England’s most public fashion show, the five-day horse racing festival at Royal Ascot, has come at a perfect time for Sheila Tiller Fashions and Shoes.
The independent, family-run ladies’ clothes and accessories specialist in Market Place, Long Sutton, can expect to do a brisk trade ahead of the number one event on the nation’s social calendar.
Also on the mind of owner Sheila Tiller and her daughter Elaine Tunnard, who runs the fashion shop while here mum looks after the shoe store, is their 40th anniversary in business next year.
Elaine said: “For our 20th anniversary, we held a big fashion show at South Holland Centre, Spalding, in aid of the children’s charity Action Medical Research.
“I stock (Irish designer) Paul Costelloe’s label and because he is an affable man, I asked him if he would compere the fashion show for us.
“We had a crew from Yorkshire TV that came down and the whole event was quite something.
“But for our 40th anniversary, it might be something slightly more intimate to fit in with the shop itself which, although roomy, is quite intimate as well.
“The fact that we’ve been here for nearly 40 years, and the fact that I’ve known a good proportion of my customers for nearly 40 years, is something for us to celebrate and be proud of in this day and age.”
Sheila Tiller Fashions and Shoes opened during the “Winter of Discontent” in 1978 when Britain was in crisis as a wave of strikes by public sector workers demanding pay rises brought the country to a near-standstill.
Elaine said: “Mum started the business when we had a small shop (now Sheila Tiller Shoes) in the middle of a major recession.
Sheila Tiller Fashions has never been about just selling clothes and there are so many ways of making somebody feel better with gestures that are thoughtful, caring and kindElaine Tunnard, Sheila Tiller Fashions, Long Sutton
“Businesses couldn’t get credit until they had been trading for six months so every week Mum and I had to go to London to buy stock, bringing it back in bin liners on the train.
“It was a very hand-to-mouth existence when I joined the business straight from school.
“But then we opened a shop in Downham Market which I ran from the age of 19, adding two shoe shops and a lingerie shop in Holbeach.
“At our peak, we had five shops in Lincolnshire and Norfolk which all took time and effort in managing.
“So after 17 years, we decided to come back to the two-shop format of clothes and shoes, both in Long Sutton.”
Originally, Elaine had eyes on a career in languages before the combination of a creative streak and a passion for her mum’s fashion business became too much to resist.
She said: “I was studying for my A-levels, but I loved every aspect of the business so much that I asked Mum if I could come into Sheila Tiller Fashions.
“But Mum didn’t make it easy for me as I had to learn how to sew properly and, for the first six months, I was on a set wage every week.
“It helps that I was very young when I joined the business as a lot of the customers have gotten older together with me, so they trust me not to make them look too old or too young.”
Customers from a 50-mile radius come to Sheila Tiller Fashions where they are met by Elaine and her eight-year-old black cocker spaniel Jessie.
Elaine said: “The dog does tend to break the ice with people because it’s not every shop that has a pet in it.
“Jessie’s a fixture here and at Christmastime, she gets more presents than I do.
“Sheila Tiller Fashions has never been about just selling clothes and there are so many ways of making somebody feel better with gestures that are thoughtful, caring and kind.
“A business evolves all the time, adapting to different things like computers and whilst the internet has made much more of an appearance in people’s lives, all we can do is to continue giving one-to-one service and advice.
“I’m a great believer that, for most of us, if you that you’re presented well by wearing something good, it gives you confidence and that’s why I love what I do in this business.”
Sheila Tiller Fashions has held several charity events in recent years, including a “How to Dress and Wear It” night at St Mary Magdalene Church, Gedney, last September that raised nearly £1,750 for South Holland’s “Cathedral of the Fens”.
Elaine said: “I’m interested in people and how things affect their lives which is why I do what I can for Long Sutton.
“People who are in the town regularly will probably pop in for some emotional support, as well as for our wide choice of clothes and shoes.”