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Why we're doing it in style: Store owners Edel and Sabrina

The owners of Harry & George in Enniskillen tell Stephanie Bell about juggling career and family

Two local mums have hit on the perfect solution to taking their careers up a notch while also finding the flexibility to cope with busy home lives and kids - going into business together.

In what is proving the perfect partnership for the busy career women and working mums, Edel Owens and Sabrina Gamble have pooled their extensive knowledge and experience of fashion retail to give their bustling home town an exciting new style experience.

Harry & George - the first bespoke boutique in Enniskillen to bridge the gap between high street and high end - has caused a real buzz in the Fermanagh town since the doors of the chic 1920s-themed store opened last March.

Around 8,000 people are following the shop's Facebook page and the women's carefully chosen brands are going down a treat with the style pack, much to the relief of Edel and Sabrina, who put everything on the line to start up their business in the middle of a recession.

A launch party for the shop last month saw eager fashionistas queue outside to be first through the doors.

Even the unusual choice of two male names for a female boutique - Harry & George, named after the girls' firstborn children - has proved a talking point in the border town, no doubt helped by the fact that both names are bang on trend thanks to the Royal family.

"We are now at the end of our second season and it's going better than we had initially anticipated and, of course, we are thrilled," says Edel.

"It's predominantly through social media and word of mouth that we have established our clientele and we are hoping to move forward in 2015 by selling online.

"For me, becoming self-employed in the middle of a recession was a huge risk as it meant forfeiting a good salary, but I am so glad now that I did it."

Sabrina adds: "Edel and I come from humble backgrounds. We have had to work very hard to get to this point."

Edel (32) has a 20-month-old son, Harrison, and is engaged to Gareth (36), an engineer.

She started working as a sales assistant in fashion retail to help pay her way through university while studying for a degree in politics, with a view to going into teaching or social work.

But she loved the fashion world so much that when she graduated she stayed there and carved out a successful career, going on to manage several high street boutiques.

Sabrina (35), who is originally from Ballymena, is married to Paul (47), who owns Cafe Mauds in Enniskillen. They have three children, George (6), Alfie (3) and Amos (2).

Sabrina always had an ambition for a career in fashion and after many years working her way up the retail ladder, she opened her own Benetton store in Enniskillen in June 2005. She then opened a second store in Portadown in 2008, one week after her first child was born.

Her move to Enniskillen after she met her husband also led to her blossoming friendship with Edel, whom she employed as a manager for five years.

After Edel left the company, the girls remained firm friends and the idea for Harry & George came shortly after Edel became a mum.

She explains: "I was on maternity leave. My job was very demanding and had involved working crazy hours, and I realised I just wouldn't be capable of fulfilling that role now that I was a mum. I had always wanted to open my own boutique and having discussed it with Gareth he fully supported my decision and encouraged me to go for it."

Yet when she approached Sabrina with her idea to join forces and give Enniskillen a fresh new fashion house, initially her friend was not enthusiastic.

"I was under enough pressure with the demands of business and a young family so I didn't give it much thought," says Sabrina.

"It was a few weeks later when my husband and I were away for a few days that I mentioned it to him and he made me reconsider. And from there Harry & George was born.

Meanwhile, even though she had no premises and no business partner, determined Edel had already sourced and placed orders with suppliers for the brands she thought would work in the boutique.

Thrilled that Sabrina had a change of heart, she then used her vast knowledge of the industry to bring other brands on board.

The result is a beautiful 1,500 sq ft space which has a clear division of casual wear, occasion wear and what the girls describe as "very edgy daywear which can take you into evening".

"It's an eclectic mix of stylish fashion to suit a wide range of ages. When you become a mum, you have to adapt your wardrobe without compromising on style," says Sabrina.

"Our collections in store reflect this and are tailored not just to meet, but exceed the evolving demands and expectations of the modern woman."

The girls are happy with how well their partnership is working in terms of their home lives.

While they both still work in excess of 45 hours a week, they enjoy the flexibility of being able to take time off with their children if needed, safe in the knowledge that the other committed partner is ensuring the business runs to a high standard.

"Self-employment brings about its own stresses, but the beauty of our partnership is that if I need time off with my son, I know Sabrina is there and that is a huge relief," says Edel. "Similarly, if Sabrina needs family time, she knows I am in the business, with a mutual interest in its success."

Sabrina adds: "I have a very hectic home life and I wouldn't have the same flexibility without the support of Edel.

"Every evening I collect the children from the childminder, take them home, get through all the usual evening routine of tea, homework, bath time and bedtime, and quite often then head back into work.

"Thankfully, we both have very supportive partners and super childminders, which helps to relieve the pressure."

The pair spent many hours researching and sourcing stock, and are confident that their collections offer women stylish fashion choices which are not typical of the high street.

Using their 30 years combined experience in fashion, they pride themselves on offering a peerless personalised service and often spend hours with one customer helping to pull together the perfect wardrobe.

The duo believe that less is more when it comes to achieving a fashionable yet sophisticated look.

Every woman should have the classic staples in their wardrobe - a white shirt, white T-shirt, blazer, black polo neck jumper, black and indigo jeans, black stilettos - and build on them with key season pieces.

"I think the key is not to overdo it and not to dress yourself head to toe in current trends. Choose items carefully and team them with classic staples to achieve a sophisticated edge," Edel explains.

"It's not always about following magazines, but about looking at what suits you and your individual shape and style, and playing about with fashion."

And they say it's going to be a bright summer for fashion, with a wide-ranging colour palette to choose from. Everything from calm, pastel pink, blues and greens to the brightest shades will be gracing our best fashion boutiques.

The comfortable skinny jean has endured for another season, but again it's all about colour with denims in pastel blue, green and pink.

Bold floral prints are the must-have look for spring/summer 2015 and you can be fashion forward teaming the latest A-line floral print skirt with a classic polo, swapping it in summer for a simple T-shirt, worn with flat sandals. Accessories are another clever way of updating your look and the boutique also stocks a gorgeous range of jewellery, belts and footwear.

Working in fashion throughout the recession, the girls have seen a change in our spending habits.

With less disposable income, more women are being shrewd about what they buy and the capsule wardrobe has really come into its own.

"With money being tight, the way we shop for clothes has changed. More women want to be sure they are buying the right thing and are actually investing in more expensive pieces which will carry them through the seasons," adds Edel.

"Many young people still tend to impulse buy as they are more likely to go for something because they saw it in a magazine or saw a celebrity wearing it, but older women are being much more careful about what they are buying.

"There is also a huge change in what women are wearing now - what our mums would have worn at 60 and what women of 60 are wearing now is very different.

"Older women are dressing a lot younger and enjoying fashion for much longer."

Designs on a great future ...

Harry & George offers:

Occasion wear - brands include Forever Unique, Virgos Lounge, Kate Fearnley, Tempest, Pretty Dress Company, Vesper, Hybrid, Fee G, Luke Lovely & Moncho Heredia

Daywear - choose from French Connection, Inwear, Soaked in Luxury, Sugarhill Boutique, Closet, Almost Famous, Naf Naf, Hv Polo, Lucy Paris, Millie Mackintosh, Silvian Heach, Villa Gallo & Maison Scotch

Footwear - Collections by French Connection, Cara & Elia B

Millinery - a range of headwear pieces which are exclusively designed for the boutique by Milk & Honey & Evo

Harry & George Boutique is at 14 Church Street, Enniskillen, tel: 028 6632 7008, email harryandgeorge14@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/Harry-George-Boutique

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