One of the North East’s best-known fashion names is stepping up its online show with the help of a six-figure investment from the North East Growth Capital Fund Loan Fund Supported By The European Regional Development Fund

Jules B is one of the UK’s most recognised and respected independent fashion retailers and offers collections by more than 180 high-end designers, including Hugo Boss, Armani, Victoria Beckham, Barbour and Vivienne Westwood.

Around 80 per cent of the firm’s revenues are already derived from internet sales, but to help continue to develop its online sales channels, it has now worked regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to secure a £250,000 Growth Capital Fund investment via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

The capital will be used to enhance the business’s online infrastructure and digital marketing activities, as well as to support process efficiencies and expand product lines.

Five new long-term jobs are expected to be created as a result of the investment, which would take the business’s overall team past the 60 people mark, and plans are also being put in place to start selling designer collections for children for the first time.

The Jules B management team was introduced to NEL by Karl Hodson in the Newcastle office of advisors BTG Advisory.

Owners Julian and Rhona Blades set up their first womenswear store in Jesmond in 1984 and now have a total of five boutiques, two in their home city and three in Kendal in the heart of the Lake District.

Jules B has been named Best Independent Fashion Retailer in Britain in the Drapers Independents Awards on three separate occasions, while the couple were given the Awards’ prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 for services to the fashion retail industry.

The business has had an online retail operation for well over a decade and exports to markets right across the world, including continental Europe, North America and Australasia.

Julian Blades says: “We’ve come through the pandemic pretty well overall, and with online sales already making up the great majority of our revenues, we’ve been able to keep the business ticking along through the times when our stores have had to be closed.

“We were one of the first independent fashion retailers to establish a full online presence and we’ve been investing in it continuously for well over a decade to ensure we’re providing everything that customers around the UK and all around the world want from us.

“Further improving our digital infrastructure and marketing activities will help us ahead of the competition, while with around 20 per cent of our online sales currently coming from international markets, there’s a lot more potential to realise overseas as well.

“Most of the designers we work with have children’s collections which match the ranges they provide for adults and it’s a natural step for us to further enhance the range of customers to whom we can cater.

“The NEL team saw the potential that the business has for building on what we’ve achieved over almost four decades, took a thorough and professional approach, and lived up to the promises they made through the application process.”

Mike Guellard, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “Julian and Rhona have achieved so much through their careers, but their ambition to keep the business moving forward remains as strong as ever and they have a clear strategy for how they’re going to achieve this.

“Whether a business is near the beginning of its growth journey or as well established as the likes of Jules B, the investment capital we can provide can have a huge impact in terms of helping firms realise more of their potential more quickly.”

Karl Hodson of BTG Advisory says: “Jules B has been a Newcastle institution for over 35 years, providing local people with designer clothes for every occasion, and the development of their online presence opened the door for those further away to be able to purchase from their wide range of fashion designers.

“The business has been hugely successful and BTG Advisory is delighted to have been able to assist the directors with obtaining this new investment which will allow Jules B to continue to flourish in the future.”

The North East Growth Capital Fund has been designed to create around 790 jobs in more than 70 regional firms over the life of the programme and offers unsecured investments of up to £500,000 to established businesses looking to realise their growth potential.

The overarching £120m North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses, creating around 3,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.

For more information about NEL’s investment criteria, visit www.nel.co.uk or contact the investment team on 0345 369 7007.