A young entrepreneur from Llantrisant has opened a design house making bespoke bridal, prom, and evening gowns by hand.
Leigh Panes, 27, studied Fashion Design at the University of South Wales before starting her business, Leigh Alexandra. Her first occasion collection was unveiled in September 2019 and Leigh is now launching a bridal collection and working on another occasion wear collection for later in the year.
Leigh Alexandra is just one of thousands of businesses in Wales that has been affected in some way by the coronavirus pandemic. Leigh has been unable to do fittings with new or existing customers, and a number of her wedding clients have been postponed until 2021. She has instead used this time to work on her latest collections to develop new ideas and think about how she wants to progress the business in the future.
Talking about Big Ideas Wales, Leigh said: “If it wasn’t for Big Ideas Wales and my business advisor Miranda Thomas, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to start my own business. She made me believe I could do it. Big Ideas Wales and Business Wales have helped me a lot, from setting up the business, creating a business plan and also helping me find funding through the pandemic.”
Leigh started her business at the age of 25 with the help of Big Ideas Wales, part of Business Wales and part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea.
Leigh creates glamorous occasion dresses with silhouettes that vary from slim fitting to full gowns, using textures and embroideries. All of her dresses are handmade for each client using British fabric suppliers with prices starting from £300.
Leigh said: “One of my favourite things about running my own business is it allows me to work in every aspect of the fashion industry, from design to construction, running photoshoots, marketing, finance, I get to do it all and learn something new every day.
“I have been sewing from a young age and interned and worked at design houses and bridal studios in London and Cardiff. By working closely with a bridal designer, I fell in love with the craftsmanship behind creating a bespoke dress. After taking a year out to intern in London, I knew I wanted to continue working in fashion, but at home in Wales.
“I quickly realised that there was a much smaller industry for it in Wales, so I decided to set up my own design house and create my perfect career. I had the vision and creative skills but no knowledge on starting a business, so every step since has been a lesson and that makes it exciting.”
There are five dresses in Leigh’s new bridal collection with prices starting from £1,245. The collection is called Bloom and is inspired by her launch collection called Blossom.
She continued: “My first collection took inspiration from the growth a person experiences when entering a particular period in life, whether it’s blossoming into adulthood or into a new career. The bridal collection continues with this idea and the journeys of women into their next chapter of life.”
Alongside the bridal and yearly collections, Leigh offers a bespoke service where she works directly with clients to develop individual garments that can be customised by shape, material and finish.
Leigh said: “Every dress I design is made to the client’s exact body measurements allowing each dress to be adapted to cater to all shapes and sizes. People come to me with an idea in their mind and I help turn that vision into a reality.”
Leigh attended a Big Ideas Wales Business Kickstarter workshop in Merthyr Tydfil before starting her design house.
Talking about the event, Leigh said: “It was great to hear first-hand from people who have been successful in the industry. At this time I didn’t think I had what it takes to run a business but hearing from different people who had been in the same situation and hearing they felt similar to me at the start of their career helped me believe I could do it too.”
Miranda Thomas, Big Ideas Wales business advisor, said: “Leigh is a very talented Welsh bridal designer and is definitely one to look out for in the industry. Over the last few months, she has had to adapt the way she works but has used the time well to develop her business.”
Talking about the future, Leigh said: “My ultimate goal is to have an established and known brand with my dresses stocked around the world. I hope my new bridal and occasion wear collection launching later in the year can help me reach this goal.
“Hopefully, in the future, I’ll also be in the position to give more opportunities to other creatives in Wales who don’t want to have to move to London to work in this industry.”