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Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council and Laura Middleton, managing director of What About This?

Sunderland proves a fine fit for ecommerce fashion firm

A fast growing fashion ecommerce business has outlined ambitious designs for growth after expanding its footprint in the North East.

Sunderland-based online fashion retailer What About This? is launching its own brand of sustainable women’s clothing this year, after investing in a new head office and warehousing space in the city.

The move and the launch of the What About This? brand also coincides with the recent hiring of head of creative Kat Quinn - formerly a stylist at ecommerce giant Pink Boutique - and a major investment in new inventory monitoring and processing systems.

Led by digital marketing specialist turned entrepreneur, Laura Middleton, the company has grown rapidly since she took over the firm in September 2018, employing a team of seven full-time members of staff and fulfilling over 3,000 orders every month to customers across the UK and as far afield as Australia, the USA and the UAE.

Laura said: “As a business, we pride ourselves on being relatable by not trying to be anything that we’re not. We’re transparent in the fact that we wear the clothes ourselves and use the girls in our team as models whenever we promote our products.

“As for our range, our focus is on providing stylish and beautiful clothing for everyday women, as opposed to being just another ‘Instagram-perfect’ brand, and our own range – which we hope to launch in the spring – will give us the freedom to design products that we know our customers will love and are in-line with our company mission.”

What About This? is also launching a sustainability pledge – What About The Environment? – as part of this mission, in a bid to help tackle the fast fashion crisis. The campaign encourages customers to not only re-wear their clothing, but also to sustainably recycle them once they reach end-of-life or even to sell them to other members of the What About This? community. The business aims to reduce its carbon emissions and fully offset all emissions that cannot be avoided to make it carbon neutral.

“This dedication to inclusivity and sustainability has been key to growing the business so far and we’re confident that our new premises, combined with the recruitment of Kat, our investment in new technology and of course the launch of the What About This? brand, will help us grow even further as we look to the future.”

Having already founded and managed a successful digital marketing consultancy in the city – The Office Rocks – Laura was keen to remain in the place she calls home and was able to tap into support from Sunderland City Council when looking for the right premises to accommodate the company’s needs.

“We are very proud to be continuing to invest in Sunderland as it is a city we hold close to our hearts,” Laura added. “When we were looking for warehousing space, we had so many people contact us from outside the city however moving elsewhere was never on the cards.

“The support provided by the team at Sunderland City Council was fantastic and helped us to not only ensure our premises were suitable for an ecommerce and distribution business like ourselves but also to incorporate our new inventory systems and really streamline our processes.

“We’ve also used so many of the city’s stunning outdoor spaces for our photoshoots and have worked closely with University of Sunderland to offer work experience placements to students and to collaborate on projects. It really has been the perfect place for us to start up and scale the business.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “It wasn’t too long ago that Sunderland was named as one of the UK’s fastest growing hubs for digital technology and when you hear success stories such as What About This?, it’s clear to see why.

“Laura and the team have done remarkably well to grow the business from what was a start-up venture just two years ago to a fast-growing ecommerce business fulfilling thousands of orders every month and we’re delighted to have been able to support them on their journey.”

For more information about Sunderland as a place for software and technology companies, visit www.makeitsunderland.com, call +44(0)191 561 1194, or email info@makeitsunderland.com.  Or follow @MAKEitSund on Twitter for updates from the city.