A: Today I’m chatting to Donna Ida. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, Donna moved to the UK in 1999 for a career in marketing, when she spotted a gap in the market. While out shopping one day, Donna struggled to find comfortable but stylish jeans, and a friend suggested she might like to launch her own denim brand, so that’s exactly what Donna did.
The collection was inspired by Donna’s grandmother, Ida, who was well known back in Australia for making her own patterns and clothes for the entire family and friends. It is with Ida in mind that Donna created the denim base collection Donna Ida. Donna and I were introduced over a decade ago when Donna came in for a facial, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
When I think of Donna, I think of a totally fabulously glamorous businesswoman who will always reply to your text in the quickest time, and she is the queen of networking. So Donna, welcome to the podcast.
D: Oh, that’s so good, because I do worry sometimes if I don’t reply to something immediately, if I’m busy. So that’s good to know.
A: You’re the best. You are the best at that.
D: Thank you for having me.
A: So Donna, I’ve always been a fan of jeans. I was raised wearing jeans, and I always dreamt of actually having a jeans shop, and you’ve done that. I would love for you to share a little bit about how you got to where you are today.
D: Well, it definitely wasn’t straight forward. As everyone says, it’s not a straight line to success, that is for sure. I started Donna Ida as multi-brand retail because I wanted to fit women with jeans, and I wanted them to feel great.
Multi-brand retail is quite difficult, and especially when we opened in 2006, and really online shopping started taking off in a big way by 2008 and 2009. So investing in that presence in the market or in your own brand was a crossroads we came to in the first few years. We were just so busy that we just didn’t have time to actually think about the range of what it was that we wanted to produce. That would be different and a genuine gap in the market.
It was just through serving customers, understanding women and women’s bodies that we found what they were asking for was a high-waisted jean which was lacking in the market at that time. It was really following the American market, which was still about low waisted jeans.
So that’s when we decided to create Ida, which is our brand within Donna Ida. That’s really where the ship started to steer towards our own brand. Long story short, we then start making our own jeans, and the Rizzo is one of the first styles that we created.
Everything that we first launched with pretty much is still in the collection. Then we just started to nudge the other brands out, for want of a better explanation. When we ended up with only 2 or 3 other brands, down from the original 40, we then said, ‘Okay, let’s just close the stores, and invest all the money.’ Because stores are obviously huge, they take a lot of capital investment to keep running, and then we invested everything into the brand and took the business online.
We’re actually just going to look at going back into wholesale now, but we really focus on the product and our customers. We focus on those two things, bringing those two together in the most beautiful way we can, and really talking to and engaging with the customer.
A: I know that with your in-person shops, you were physically there as Donna Ida, you were in your stores, building those relationships and friendships with your customers. One of your other headings should have been, ‘The Queen of Juggling. ‘I’d love to just delve into that.
I know you are still juggling with different business models, but I’d love to know where do you feel that ability comes from and how do you manage that juggle?
D: I think getting up quite early and not letting it get on top of you. Once you let things get on top of you, it’s very hard to get out from underneath it. So you do just have to stay on top every day. For example, when people go on holidays and stay on holiday, I just don’t understand how people can do that. When I go away and I’m just working in another location. There’s no way that I can actually turn off. It just couldn’t happen.
I also think that once you do let those things build up, it makes coming back from holiday very difficult for yourself. For me, it’s Steven, who was our long-time finance director, who always said to me, and it was just such a light bulb moment, ‘It’s easier to keep up than catch up. ‘It’s so true, and I would say to anybody, that I just battle through my emails, get through everything, and give answers really quickly.
But when I actually started going back to our own brand from the multi-brand retail model, I didn’t fully appreciate exactly what I was doing, but starting a denim brand alongside running multi-band retail stores, that I was starting a whole new business. I didn’t appreciate just how much the workload doubled and I was already busy. It was really crushing. It was brutal, very difficult. Then closing the stores and having just our brand really simplified it.
I would recommend anybody follow this mantra in business and keep it as much as you possibly can, ‘Just focus on what you’re good at, focus on what the customer looks to you for, and just streamline, streamline, streamline.’ I’m constantly looking for ways to streamline, and make things simpler, not more difficult.
A: If you were to launch your range now, is there anything that you’d do differently, or do you have any advice for anyone wanting to launch a range? I know you’ve just said about simplifying, but you need a business to simply in the first place.
D: For me, I found even just finding a factory, and people have come to me and said, ‘Where do you even find these factories?’ There are no yellow pages for factories, no one tells you all the best ones. They always come and find you; you can’t go find the factories. So anyone who’s wanting to get into manufacturing who doesn’t know where to start, I’ve been in that situation so many times, and it is hard.
For example, one of the factories we started working with a year ago, I found through contacts and then contacted them through LinkedIn. So they’ll be there, you just have to search for people. Even with any sort of a manufacturer or anything, you’re going to make a couple of mistakes. Even with finding the right bag supplier, or the right shipper, or the right anything, you’ll make a few mistakes. You might even be working with somebody for a few years, and you think, ‘This just doesn’t feel right. This just feels too difficult.’
You’ll know instinctively, it’s a gut thing, and then you will always in your mind be looking for the right thing, and you’ll know when you find it, you’ll think, ‘Yes, that’s much better,’ and that’s totally normal.
A: So I own a lot of Donna Ida jeans. One of the things that really stands out is the comfort of them. Firstly, there’s just a sexiness to an Ida jean, or jumpsuit, but the comfort element along with the sexy, is that something you’ve spent a lot of time on?
D: Yes, it’s all about the fabric. When you are making pair jeans, it’s the fabric and the comfort of that fabric. It has to be a beautiful, premium level. It has to retain its shape; it has to have a good bounce back. It has to not have kneads in it after a few wears, and it has to feel really good, it has to hold you in.
So there’s quite a few things you’re looking for in a fabric, and it’s how it feels, but also how it looks. There’s that, and there’s also the hardware. Making jeans, you are actually an editor on just seas of denim, having to find the best one.
It’s editing that thread colour, editing what the look is, and so it comes down to, like any sort of designer, a taste level. But it has to look great, feel great, and it has to make you feel amazing when you put them on. Then they have to last and stand the test of time.
A: You’ve definitely changed up the jeans market. Would you call it a boiler suit or all-in-one?
D: We do flight suits, boiler suits and jumpsuits.
A: Where did the choice to do that come from? Because that’s quite a different thing.
D: Well, we launched our boiler suit back in 2012. It was with the first collections, and nobody was doing that kind of thing back then.
We then also designed Dolly, which is the flight suit. I just wanted all-in-ones, and so we were doing it way before anyone else. For me, it’s never been about fashion, because we’re the forerunners there for sure.
We’ve shown that in quite a few of our styles, it’s about what feels right and thinking, ‘What do I want to wear?’ I never really look out there and look at competitors or anything like that. I never have done. I think if you do, you can get influenced, or you can think, ‘Oh, maybe I should be doing that if they’re doing that.’
I just think you just need to do what feels right, and then if you truly believe in it, your customers will too.
A: I love that, staying in your lane. I think we all fall into that. You’ve obviously been able to hone that. You see so many other people in your industry online thinking, ‘Oh God, why aren’t I doing that yet or this yet?’ and I’ve definitely fallen into that.
I think that’s a really important tip.
D: It’s like that expression, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’ it is just so true. I think you just can’t look at what other people are doing, because it’ll either stress you out or depress you. I just think you have the code, and you need to get on and have your convictions and just do it.
There was this girl who kept messaging me on Instagram, who knows I don’t drink anymore, and she was asking me, ‘But what about your friends?’ etc. and I honestly couldn’t care less. I said, ‘I don’t know how many other ways I need to say it to you? I’ve told you so many times, I don’t care what anybody else thinks.’ She asked, ‘But don’t you feel the pressure?’ No, I really genuinely don’t. I couldn’t care less; I’d never sleep if I cared what other people think. That’s the biggest gift you can give to yourself, which is not caring what anybody thinks about you. You’ll just drive yourself crazy.
A: Yes, I also think it’s the biggest gift you can give to yourself, even outside of business.
D: Yes, totally. It’s always nice if you see somebody wearing something, or you go and meet a friend, and you like their handbag, and you feel inspired. I think it’s nice to feel, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to get one of those, it looks amazing on you. I love that. ‘But don’t compare yourself, it just doesn’t work.
A: Can we talk about Fernando for a moment?
D: Oh, he’s here. He’s lying on my desk. He’s asleep.
A: How many dogs do you have now, Donna?
D: I have five
A: And these are five Chihuahuas?
D: Five Chihuahuas, yes.
A: Where did that all begin?
D: So that actually happened because I wanted a dog, and I was just starting Donna Ida. So I just researched what would be the best dog for me because I was busy. Small walks, small poos, can be left alone for short periods of time, that kind of thing.
So I was never particularly attracted to Chihuahuas until I owned one. Once you have them, their characters are just so incredible. Then I got Romeo and then Julio, so I had the two of them.
Then when Romeo passed away when he was 10, I literally was just on the floor for a week. I then, um, Bobby was saying to me, ‘We need to get another one because you’re just so upset, and also now Julio’s getting very upset. ‘That’s when Fernando came along. Then when we get to get Fernando, his little brother Eduardo was born. So I eventually got the breeder to then let me have Eduardo, and then we got Gonzalo and then Emilio.
A: I’ve met some of them. And Fernando, I must admit a Chihuahua is not my first choice of dog, but Fernando is just adorable and lovely. You mentioned Bobby Dazzler, we can’t have a conversation without mentioning your husband, he’s obviously fully on board with the dogs.
D: Obsessed. Totally. When I first met him, I just had Romeo, and he didn’t want to be seen walking around with the Chihuahua. He’d say, ‘I’m a man.’ Then he just fell in love. I think like any breed of dog, if that’s the breed and you really get into that breed, you just get to know them so well.
We’re fully into the Chihuahuas, and at Langdon Court, we’re building these 5 Chihuahua stables. So I think five’s the number, it’s one in, one out after that. Five is the maximum for sure. Because since we’ve had five, I haven’t stopped counting. So all I ever do is count the entire time.
A: How did you and Bobby Dazzler meet? You guys, to me, are just this amazing, fabulous couple together, and it’s a relationship that I aspire to have.
D: Oh, that’s so nice. So when I opened Donna Ida, it was the beginning of October 2006. The builder who did the fit out for me, he’d still been there doing some mirrors and bits and pieces a couple weeks later and was working on a nearby shop. He said to me, ‘So how come you’re not with anybody?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve just started this business and need to put everything into it. If I meet somebody, I want them to be older, wiser, been there done that,’ he said that he knew someone. Two minutes later, he walks in the shop with Bobbly Dazzler.
He had come to see Joey, the builder, about some other work that he was doing for him. We just met and went for a drink, and I just really, really liked him. I think that’s the basis of such a good relationship, that we just got along so well. We liked each other so much, and then we just started seeing each other.
I was very busy with my business; he had his own businesses. It’s just such an amazing gift and something that I actually never thought that I would have. Every day I realise just how lucky I am, and the longer we’re together, the luckier I feel.
A: That’s so lovely. Are you still doing Dazzler Does, or was that a lockdown thing?
D: I wish. We’ve got no space because we’re in the middle of moving. We’re in a cabin, we’re staying nearby because we don’t have a finished kitchen yet. Then we’ll have a small tea and toast room at Langdon Court. Once the kitchen’s done at Langdon Court and we move in properly towards the end of the year, he’ll start cooking, because he’s amazing in the kitchen.
A: Tell us a bit about Langdon Court. You’ve closed the physical businesses in London, and then you’ve made the huge move from where you were, was that Buckinghamshire, that kind of area?
D: We’re in Berkshire, so our businesses are still exactly as they were. We haven’t closed anything. All we did was move out and move house. My warehouse is in Berkshire, so everything just runs as it is. It was just that I moved.
His businesses are very much still running. So we’ve just moved house, that’s all. Nothing’s actually changed with the business. We bought this hotel. We were looking, and then we actually found it during lockdown, and it actually closed at the beginning of lockdown.
So that’s how it came about, and we completed on it in summer last year. We had to do a bit of planning permission, and we’ve still got more planning permission that we’re going through at the moment. But the development is in full flight, and builders are up there, and it’s all happening.
It’s really nice. It’s nice to be here, so we can go there every day. We’re just nearby, so we can be onsite quite a lot, which is helpful for everybody.
A: What are the plans with Langton court? It’s such an incredible building and location.
D: Yes, it’s amazing. It’ll be an exclusive use hotel. So you would actually take over the whole hotel. It could be for press launches, or a multi-generational family gathering. It could be somebody’s having a birthday, or it could be a corporate thing. Jamie Rodgers, who used to be a chef here, years ago, and now he has a restaurant in Kingsbridge, he’ll come in and do all the meals. So he’ll take care of the catering, and he’s absolutely incredible. So we have a really nice business plan for it.
A: I know whatever you and Bobby Dazzler do, it’s going to be next level luxury. I think it’s going to be quite bougie and fabulous.
D: It’ll be beautiful. I think the most important thing as well is that it’s 500 years old and she’s just so gorgeous, and there’s not too many of these houses left that are really respected and looked after. So I think you need to run a sustainable business, so you can pay to reinvest in this house and look after it in the future.
In the past, it has been used as such a workhorse and not looked after in any way. So she does need a considerable amount of care, and it’s going to take years of constant investment to restore her. Right down to the line pointing. There are things that have to be done, and will have to be done for years, to really look after her and just continue to make sure that she’s there as a beautiful part of Devon.
A: Do you feel that you’ve found your forever home?
D: Yes. I wouldn’t want to let it go, because I feel as if I would be worried that nobody else would care like we would. So I just wouldn’t, I was worried about like, what happens when I go, who’s going to look after her?
There was this lady who lived there, I tried to do some research on her. There were a couple of important families who were there for a long time, and then when the lady died, it then went to Plymouth Council, and that’s when a period of real mistreatment happened.
I think about what she would’ve thought. Or what would she have done had she been able to pass it on to the right people, or whatever. These things do happen over the years, don’t they? You just can’t control everything. But we just need to make sure that we carry on with the best intentions.
A: I was on your Instagram. You’ve got Ducks .
D: We’ve got ducks down there. They’re so cute. That’s actually Nicola who got those, a Donna Ida customer, and she is down here, and we’ve got Guinea coming as well. It’s lovely.
A: It’s so nice. It’s just such a nice place to be. So let’s talk about beauty, skin care, because I’ve had my hands on your face a good handful of times.
D: Yes. Several times.
A: Have you got any skincare products that you absolutely love that you just can’t do without it?
D: There is actually. I’m just going to struggle to remember what it’s called now. I actually did a whole thing with them, and I really, really loved it. I don’t know if I would say that I can’t do without, but one thing I really love is Dr. Seabags Vitamin C powder, that you can mix into anything. I really do like that.
I do like vitamin C, and Trish McEvoy has an amazing vitamin C cream that I think is fantastic. One thing I can’t do without, but it’s not really skincare. It makes you look great. Trish McEvoy does the Sooth and Illuminate. It always makes me feel amazing and just kind of like instant wow, you look really well.
In terms of serums, I love Perricone MD, it feels like magic going onto your skin. I’d love to know what you think about it actually. I think it’s such a good, good brand. What I always loved about coming to see you was that you’d have about six or seven things, and you’d put so many different things on my skin, and I always loved that it was such a cocktail.
A: I’ve also always spent quite a chunk of my career researching products and brands and trying to find the best at that particular time for my skin, but also for my client’s skin. So I suppose my product selection and favourites have definitely moved and changed over the years, as new brands have come along, or I’ve researched and come across something else that I think is amazing.
Yes, Perricone MD have been around for a few years, and they’ve got a really nice texture to their products. A range I think you’d really love is called Revision Skincare. I don’t know whether you’ve come across those guys yet.
A: I think for your skin type, Revision Skincare are just really intelligent with their formulations. How they sit on the skin and the science and the tech behind them is quite lovely.
So that’s one for your Googling. What about makeup?
D: So I use a lot of Trish McEvoy. We partner quite often, and I really like that Trish has a range of things that are easy to use for busy women. So she has eye eyeshadows that are in sticks. So you only need to swipe it on. You can do a bit of shading if you want to, but you don’t even have to. It just makes life so easy, and I just love that I can just throw them in my handbag. Then just a bit of mascara, a little bit of eye liner if I want to, and it’s just so simple. Because, I find when you’ve got shadow and you have to have the brush and everything, and you put it in your bag, and it all goes everywhere.
So I have actually found those products so simple and easy for me, and you end up with a range of sticks that do everything. So I love that, and I can use them for different things.
A: I know on your social media, there’s an element of photography, and you’re putting yourself in front of the camera. Have you got any tips or tricks if you are feeling just lacking that confidence or that’s usually with your skin? Have you got anything that you find peps you up before you do that type of thing?
D: I would recommend just smiling if you don’t look or feel that good. I’ve had my photo taken so many times, and I think, ‘I’ve hardly got any makeup on in my rush. I’ve got a hundred things in my head,’ but if you try to shake your shoulders out a little bit and smile, you’ll look okay.
I had to take some photos last week, and I just used a bit of Trish’s tinted moisturiser to get down any redness, and a little bit mascara and lip and lip gloss. I always think if my lips feel nice and moist, I feel a bit better. I would also say, as long as you’re smiling and looking at the camera, I think everybody doesn’t look so much at the skin.
If you haven’t put in all the effort. Just try and smile. Even last week, Claire said, ‘Come on, we have just got to get a few photos, and then you can go.’ I was just feeling hot, bothered, and I just wanted to get out of there. But you’ve just got to get on with it sometimes. Especially for photos, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not, so you might as well try and get a good one.
A: I think putting a smile on your face is a biggie, because I think a smiley face just looks more youthful.
D: I think happier, lighter. Yes, you just look well, you just look better. Everyone does. Then even if I have a look and Claire will show me what she’s done, and I’ll say, ‘Oh my God, I need to smile a bit more.’ Then it just makes such a difference.
A: Are you an early morning person? I’m presuming that you must be to get everything done, that you cram into a day. What’s your morning routine?
D: I get up early, definitely by six o’clock at the latest. I make myself breakfast, feed the boys, get Dazzler breakfast, and then I like to have that hour to myself, having breakfast. Eating breakfast, having coffee, doing the washing up, and waking up, just having that hour on my own. I might look at some emails and that kind of thing, but I do try to just like get that done, and then I’ll just start going through everything. It’s good if you can stay on top of everything.
Just clear out the junk emails, I give really quick answers to anything I need to get through. Then you can start the day. I will often do calls from 8 o’clock. I just like to have everything cleared down really to stay on top. That’s why I do like to get up early. If I got up any later, I don’t really understand people who get up later, because I think I’d be stressed out thinking what’s been going on. I’d feel very behind, but I think that’s just me.
A: I know I definitely went through lockdown, not getting up as early, and it took a little bit of a shift for me to get back into it. I think a lot of people fell into that pattern, but you’re absolutely right, it just feels so much more productive if you get up and on it in the morning.
D: Yes, I found during lockdown I was busier than ever, but I think I’m the type of person who saw it as a real opportunity to do so much clearing up and do work on the website, that I’d been wanting to do for a long time. I had these massive lists every day, and I was just trying to get through the list. I always found myself really busy, but it was good because we just did so much.
A: Are you a list writer? Do you do it on paper? Do you need to see it on your computer? From clearing stuff out of your head into physically being able to do stuff, how do you manage that side of productivity?
D: I write it. I write what I want to do that day or the phone calls I want to do. Then more importantly, I actually do it and then cross it off the list. I think a lot of people might write it on the list and not do it.
Then for example, if I’m doing a photo shoot or whatever it is, I put it in the diary, and then in the notes section, I write what I’m actually doing at that appointment or who I’m seeing. So I use the notes within the calendar, and then I also use the notes on my phone quite a bit. So I’ll have a note for everything. I do have everything quite detailed, because once it’s out of my head, I can just refer to it.
So you just have to put in the effort to write the plan out, and then you can refer back to it.
A: I’m a huge user of the notes section on my iPhone, and I’ve done it for years. About 4 months ago, I don’t know how, but instead of just deleting the one note, I deleted all of them with one click of a button.
I sat with that for a bit, thinking, ‘Right. So that’s my life’s worth of notes gone in a moment. ‘There was a panic that set in initially, but then it was actually quite freeing, bizarrely. I’m just going to have to start afresh.
What’s next for Donna Ida?
D: We’re doing a men’s range. We’re extending our size range, doing a curvier rage, in three of our styles. We are also doing some maternity. That’s what we’re doing for Donna Ida, and we’re going back into wholesale. We used to be in wholesale years ago, but we didn’t do it in a very big way, and so now we’re going to do it properly.
Then we have Langdon court. Yes, so I feel like for the next 12 months, I’ve definitely got my plate nice and full.
A: Yes, you’re going to be busy as always. Donna, it’s been really lovely chatting with you about business and things. So thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast. Where can people find you online?
D: So donnaida.com and we actually do sell to Bamford and to The Huntress in New York, and a few other smaller stores.
But we will be doing wholesale quite soon. All the girls, the stylists are amazing, and they have all their phone numbers on the site, or even just DM us, as well. We’re quite active on Instagram, which is great. If you need help or style advice or anything like that, we do like chatting to people and helping them find the right thing. I think it’s always quite helpful.
So yes, find us online. Just message us.
A: Interestingly, I have had an Ida Girl come around. You just tell them what you’re looking for, and they turn up with a bag of goodies. You try them on. So from a shopping experience, it’s quite a unique model, but it’s so good to be able to do that.
D: It is really nice. So we cover Berkshire, Surrey, London, and Hampshire, quite a few counties anyway. It is nice to have that personal shopping experience. Definitely. We also FaceTime people as well. If you’re further afield, we’ve got customers all over the world and can definitely help in that way.
It’s pretty amazing what you can do just online, isn’t it? Yeah.
A: Yes. Modern day life. Well, thank you so much for being a guest and chatting to us. This has been a pleasure, and I’m not going to need your maternity clothes. I’m way past that, but I’m really interested to see the new collections come out.