Published on 10 July 2018
Within 10 years of graduating from the University Sunderland, Alice Hall has turned her ‘accidental’ enterprise into a £25m fashion empire.
Her leadership skills, entrepreneurial mind-set and hard work are behind the phenomenal growth of her online fashion brand Pink Boutique, and last year led to her being named as ‘one-to-watch’ in European Business after making it on to the prestigious Forbes Under 30 European List.
She joins other big names such as footballer Gareth Bale, actor Dev Patel, model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and singer Emeli Sande.
That meteoric rise as a successful entrepreneur has now led to another honour for Alice, as she is named the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year 2018.
This prestigious competition runs annually with alumni and staff members nominating a graduate who has excelled in their field of expertise and Alice has done that in spades.
Pro Vice-Chancellor Graeme Thompson, said: “Alice has been a wonderful ambassador for the University and for the North East where she grew up. Her entrepreneurial flair, ambition and leadership skills have seen her transform her business year on year, from humble beginnings into the multi-million pound empire it is today.
“Not only has she created jobs and investment in this region for dozens of people but continues to support other aspiring entrepreneurs, hoping her story can inspire future business leaders to take a leap of faith just like she did.
“We are very proud that Alice has been recognised for her achievements since graduating in journalism by being named our Alumni Achiever of the Year.”
Alice says she is the classic ‘accidental’ entrepreneur. Struggling to pay her bills she bought a pack of six dresses for £90 to sell online. She borrowed half the money from her mum Julie and when they sold, she bought two packs, and when they sold, she bought four, she kept doubling up and the rest, they say, is history.
Alice graduated from Sunderland with a journalism degree in 2009, having specialised in beauty and fashion magazine journalism.
But as the recession bit and she struggled find a suitable reporter role, she took a job as a cover supervisor at a North East high school.
Having also taken on a mortgage she still found herself struggling to pay the bills and took on two other jobs to help make ends meet.
But the stress of living off 5p noodles made her determined to provide for herself. She says it was stressful but a good thing for her to go through, fueled by a craving inside to start her own business.
The lightbulb moment came when she found a UK dress wholesaler online and saw that she could improve the styling to make it more appealing to buyers, channeling her passion for design and fashion from her university days.
Operating out of her living room, Alice then spent her lunch breaks rushing to the Post Office weighed down with parcels for her eBay buyers. Now, six year on, Pink Boutique ships out more than 4,000 products a day from a 60,000 square foot factory in Newcastle and employs more than 60 people.
The company achieves annual sales of around £25 million with plans to expand into the US and Australia.
Her reward for steering her company to such growth led to Pink Boutique being named Number 12 in the Fast Track 100, which lists the fastest growing and most dynamic firms in the UK. She received an invite to meet with Sir Richard Branson last year, just before the birth of her first child.
Alice equates the success of her business to its launch at a time when social media and particularly Facebook, were growing as business platforms. She introduced innovative marketing promotions and knew her market from the start, with customers predominantly being women shopping for nights out.
As well as developing Pink Boutique, Alice hopes that her own story can inspire other budding entrepreneurs with ambitions to launch their own companies, who she’s keen to nurture.
Alice says: “I’m absolutely delighted to receive the Alumni of the Year award.
"I think my degree gave me such a solid grounding to set up my own business, I have noticed all of those skills I learned when I was at Sunderland emerge.
"It's such an honour and such a privilege. I could never imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd be back here collecting this award.”
Alice continues to maintain her close links with the University, through regular talks and presentations.
It’s been a long journey over the past six years for Alice, taking the business from her living room into that huge factory in Newcastle.
But her advice to others venturing out on their own is: “Be determined and resourceful with your own time and skills. Use every minute of every hour that you can to work on your business. If you don’t know something; Google it, learn it, don’t use that as an excuse.”