From Facing Maternity Discrimination To Founding A Female Led Fashion Business
Leigh Unwin, the founder of fashion retailer, The Style Attic, had never dreamed of launching her own fashion brand until the premature birth of her daughter and the maternity discrimination that she experienced.
In 2014 Leigh welcomed her daughter Edie to the world at just 25 weeks. After a long stint in hospital, Edie was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy which turned Leigh’s life upside down.
She asked her employer, a major fashion retailer, if she could work reduced hours to take care of Edie’s needs but every request was denied.
The 36 year old said, “Fashion buying was my dream job, but it quickly turned into a nightmare after my maternity leave ended.”
“Work got really hard, they were making my life really hard. Never in a million years had I thought that I would walk away from that role, but once I had Edie my priorities changed.”
Feeling backed into a corner by her employer, she was forced to leave what had been her dream role.
Leigh’s not alone in this experience. The last report into the prevalence of maternity discrimination was conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2015.
This research found that 54,000 women a year were dismissed, made redundant or forced to leave their job because of pregnancy or maternity leave.
One in ten women were discouraged from taking time off work for their antenatal appointments and one in twenty women experienced harassment or negative comments because of their pregnancy or requests for flexible work.
Leigh said, “At the time I was so upset and frustrated by what happened. When I think about it now I’m thankful that I no longer have to work for a company that treats its female employees in such a way.”
With years of experience in the fashion industry behind her, the day that she left her job, Leigh headed straight to a local wholesaler and returned home that evening with bin bags full of clothes.
She said, “I ran straight upstairs and started ripping the carpet out. My partner came home and I told him that this was it, I was starting a shop from the attic of our house.”
With that split decision, The Style Attic was born.
Leigh took to Facebook to let people know of her new business and within a few weeks word had spread across her hometown of Swillington, Leeds.
She said, “I wasn’t sure that people would visit, what with having to knock on the door of my house to get to the shop. But they did and then they would come back, this time with a friend, and it snowballed.”
“I think the novelty of the shop actually being in my attic was what helped word spread. If I had taken out a loan and bought a shop, I don’t think it would’ve worked.”
By 2019 demand was so high that Leigh eventually decided to take The Style Attic out of her home, and purchased a premises in Rothwell.
Eight years on from the launch of the brand and Leigh now has a team of women working alongside her and has just purchased her second premises which is set to open this Autumn.
The all female team at The Style Attic is largely made up of family and friends most of whom have kids themselves and, like Leigh, found the transition back into full time work was made difficult.
Leigh said, “If I could, I would make it so that no other woman ever had to experience what I did with returning to work post maternity leave. Unfortunately, I know that I can’t do that. But I can make sure that my team at The Style Attic never experiences that.”
You can also find the founder Leigh Unwin on LinkedIn.
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