Published on 03 June 2020
Alice Hall’s meteoric rise as a successful entrepreneur led to her making it on to the prestigious Forbes Under 30 European List, the same year she was named the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year 2018.
Within 10 years of graduating from Sunderland, Alice turned her ‘accidental’ enterprise Pink Boutique into a fashion empire.
She has now left the business and has been working on a new venture, the Rowen Group, which takes its title from her middle name – the parent group for a collection of diverse businesses.
Alice will start with three businesses, two in the food e-commerce sector and the third in interior design, but says she’s keen to have more firms within the Rowen Group in the future.
In a recent interview with the ChronicleLive, Alice said: “I’m so excited to be creating new jobs in the region and hope to support other businesses too.
Rowen Group will act as the ‘engine room’ for a series of businesses, providing all the infrastructure, HR, marketing, warehousing and fulfilment they need.”
Alice has created a food allergy company called Allergy Box and a firm called LowKal, which will sell health snacks online.
The third business, Rowen Homes, will see Mrs Hall put her creative interior design talents to use, having taken a part-time diploma since leaving Pink Boutique.
All of the businesses will be based at Rowen Group’s new offices at Baker’s Yard in Gosforth, the former Greggs Bakery site, which are due to be completed next month.
Work is currently being carried out at the Baker’s Yard site, which developers Adderstone Group have been converting to attract new businesses, to create offices for Mrs Hall in a section of the yard called the Stottie Shed.
New jobs, including digital specialist roles, are also being created by Mrs Hall, who has already taken on four new staff members after carrying out interviews via Zoom.
Alice has kept her links with our University through regular talks and presentations after graduating with a journalism degree in 2009, having specialised in beauty and fashion magazine journalism.
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.”
When awarded the Alumni of the Year title – a prestigious competition which runs annually with alumni and staff members nominating a graduate who has excelled in their field of expertise, Alice said: “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.”
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.”
Rise to success
Alice Hall 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 Blackie 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, fuelled 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, channelling 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.
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 the 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.
Alice hopes that her own story can inspire other budding entrepreneurs with ambitions to launch their own companies, who she’s keen to nurture.