henrietta rix

Women in Luxury: Henrietta Rix, co-founder of Rixo

24 Jun 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

From friends to founders, we catch up with one half of Rixo to discuss starting small, company culture and the turning point for the celebrated fashion brand

Fashion loves a humble beginning – and the conception of Rixo was just that. Founded by university friends Henrietta Rix and Orlagh McCloskey (hence Rix-O) in 2015, the duo dreamt not of bringing something new to the market, but something old. Inspired by their shared love of vintage clothing – think flattering, fitted silk dresses, collared blouses, puffy sleeves, neck ties and an abundance of vibrant patterns – look at any Rixo collection from the past nine years and you’ll see how the brand nostalgically reflects the fashion heydays of the Sixties and Seventies. And, it would seem, the fashion world just can’t get enough. 

Fun prints, signature silhouettes (there is, thankfully, not a bodycon in sight) and whimsical details combine to create a covetable brand DNA that’s instantly recognisable. From being stocked at David Jones in Australia to Harrods and Selfridges in London, as well as opening its own bricks-and-mortar boutique on the King’s Road in 2023 and in New York in April 2024, the international love for Rixo knows no bounds. Today, the brand counts the Princess of Wales, Taylor Swift and Margot Robbie among its loyal fan base. It’s a far cry from the early days spent sketching at a dining room table and criss-crossing the capital on the tube from one press appointment to another. 

While its a romantic story – setting up shop from a small Fulham flat you share with your best friends in your early 20s is surely the fairytale beginning for any fashion business – CEO Rix and creative director McCloskey don’t gloss over the hard work it has taken to get Rixo to where it is today. Having both studied fashion management at the London College of Fashion, little prepared the duo for the sheer onslaught of work that comes with setting up your own business. From wholesale distribution to production, and finance to marketing, Rix admits that Google was their best friend during those early years – but boy, did their persistence pay off. 

Rix and McCloskey were listed as Sunday Times Ones to Watch in 2019 and Forbes 30 Under 30 winners in 2020, and now remain at the helm of a growing, multi-million-pound business. And while the glamorous parties, European photoshoots and international events make quite the picture of a glitzy lifestyle, Cheshire-based Rix says in her native Mancunian lilt: “When you’re on the inside, you know it can be a real slog.” We catch up with Rix – one half of the founding duo – to discuss the business’s humble beginnings, how they found their footing in the fickle world of fashion and enjoying success. 

Tell me about your role.

I’m CEO and co-founder of Rixo. Orlagh and I are the face of the brand; any press meetings, influencer breakfasts, and any key relationships such as with wholesale partners is where we are instrumental. [Being the] CEO is leading the team, company culture, overseeing the vision of the brand; you can really get pulled into absolutely every department, from finance to wholesale, and retail to product.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My mum’s very creative, she paints a lot, and she used to take me to antique, vintage fairs. I remember going to Rome and we’d be researching flea markets, and when we went to Mallorca, we’d drive halfway across the island to go to a fair. I’ve got four older brothers and they always thought we were mad. My mum definitely got the whole fashion and vintage thing into me, so it stemmed from her. I always knew I wanted to do something in fashion but I had no idea what roles there were. My dad had his own business, as well as my grandad and all my brothers, so it didn’t seem that daunting to me.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting out in your career?

Everything. You don’t know what you don’t know, so when we were starting up we used to Google everything. We’d get our suit bags and go on the tube all summer to visit every single press office. Then some would ask for cut outs, and we’d ask ‘what’s a cut out?’ We had no idea. We’d sellotape the dress to our white wall, take a picture of it, and then learn Photoshop. We knew nothing so every single day there was a new challenge and a new question to ask.

We didn’t come from the industry either, and learnt everything at university. The product spoke for itself and we put ourselves out there and tried to speak to as many people as possible, but everything was a challenge. Wholesale was a complete minefield when we first started: delivery windows, shipment windows, discounts, guarantees. It was a whole new world.

When was Rixo’s turning point?

The first couple of years we were growing without even knowing we were growing. We weren’t over the accounts and finances. Three years in when we were in the living room and realised we had turned over X amount, it was pretty amazing. We still hadn’t employed anyone and it wasn’t sustainable; we were working every single day and throughout the night. It was crazy. But we were so passionate about it and we didn’t have any other responsibilities then.

I think the real turning point was our first London Fashion Week show in 2018. There was a real buzz about the brand, we got amazing press from it and then we got stocked on Net-A-Porter, Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty. That was our first show and, again, we didn’t know what we were doing but it was a real memory.

What does an average day look like for you?

A day in the office will always start with a trade meeting with all senior leaders, analysing the week before and planning the week going forward. It can then involve catch ups with senior members that report to me. If we’re having any external calls with partners we’re doing collaborations with, we will go through the marketing calendar with them. Into wholesale, I work closely with our trade director and look at franchising. There’s a lot of travel as well, as we have a lot of stores and we’ve just opened in New York, so I’ve been over there making sure that’s right. It’s a complete mixture.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best part is when you see a total stranger wearing Rixo. That’s amazing to see and never gets old. It can be in such random locations; you can be in a doctor’s waiting room and someone can walk in wearing Rixo. I love getting customer messages; the feedback, and the community we’ve built, is definitely one of the best parts.

The worst part is the growth and managing that. When we grow, we’re managing more people, teams and the hardest part can be retaining the company culture we started. People management is definitely tricky.

Tell me about one of your career highlights.

There are so many different moments but launching on Net-A-Porter was a big thing for us because that was a seal of approval. But then, even being able to travel with Rixo, such as going to Australia and seeing Rixo in David Jones or going to New York and seeing it in Saks Fifth Avenue is amazing. Thinking that something we designed in London is distributed around the world is incredible.

What have been some of the toughest times in your career? What did you learn from them?

The Covid-19 pandemic was so tricky but the good thing was that everyone was in the same boat. We just went into survival mode; we did live videos on Instagram pretty much every single night. We changed our whole marketing strategy; thankfully we had just launched a pyjamas range so we were releasing content on how to style PJ tops. But we are a wedding guest dress brand so it was hard to turn that occasion element into something really casual.

We also went from being in an office and seeing each other everyday to working remotely, which was such a shock. Now I think it’s been for the greater good as it instils flexibility in our workforce but it was difficult: all of our wholesalers said they didn’t want our shipments and our stores closed so half of our revenue just disappeared. We didn’t want to not pay our suppliers so we had to take all of the extra wholesale stock. It was a tough time but it made us so much more resilient.

Brexit is another one that’s been a shocker for us. By the time a European customer returns something, and we’ve paid extra taxes and duties, we’re not making any money so it’s pointless doing it in the first place. Also because of distribution, we’ve had to open an EU warehouse whereas before we could consolidate all of our stock in the UK, so it’s been logistically very tricky.

How easy do you find it to switch off from work?

I don’t think if it’s your brand you can ever really switch off. I’m on Instagram or, if I’m on holiday and there’s a gorgeous local boutique, I think about whether Rixo could work there, and look at the other brands and talk to the brand manager. It’s hard to switch off and I’m always checking daily sales every morning. I’ve got two kids now which has definitely helped; I don’t have the luxury to be on my phone 24/7 when I’ve got two to entertain. The business is all encompassing and I would hate to go away and not check in or know what was going on.

As co-founders, how did you juggle being on maternity leave and running a business and having young children?

Orlagh just got back from maternity leave but she started working again pretty much straight away; I think her baby is four months now. It gives you perspective on everything but I also think it makes you more determined to be successful because you want to do it for your kids.

Weekends are now purely for my boys – one is two years old and one is seven months – so that’s my precious time with them and it allows me to focus on work during the week. It’s a constant balance; we’re both lucky we’ve got really supportive husbands but the travel is hard when you’ve got to be away for more than a week. If I’m going to LA or New York, I will cram everything into those days with back-to-back meetings and then I can get back to my babies.

Tell me about a woman you count as an inspiration.

I know it sounds cliché but my mum is my biggest inspiration. She’s such a hard worker, she raised six kids and she’s just incredible. She’s got the most effortlessly cool style; she’ll often pop round with something for me that she found at a vintage fair or charity shop. Every Sunday, we still go to vintage fairs and take my two little boys with us.

What qualities do you think are most important in a good manager or business leader?

Compassion and communication; the workforce and the team have got to know what’s going on but you’ve got to communicate that, if it’s a difficult message, with compassion and understanding. I also think you’ve got to be quite visionary and not get too detailed into the day-to-day, which is hard, but looking forward is key.

Also understanding the customer and the market you’re operating in is so important; I couldn’t operate in an industry I wasn’t obsessed with or didn’t understand. It’s not work for me to do market research because I’m obsessed with discovering new brands or where our customers are shopping. You have to have the consumer in your mind the whole time.

Tell me about yours and Orlagh’s working relationship.

Everyone used to say we must be living this great life in London but Orlagh and I were just constantly working. We’re more like sisters; Orlagh is a twin and she used to live with us too, so we’re all really close. We’ve been in each other’s pockets since we were18 and we’re now in our early 30s, are married and both have kids. Neither of us have egos which is important – if we did that would be difficult. We both just want the best for Rixo, so if there is a difference of opinion, we talk it out and understand each other’s perspective. We say all the time we couldn’t do it without each other as it can be tough at times and someone always wants an answer, but when there’s two of us, we can bounce off each other. We go more for coffees than cocktails and, of course, still go to vintage fairs when we can – we’re lucky we still have such a strong relationship.

How have you seen the landscape change for women working in luxury over the course of your career?

It was never something we focused on. Orlagh and I are women in business but we never thought it was difficult, or more difficult, because we were women. We employ 90 per cent women, and even when we’re collaborating with other women, we learn so much and are so inspired. I think long gone are the days when people thought women couldn’t start businesses.

What would you tell your younger self with the benefit of hindsight?

Just stick in there – it’s really tough. My friends outside of the industry always say how amazing it looks but when you’re inside it, you know it can be a real slog.

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