hand finished with feathers.

We also sell a selection of accessories, such as suede clutch bags featuring bright colours or velvet trims plus our new cross-body handbags which are so good for carrying essentials.

The Duchess of Cambridge has been seen wearing your brand, what impact has this had on your business?

We consider ourselves to be a fairly small business based in Suffolk and were predominately selling our products to the country and equestrian sector in the UK. Since one of our hats, the Suffolk Fedora, was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, it has opened us up to a whole new market. We have seen a huge interest from all over the world, in particular the US and Canada which is incredibly exciting. We’ve also noticed a trend shift in terms of the popularity of products in our collection, brown and green used to be our bestselling colours but now navy and black are more in demand.

What’s the impact of COVID-19 on your business and how are you adapting?

First and foremost we care about everyone’s wellbeing in these worrying times. As a consequence of COVID-19, we have just heard that three of the large shows we attend have been cancelled (the Suffolk Show, Badminton Horse Trials and Royal Windsor Horse Show). Lots of our stockists have been forced to temporarily close during this period too, which is, of course, devastating for them. This will have a huge effect on our business, but our online shop is still very much open so we will put all our energy into that. We believe lots of people will be at home and using the web for escapism.

We have a very small team at our HQ in Suffolk, which works in our favour, so we intend to carry on as ‘business as usual’ to a certain degree, whilst abiding by all the government guidelines. Where possible some staff are working from home. We were lucky to have a very busy start to the year, which meant we didn’t get to use January for looking ahead for the year. We plan to use any quieter periods to work on new product ideas, plus other areas to help move the business forward. When we do all 
emerge from these surreal times, we will be in a strong position having wasted no time.

How do you juggle motherhood and running your business?

It’s not the easiest! However, there are huge advantages to running your own business. When my son was only a few months old he came everywhere, to the shows, the office, and even photoshoots which of course I wouldn’t have been able to do working for someone else. I use every nap time to work and do find myself working quite a lot in the evening, but when it’s your own business, you just make it work. I’m lucky to have support from my mother who helps out.

What’s your advice to other young fashion entrepreneurs?

It is the steepest learning curve ever setting up and running your own business, but equally hugely rewarding. It sounds cliched, but you really do have to take the rough days as well as the high days.

Do your research thoroughly on every aspect, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and most of all, be original.

Where do we go to order products?

You can find our products via our website hicksandbrown.com or alternatively through one of our UK stockists (stockists in East Anglia, in particular, can be found on the website). Alternatively, we do attend many events throughout the year, however, lots are being cancelled for obvious reasons, we hope to add more to this list towards the end of the year when hopefully everything is back to normal.


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