Teen mum Nikki’s rags to riches story is Made in Preston
“IT is like Top Shop but for women with bigger boobs.”
Smiling as she sums up her business venture, Nikki Hesford jokes how she was used to revealing all as a glamour model, but is now spilling the beans on her amazing rags to riches story.
It was while attending job interviews while approaching graduation that Nikki came up with the lightbulb moment about filling a gap in the women’s fashion market.
Nikki, now 28, who is married to Simon and has a 10-year-old son Oliver, explains: “As I was approaching graduation, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do career-wise so began applying for all sorts of jobs including sales, estate agencies and roles as medical or legal secretaries.
“It was while going to one of these interviews that I came up with my business idea.
“I went to the high street to buy a white shirt to wear under my jacket but I just could not find one. The shops just didn’t seem to cater for women with bigger boobs who are still of slim build.”
Nikki, who is a size 10 and a 32E bra size, found the buttons on her shirts would either pop open or gape, giving a glimpse of her underwear.
Nikki recalls: “To my dismay, after one interview, I discovered my shirt button had been undone all the way through.”
Nikki began researching the Internet to see what clothing was available for women with bigger chests and discovered a gap in the market.
She explains: “The only things I could find were tailored and expensive or affordable but aimed at middle-aged women.
“I realised there was a glaring gap in the market for clothing aimed at younger women who are larger-breasted.
“That’s when I came up with the idea of creating clothes for women with big boobs that was fashionable rather than granny clothes.”
Life for Nikki before her “eureka” moment wasn’t plain sailing after she unexpectedly became a teenage mum.
Nikki, who lives in Poulton, remembers: “When I was at school, my ambition was to join the army or do something military based and I loved the idea of becoming a pilot. But then I had my eyes tested and discovered I was long-sighted which put paid to that idea. However, by this point, I wasn’t very career-minded anyway. I was more interested in going out, drinking, smoking and partying.”
Nikki began Sixth Form after her GCSEs but only weeks later, she found out she was pregnant at 17.
Nikki confesses her first thought was getting rid of the baby so she could get on with her life.
“I was completely shocked because I didn’t think something like that would happen to me.
“My first thought was having a termination.”
Nikki told a family planning clinic that she wanted to get rid of the baby and they arranged for her to go to Marie Stopes for a consultation for an abortion.
However, Nikki found she could not go through with it.
She remembers: “It is all such a blur but I didn’t even get as far as seeing a doctor.
“I was sat in the waiting room when I knew I couldn’t do it. So I told the receptionist I had changed my mind.
“I just felt I couldn’t go through with it. For me, having the baby was better than the alternative.”
Nikki dropped out of school and worked as a temp at an insurance agency through her pregnancy. Her relationship with the baby’s father was volatile at the time and they split up while she was pregnant.
However, they are now good friends and share care of their son together.
Nikki gave birth to Oliver in January 2004 and admits she found being a mum quite boring.
“It just seemed an endless cycle of nappy changes, feeding and sleeping and felt unrewarding and thankless.
“Even though I loved Oliver to bits, I had become ‘Nikki the mum’ and felt as if I had lost my identity, hopes and dreams.
“I was more or less a single mum. I had help from both sets of grandparents, but was very independent and wanted to do things myself and was always trying to be a hero.”
After being at home on benefits for three months, Nikki went to her Sixth Form at Lytham High School in the April begging to go back.
The school said she could return in the September but Nikki was adamant she wanted to go back there and then.
“I was starting to feel depressed and desperately wanted to do something other than sit at home in my pyjamas with my baby.
“They told me they were already part way through the school year and that as I had a newborn, it would be better to wait.
“I remember bursting into tears and begging for a chance.
“I asked them to give me a month and that if it wasn’t working, I would quit.”
Nikki did A-levels in English Literature, English Language and Psychology and says school staff were wonderful in supporting her as she juggled being a young mum with schoolwork.
Nikki explains: “I used to leave Oliver with a childminder while I went to school. But on the occasions when the childminder was ill and I was stuck, the school office staff would look after him.
“Some teachers would bring in their children’s clothes to help me out as they knew money was tight.”
The only problem with Nikki cramming her A-levels into just over a year of teaching was when it came to predicted grades. As she had not done the first year, teachers had nothing to base the predictions on so it was almost like plucking grades out of the air.
Nikki was predicted a C and two Ds and although she longed to study English Literature at somewhere like York or Warwick, her predicted grades were not high enough for her to be offered a place.
Luckily, Lancaster University offered her a place if she achieved an A and two Bs and Nikki surpassed her wildest dreams by getting two As and a C. Nikki went to live in Rochdale and travelled to Lancaster University. While studying, she worked two days a week doing secretarial work at an accountancy firm on the days she didn’t have lectures.
Nikki had been modelling from the age of 16 and then moved into glamour modelling.
She says: “My mum Kari Anderson is a former glamour model.
“She met my dad Steve Hesford, who was a fullback at Warrington Wolves, when he was a judge at a beauty pageant and she a contestant.
“Glamour and showbiz has always been in my family.
“I began modelling after sending snapshots to agencies and started off doing catwalk fashions.
“It was never a career; it was just for pocket money.
“At around the age of 18, I moved into glamour modelling as it meant more money.
“The way glamour modelling works is that you work for the photographer and he sells the photos on to whatever publications he can.
“I have been in lots of lads mags such as Nuts and Zoo.
“A lot of people who do glamour modelling do it as an ego thing, but I just did it because it was easy money.
“It was just a means to an end.
“I did topless modelling as well as lingerie and swimwear.
“I would happily have done totally naked modelling as I did not have a problem with it. But I didn’t want my son to find those type of pictures when he was older, although I don’t mind him finding topless pictures. I have always been comfortable and relaxed about my body.”
Nikki showed a shrewd business sense from a young age. At 19, she bought her first house using her student loan as a deposit and her earnings from glamour modelling for a self certificate mortgage.
She then did it up and sold it a few months later and repeated the process.
After coming up with the idea for a clothing range for young women with bigger chests, Nikki put a business plan together and did a prototype for a blouse in three different colours.
She asked banks for a small business loan but was told it was a lifestyle business with no growth potential so was refused the money.
In the end, an astute Nikki financed the business herself using credit cards and the equity in her house.
Nikki explains: “From my early teens, my mum had drummed into me the importance of having a good credit score.
“So I used it to my advantage and moved from one 0 per cent deal to another.”
Nikki began her online clothing business with one product in three colours and as the money came in, she reinvested it and the range gradually grew.
The business based in Lancaster was called Miss Fit UK. It was purely online until it attracted attention from places like House of Fraser and Asos who liked the lingerie range.
Nikki says: “We moved into lingerie and before we knew it, we went wholesale and by 2011, we were pretty much all wholesale.”
However, after Woolworths and other high street stores began going under, Nikki became nervous and decided to get back into the consumer market so created The Big Bra Shop, an online shop which she rang alongside Miss Fit UK.
Nikki then applied to go on television show Dragon’s Den with her business venture and it was filmed in January 2012 and televised in the September.
Nikki says: “I didn’t get the investment, but the Dragons were very nice and Peter Jones showed real interest.
“However, I managed to use the exposure from the show to get a private investor.”
Nikki went to a business event where Richard Watney, chief executive of children’s craze Bin Weevils was giving a talk.
Nikki later sent Richard Watney an e-mail about her business and to her delight, he asked to meet her and agreed to invest in her business.
Nikki says: “It was on the condition I closed Miss Fit UK as he had the same reservations about wholesale I did. He also wanted the name The Big Bra Bar changing so after getting a factory in Ashton, Preston, his marketing people came up with ‘Made In Preston’.”
Made In Preston sells clothing and swimwear for bigger breasted women as well as lingerie in a D to J cup and it is all online. Everything from manufacture to photography and despatch is done from the Eldon Street site.
In March 2013, pre-trading the company was valued at about £1.1m based on brand proposals and at the last check, the company was valued at £1.4m.
Nikki says: “In the next two years, we expect and hope for the company to be valued between £5m and £7m.
“But I could not have done this on my own as Richard and the shareholders have been brilliant.”
Having a glamourous and young looking mum has its up sides as Nikki found.
Nikki says: “I met Simon about four years ago as his mate was going out with my mum!
“My mum is still very glam and when we go out together, I’m not allowed to call her mum.
“After Simon and I had been going out for a while, he asked when he could meet my mum not realising he had already met her thinking she was one of my friends!”
Nikki and Simon, 32, an IT consultant, married in December 2012. They each had a child from a previous relationship, but were keen to have a baby together.
To their delight, Nikki conceived straight away and all their friends and family were thrilled.
The pregnancy progressed smoothly – until Nikki went for her 20-week scan and the sonographer could not see part of the baby’s brain.
Nikki was referred to specialists in Manchester and the devastated couple were told the ventricles on one side of their baby’s brain were grossly enlarged.
Nikki recalls: “They told us there was a third of a chance the baby would die in utero, another third of a chance he would die within the first 24 months of his life and a third of a chance he would survive and be disabled.
“I was given options on how to proceed and offered the chance of going full term.
“But I just had a gut feeling then that the baby wouldn’t survive so I made the heartbreaking decision to be induced early at 23 weeks.
“For me, that was the right decision.”
Nikki gave birth to Little Nicky last June and he lived for two hours.
Nikki says: “He was alive long enough to be baptised.
“You could see as soon as he was born that one side of his brain was enlarged.
“We knew then that we had made the right decision.”
Just two days after the tragedy, Nikki was back at work.
She explains: “At the time, I had no manager so the business was like a ship without a captain.
“It helped to have something to focus on and I devoted my attention to my son and my business.
“I had bereavement counselling and talked it out and cried it out.
“I think people should accept whatever help they can.
“The temptation after something like that is to get pregnant again straight away.
“But I wanted time to grieve properly.
“Then I got to the point where I wanted to live my life again and be happy. After something like that, you need to drink, smoke and eat what you like – all the things you could not do when you were pregnant. I partied throughout July and August. It is only now that we have grieved enough to start thinking about trying for a baby again.”