The idea for Cucumber Clothing was born on a hot holiday when Nancy Zeffman and co-founder Eileen Willett were with a group of like minded forty to fifty year old women. So many of the conversations were dominated by the topic of getting hot, disturbed sleep and the severe knock-on effects these could have on day to day lives. When the duo returned homethey did some research and were astonished to find that the only garments on offer either looked ‘medical’ or were deemed seriously dowdy. They decided there and then to create a brand that took the latest cutting edge fabric tech and married it to gorgeous design that helped solve a problem.
They knew from experience that the fabrics used in sports and athletic kit were amazing – they kept you cool and dry, whether trail running or downward dogging in hot yoga, never seemed to crease, washed easily, dried quickly and seemed to repel odours. So, they got their heads down and did a huge amount of research and testing to find a fabric that not only did all of these things but also felt and looked gorgeous to wear.
After eighteen months of research and testing, they found their first material. Another six months for making up samples, holding research groups, fine tuning designs, photography and setting up thewebsite, and their first small capsule collection launched in September 2017. It was very much sleepwear focused with six mix and match pieces. Two days after launch, the Fashion Director of the Daily Telegraph, Lisa Armstrong wrote a piece about Cucumber and their fashion + tech, solutions based brand. The website went crazy and since then they have had a non-stop incredible response, not only from the press, but most importantly, from women all over the world who are looking for a solution.
just can’t go to bed in anything other than Cucumber nightwear if they want to get a good night’s sleep.
Word of mouth is very powerful
Whilst their first collection was very much focused on the older woman and hormonal fluctuations, based on a flood of early customer feedback, they realised that Cucumber Clothing was being used in ways they had never dreamed of.
They expanded their collections to include pieces that worked just as well by the poolside, on the tube, after the gym, on the plane and the school run as well as in bed and some that are breast-feeding friendly.
They have now become all about creating the perfect multi-functional pieces for busy lives and their slow fashion ethos combined with luxury performance fabrics has fans across all ages and stages of a woman’s life – hectic lifestyles, monthly cycles, hot sleepers, curve size (sizes go up to a UK size 20), hormonal fluctuations (new mums, perimenopause and menopause) women on medications (which can often interfere with hormone regulation), yoga/pilates/apres gym, holidays and living in a hot climate.
Every woman will get uncomfortably hot at some point in her life for a multitude of reasons.
Nancy Zeffman Management Philosophy
Both Nancy and Eileen sum up their philosophy as ‘be kind.’ One of the best things for both of them about starting a business has been all the amazing people they have met along the way. From day one of their Cucumber journey they have found that almost everyone has been encouraging and full of ideas to help. They, in turn, have tried to do the same for others and encourage other start-ups to contact them if they they think their journey can be of inspiration to them.
Preparing a game plan
There are only two of them in their business, the two founding members, and between them they do everything themselves, which means they really understand all aspects of their business. Nancy is London born and Eileen is a Japanese Canadian who moved to the UK over 30 years ago. Who knows how expansion will change this? At the moment they use freelancers as and when they need them, for example with design around the new collections. They hope to be in a position to employ some staff in the coming year. It really doesn’t matter to them the person’s background. It’s all about the skills set that they could offer.
Tackling The Market Competition
Nancy and Eileen have formed a solutions based brand,fabric led and they know that their customers find and buy them for a reason – the clothes look and feel great and they perform. Although the brand was first inspired by the menopause, these are not menopause clothes. They are stylish clothes for any woman, no matter her age, because it isn’t only the menopause that causes women to have temperature problems: pregnancy and breastfeeding, medications, being curvier, travel – they can all turn the thermostat up, as can cancer treatments , diabetes or thyroid issues.
Cucumber is more than just another fashion brand. The duo are trying to create a Cucumber community with their monthly vlogs and blogs with subjects that will be of interest to their newsletter subscribers and also their support of projects they truly believe in. To date, they have collaborated with the Eve Appeal, Prevent Breast Cancer, the social enterprise One World Women and are currently supporting a female solo row across the Atlantic. They are looking forward tomany inspiring projects to be part of as they grow
Sustainability and slow fashion are at the heart of what Cucumber does. The company produces small runs, with a view to limiting fabric waste and avoiding ending up with dead stock fabric. Aside from the fabrics, which are imported, design, manufacture, the sourcing of trims, labels and packaging are all in the UK. Orders are sent out using Royal Mail so as not to put extra vehicles on the roads. All its fabrics are machine washable or spot washable under the tap. Simply hang dry and the anti-crease technology means that clothes require little or no ironing – all helping to reduce energy consumption. Cucumber is part of the sustainable washing revolution – minimal washing, meaning minimal consumption and water waste.
Nancy Zeffman says that “We are always learning of new ways to reduce our carbon footprint with every new collection. Who knows what fabrics will have been invented for us to use in the future? We intend to be at the forefront of the fabric revolution!”