We are 100% any brand genuinely living the ‘fashion that matters’ mantra, so we were thrilled to meet the fantastic team behind climate-controlled, sustainable fashion brand, Cucumber Clothing.
Founded by super stylish ‘mid-lifers on a mission’ Nancy Zeffman (formerly in advertising with Saatchi & Saatchi) and Eileen Willett (ex-Nicole Farhi), Cucumber was originally created to answer the night-time needs of menopausal women, struggling with hot sweats.
Since then it’s expanded to cover the needs of yoga and workout fans, new mums and anyone who wants comfortable, stylish clothing that keeps you cool, day-to-night.
Hi Eileen and Nancy – we love your range! Tell us where the idea came from?
Completely by chance! We were on a holiday with friends, all 40-50-year-old women, and so many of the conversations kept returning to the topics of feeling hot, sleeplessness, and generally hormones interfering with life. When we returned we googled ‘clothes for women over 40’. Honestly, it would have been tragic if we hadn’t seen an opportunity instead!
Cool as a cucumber – we do what it says on the tin. Interestingly enough, even for our customers and contacts for whom English is a second language, everyone seems to grasp it straight away.
How did you go about setting the range up?
Loads of research. We must have spent the best part of eighteen months researching fabrics, running focus groups, and really trying to get a handle on what our customer wanted.
You’re heavily focussed on sustainability which is tough in fashion – why is that important to you both and how do you manage it?
It is tough! Particularly for a start-up with all the attendant cash flow issues. However, the plus side to being a start-up is that we can be exactly who we want to be from the ground up. We both have families we really do want to try and make the world a better place. We know that creating anything has an environmental cost, we want ours to be as light as possible, and we can do this because of the flexibility a small company gives us.
We source everything, bar our fabric, from inside the UK. Our factory, sample room and grader are twenty minutes away which means we save on transport emissions and can ensure fair working practices. Most recently we replaced the one bit of plastic in our chain with 100% potato starch bags, and 50% of-of our newest fabric is made in a carbon-neutral way from sustainable forests.
“It’s a fantastic time of life to start a business”
What do you think the benefits of starting a business in mid-life are?
A multitude. We meet a lot of younger women founding their own companies (along with a side-hustle or two) as well as raising a young family. We think they are heroes. Our children are adults and independent.
We are now able to reclaim a whole lot of ‘me time’ to build our company without worrying about child-care, school pick-up, and the myriad other things that are required of parents. It’s a fantastic time of life to start a business.
What do you think the biggest challenges are?
It has to be educating consumers about the benefits of technical fabrics. So many women, particularly older women, have been brought up to believe that natural fibres are the best for everything.
We love a silk dress or two ourselves, but for everyday ‘one-mile wear’ (everything you do in the one-mile radius of your home, walk the dog, pilates, coffee with friends, dash to shops, school run, etc.) our fabrics win every time.
They feel lovely against the skin and are anti-crease (no or very little ironing), breathable, thermo-regulating, cold wash (rare since they have a built-in anti-odour mechanism) hang dry AND gorgeous simple styling that means they become the go-to pieces in your wardrobe year after year. Win-win.
Working as a partnership isn’t always easy – how do you guys make it work?
Funnily enough, we’ve only seen the positive side of this. We are two such different characters that though our work constantly overlaps we both have ‘areas of interest’ and really value the hard work and grit in each other that has gotten us this far. A good laugh now and then helps too.
You’re renowned for being very ‘women’ supporting – why does that matter to you?
That’s nice to hear, but I suppose we’d love it if we became renowned for being ‘people’ supporting. It is simply that as a female facing brand we tend to interact professionally with many more women than men.
We’ve found from day one of our Cucumber journey that almost everyone, male or female, that we have met have been encouraging and full of ideas to help us. We’ve tried to do the same for others. Kindness is the best.
What are your favourite items from the range yourself?
Tricky! For Nancy, it has to be the cashmere mix jumpsuit in navy (though I think the red suits her too), which she has worn on many a flight, arriving cool and crease-free, as well as the harems which are her go to after a gym session.
I love our ballet top which I use for my post-Bikram walk home, and I absolutely love our tier dress in both coral and stone colours from our new collection. Even if the sun isn’t shining outside it feels like it when I am wearing my dress.
“Our volcanic mineral fabric uses the body’s own energy to sense when your core temperature is rising above the optimal 37.5C and begins to cool you down even before you sweat”!
Our readers often talk about sleep struggles – alongside your climate controlling clothing, what tips have you got for beating the heat at night?
We think it’s a bit like a puzzle, and for anyone who struggles to sleep well at night, all pieces have to fit.
Earlier, lighter dinners help. A solid routine is a must. We both love having a hot bath with lovely oils and a good book for a quiet bedtime read. A completely dark room, or if that’s not possible a good eye mask. No electronic equipment! Banish phones, televisions, iPads, even flashing digital clocks. Keep your room a bit on the cool side to let your body reset at its natural slightly lower night time temperature.
You can always have an extra blanket on the bed. These all help, especially if put into practice day after day.
Your fabric is made using volcanic minerals – that’s so exciting! How does it work?
We love our newest fabric! It feels incredibly silky and soft against the skin. It works in a slightly different way from our previous fabrics which wick moisture (sweat) away from the skin. Our volcanic mineral fabric uses the body’s own energy to sense when your core temperature is rising above the optimal 37.5C and begins to cool you down even before you sweat! If that isn’t the stuff of the future, we don’t know what is.
What advice would you give to a woman looking to start a business in her fifties and beyond?
Go for it. If you overthink it, you will never do it.
Tell us about your style loves outside the business?
I have always been a fashion and beauty junkie and have worked in fashion in some form or other all my life. I love beautifully made clothes that range from floaty boho dresses with super high heels to ripped jeans and wedge flatforms, and don’t even ask to see my makeup drawer!
You both look amazing – any confidence and beauty tips?
What a nice question! Feeling good physically makes you look good, so the 80/20 rule works well – that 80% of the time you eat mindfully and exercise regularly, 20% of the time you are more than welcome to that slice of lemon drizzle cake. It’s also important to do things that may sound indulgent but are actually key to your self-image, whether it’s having a regular massage, blow dry or facial, these are all things that add to our ‘happy’ selves.
What’s next for Cucumber Clothing?
We’ve been expanding into luxury hotel spas, and you can find us at the Four Seasons Hampshire, and soon in the Four Seasons Park Lane. We’re also at Beaverbrook Hotel and Spa and we’ll be doing a pop up at The Grove soon.
We have our new collection coming out, and are were invited to be a part of a project with the Masters in Marketing programme at ESCP (one of France’s top three business schools), and will be giving at talk at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London soon.
Yikes, I had better stop here. Just keep an eye out for us – we’re coming your way!
Learn more about Cucumber Clothing here >