My name is Rhys, a first time dad blogging about my adventures and experiences of being a parent. [email protected]

Beloved retailer retires after 40 years running Mumbles store

Pictured: Lynne Kettles

It’s 40 years since Lynne Kettles opened Solo, a women’s clothing shop on the seafront in Mumbles. Now the multi-award retailer and choreographer of countless Swansea fashion shows is retiring – but Solo will live on, which is great news for its many loyal customers.

Lynne’s career in fashion goes back many years prior to Solo. Originally from London, Lynne had a brief career in PR before becoming Womenswear Marketing Executive for the International Wool Secretariat aged just 21. The role gave her a deep understanding of the fashion world, from the manufacture and sale of clothing to how to put on a dazzling fashion show. During her time in the role, she staged lavish shows at large venues such as the Brighton Dome.

After a decade with the International Wool Secretariat, she took a job as fashion buyer for a leading London department store, and then moved to South Wales for a similar role, buying for a chain of six fashion shops in the region. The job took her to fashion and fabric shows all over Europe and gave her the knowledge she needed to open her own shop.

Despite its bijou appearance, Lynne is adamant that Solo is a clothes shop, not a boutique; she associates the latter with inaccessibly priced clothing in equally inaccessible sizes. From the outset, Solo has offered clothing from brands that are hard to find elsewhere, but at reasonable prices and in a decent range of sizes.

She had originally intended to call the shop Solitaire, inspired by a shop in Brighton, but Betty Hughes, the then fashion editor of the South Wales Evening Post, changed her mind.

“She told me Solitaire was too long, and suggested Solo, because I was opening the shop on my own,” Lynne recalls.

Her choice of location was a bold one. In those days there were no other clothes shops on the seafront in Mumbles; they were all concentrated at the top of Newton Road. Over the years, the balance has shifted, and most clothes shops are either on the front, or lower down Newton Road.

“It’s been fabulous for us,” she says. “We now have all these names – White Stuff, Fat Face, Seasalt, Joules – and loads of restaurants. It’s a perfect village. You can’t move here some days, it’s so busy. We used to expect to be busy on Saturdays, and sometimes Thursdays, but now every day is a potentially a busy day.”

Lynne’s customers cover a wide age range: some have been with her since she opened and have become friends; others are younger and discovered Solo more recently.

“We have customers who come from as far away as Windsor – they don’t buy anything where they live, but wait until they come to visit friends of family in Mumbles, and come and see us,” says Lynne.

While the shop offers a personal service, Lynne has always made sure her team don’t pounce on customers.

“We’ve learnt from what people tell us about their experiences in other shops. They don’t like people being pushy, or telling them that everything looks nice on them even when it doesn’t. We’ll leave people to browse, or give them advice if they want it – and we’ll always tell someone if something doesn’t suit them.”

Her fashion buying has always placed a focus on colour, comfort and style.

“Our customers just want nice clothes to wear, but they don’t want to be glammed up too much,” she says. “Since COVID, the focus has shifted towards more casual clothes. It definitely changed people’s ideas the way they want to dress.

“Some of our best-selling items are trousers by Danish brand Robell. People who used to favour skirts or dresses, now just want a comfy pair of trousers and a top – and Robell trousers are supremely comfy.”

Other bestsellers have included keenly priced Paramour knitwear and bamboo and cotton tops from The Bamboo Wardrobe.

“They’re a repeated sell-out,” says Lynne. “It was a range we experimented with initially and it just took off.”

For a few years Lynne also designed her own knitwear range – called K2 – but she stopped after the knitting industry moved abroad. Still, she continued to stock an excellent range of knitwear, and even won a national wool retailer award.

One of her favourite parts of her job has been shopping for the next season’s clothes. This is usually done by attending shows and buying exhibitions in hotels and conference centres. Clothes are sourced six months in advance, so it’s important to have a feel for incoming trends. She has stocked brands from countries such as Denmark, Holland, France and Italy, but over half have been sourced in the UK.

Another favourite memory is the many charity fashion shows she staged, ranging from a huge show at Swansea Grand Theatre to more intimate events at venues such as Norton House Hotel, where guests enjoyed a meal while models toured the tables showing off the clothes.

“The models ranged from age 40 to over 70. They knew how to wear the clothes and tell people all about the fabrics and what goes together with what,” she says. “Out of 130 guests we’d usually have at least 70 people who would come to the shop afterwards to redeem the discount voucher they got at the shows.”

She has used the shows to support a range of charities, including Macmillan, Guide Dogs for the Blind and most recently local animal charity The Pettifor Trust, for whom she has raised over £16,000. She has also worked closely with the WI, staging up to six days of back-to-back fashion shows for them.

Other high points include winning several lifetime achievement awards, and numerous other awards, including a trip to Paris as a prize for having the best shop windows. This was won for her second store in Carmarthen, which she had for 10 years.

“All the awards were not just won by for me, but by the shop and my team – we’ve worked together so long,” she says.

Many treasured memories relate to her team and her customers – and she’s confident that they will be well looked after by the Solo’s new owner, whose name will be announced soon.

“We’ve got super customers and super staff and I know they will be in safe hands,” she says. “I feel emotional when they say they’ll miss me – but I feel it’s time for me to finish. I’m 76 and I just have to make the break, or I’ll go on forever!

“I’ve loved going into work every morning. It’s never a chore, it’s a joy – and I may be back now and then to help out!”