NAME: Moira Hughes
COMPANY: Moira Hughes Couture
TITLE(S): Founder + Designer
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Passionate, Creative, Inspired, Dedicated, Romantic
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
The long version starts with bridal sketches in the margins of my school books and running stitches in my mum's curtains! I spent weekends assisting in any way possible in local wedding dress boutiques before going to fashion school and interning for some incredible designers in London. I learnt so much working alongside some of the best designers at the time, lessons I wouldn’t have got at fashion school!
During my time at university, I took the opportunity to do an exchange with a sister school in Australia. It was during this period that I met my now husband, David. After returning to London to finish my studies and a long distance romance, I moved to Sydney. Continuing to work alongside some great designers, I soon realized there was a wider range of styles for brides to choose from. Women here have the luxury of being married anywhere from vineyards to the mountains or the city. I soon noticed a big gap between off the rack gowns and hugely ornate heavy gowns. The connections I had built during my time in Europe allowed me to use silks and laces otherwise unavailable here. Combining this with the freedom to stretch the boundaries of design to all these new wedding locations was very exciting.
I began sketching gowns with the modern twist, custom made but not unaffordable. We focused on high-quality fabrics with flattering, feminine silhouettes and putting the experience above all else. I rented a room in Paddington to start, and through word of mouth, we quickly got so busy! Now we have the most beautiful space in Paddington, and have appeared in everything from Vogue to Cosmobride. My team and I create beautiful gowns for brides all over the country and overseas, taking the time to customise each dress to what our bride needs. We are now very proud to be the highest rated boutique in Australia!
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
I design timeless, classic gowns with elegant, modern detailing. With an emphasis on experience and quality, we custom create wedding dresses in Sydney for the fashion conscious bride.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago?
10 years ago I knew I would be designing wedding gowns. It sounds crazy to say, but I was so passionate and determined that it had to happen! Though, I would never have guessed it would be in Australia (coming from London) and wouldn’t have imagined the success we have had with my very own boutique.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
Success to me is going to work every day and loving what you do. Every day is different and I get a huge amount of satisfaction in working with my clients and with my team. It also allows me flexibility in my personal life and to be there for my friends and family. To me, that is the ultimate success.
What do you still want to achieve?
There is still so much I want to achieve at Moira Hughes Couture! We are going back to New York this year and visiting select boutiques in Europe to find the perfect stockists for our new collection. We get so many calls from brides in other countries who either have to fly in to try our gowns on or choose their gown. I would love to expand our reach so we can offer our experience to more brides but we are very selective about where that will be, so watch this space!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
Yes, I did both a diploma and degree in fashion design in London before working with some incredible designers across London, Dublin and then Sydney. Studying gave me a great technical foundation and taught me the rules of what is possible in the technical side of pattern making and sewing. Working within the industry teaches you how to bend these rules to create something unique.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
I have been fortunate enough to see my collection at London Fashion Week and New York Bridal Fashion Week, they were highlights alongside watching Georgia Love find happiness with Lee Elliott wearing a gown we custom made for her. The most rewarding part has to be having my brides come back with friends and sisters year after year to create their wedding gowns. The incredible reviews we get and the referrals are so touching and it also means we get to hear all about the wedding day.
Tell us about your workspace (Office/café/couch/aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace?
I looked for a long time to find the perfect workspace. Our flagship store is in Paddington, Sydney in a heritage listed, converted barn. We are lucky enough to have high ceilings, exposed brick and all natural light. The boutique is also kept exclusively for each bride so she can be comfortable and have the best experience possible. Having a glass exterior means we have gotten to know all our neighbours so there is such a community spirit, we love it here.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
In the beginning, being considered too young was challenging. Getting suppliers to take me seriously was tricky but although I was younger than others, I was also very experienced. Being clear about what we needed, and educated in my questions helped to bridge that gap. We continued many of those relationships from day one and they now call me with new laces and silks they know I’ll love. It takes time but those relationships are invaluable now.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
In the beginning, I did nearly everything myself. There were endless amounts of prototypes to develop the style and techniques we use today. Lots of late nights and missed time with friends, without the promise of success was sometimes very overwhelming. There was definitely tears, wine and lots of tea to get through some of the early days. Now we have such a great team that it's easier to manage time and the hard days are vastly outnumbered by the good ones.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
Yes, I put more pressure on myself than anyone else possibly could. I have always been very competitive with myself and doing better each time. I think this has increased with time as now we have a team who also benefit from that success. Now more than ever there are thousands of people through social media also following the success and growth of our brand so the expectations are higher.
If you are a business owner, and you often can’t just check out/ have a week off when you are dealing with personal things, how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough?
I am fortunate enough to have a very talented team who know how important it is to have time off. Having the opportunity to relax and recharge is very important so we ensure everyone gets this. We work on things in order of importance so if something urgent comes up, we work together to get it done. Wherever possible we try to be flexible with hours so if there is a need to be with family we support one another. Company culture is very important and something we put a lot of emphasis on.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships? If so how?
Certainly, my now husband was surprised when he first came to my home and it was full of wedding magazines and sketches of gowns! It took a little explaining but he has come to know more about wedding dresses than any man should! Owning a business has meant missing out on time with friends and family, especially Saturdays. They have always been so hugely supportive and remind me to make it up when their time to walk down the aisle comes.
Has your journey at times felt lonely?
In the beginning, I did everything myself and I was relatively new to Australia. Some of those days were lonely, as the time difference sometimes meant I didn’t speak to anyone throughout the day. I didn’t know anyone else with their own company so often wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Since then I have an amazing group of friends and mentors. Now there's the issue of me forgetting to check all my messages!
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
My days can be so busy that often when I lie in bed design ideas or construction solutions pop into my mind. I started keeping a little book next to my bed to jot them down. This helps me relax and I have the bonus of waking up to a little book of designs that sometimes I can't remember sketching! Some of my best work has been done this way, or when on holiday the designs come to me. I imagine it's like being an author – if you try too hard it just doesn’t happen as naturally.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
It would be hard to change anything as you wouldn’t know the butterfly effect it may have! Even at times where I took the long way around, it meant I met people on the way or learnt a lesson that helped avoid something bigger the next time. I am always 100% dedicated to my brides and supportive of my team. If you follow that route and mean well, you can’t go too far wrong.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
It will be worth it! When I was 21 I was in a long distance relationship (London to Sydney!), in my last year of uni and working for a well known bridal designer. It was such hard work and with no promise of it paying off. Turns out that final collection which debuted at London Fashion week ended up winning the highest award, opening so many doors. My boyfriend is now my husband and I have my own boutique in Sydney with stockists starting to emerge around the world.
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
There are so many I admire, especially some of my talented friends. The one that most springs to mind is Jodie Foxx (owner of Shoes of Prey). When I first started we were connected through CommBank women in business and she kindly agreed to mentor me. We would meet once a month over a smoothie and she would coach me on how to best manage my business. She really didn’t have much spare time and so our meetings were usually before her staff arrived at 6am and I was so grateful for that.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
I really admire people who do what they say will do. It’s so easy to have ideas and ambitions but I admire someone who takes action to achieve big goals and small. It shows a dedication and that trait usually leads to loyalty and kindness.
Work-life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? You are so right! My life is more about identifying the times in which I won't be working. My hours are not so structured so I try to schedule downtime more than work time. When I work, I try to use my time effectively. When I am with friends or family I try to leave my phone at home and really connect. Sometimes that is so hard to do as your phone can be such a distraction!
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
There are many times where I have had to close the laptop, put the sketches down and take a timeout. Sometimes you can get so involved in the details of a design it’s hard to see the gown as a whole (like seeing the forest for all the trees!). I could never quit, it is just not in my DNA and there isn’t anything in the world I would rather be doing. The feeling passes and is usually triggered if I haven’t had any time to exercise or sleep or just rejuvenate!
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
Everyone wants to know about all the nightmare brides we have when in reality we have lovely brides! Very very rarely is anyone unreasonable. We have the fortune of creating all of our gowns in Sydney so if a dress needs adapting or the design develops slightly we are usually able to accommodate, which I guess helps!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Work in the industry first and really find the aspect you love. There are so many skills that go into creating wedding dresses; from designing to pattern making to media. Working within companies you admire will give you a sense of what you would do, and do better when the time comes. It will also give you a network of people to ask questions of later.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
Starting my own business never felt like a decision to me, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It certainly is a rollercoaster, and there is so much more involved than I ever thought, but when you are so passionate about your business it doesn’t feel like work.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
Most women feel the best they have ever felt on their wedding day. Being a part of making that happen and giving them those memories to look back on, is my legacy. It is empowering to be surrounded by all the people you love most in the world and look incredible. Even thinking back to those moments years later can positively affect how you feel.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important/(why did you want to be involved in this interview)?
There has never been a better time to be a woman in business. There are great support networks around and opportunities such as this. There is a misconception, especially in the fashion industry, that it can be fierce. In reality, I have found other business leaders and designers to be extremely friendly and supportive. We often call each other with supplier questions or to bounce ideas.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
‘The harder I work, The luckier I get” and “A happy customer is the best business strategy of all.”