The women’s issues, mental health and fitness journalist writes about the businesswomen and female entrepreneurs who have made Seven Dials a place of singular innovation.
London and I have passed the two-decade mark of our relationship, not because I’m too lazy to leave, or feel obligated to stay, but because it is a place that feels anchored to something innate and solid while at the same time surges with a power that makes you believe anything is possible.
I came here as a girl, and grew up here as a woman, and learned about creativity, ambition and courage, from other women who have forged their own path, and who have shown me what is possible simply by what they create and build.
Nowhere is this seen more than in the entrepreneurial spirit and graft of businesswomen, particularly the strong concentration of them in Seven Dials. Truth be told, it was an area that I initially used to flit through, dashing across the cobblestones to meet someone or other, but then one day, cutting across on Neal Street, a shop caught my eye: The Cambridge Satchel Company.
Not long before, I had interviewed Julie Deane who owns it, and her incredible story was something that stayed with me as a reminder of what you can achieve if you believe in yourself. She’d started the company with her mother Freda at her kitchen table with a budget of £600, to try and make some money to send her children to a better school, after one of her children was being bullied. She’d then gone on to feature in Vogue, and her beautiful bags popped up in every fashion magazine I could think of.
At the time, I knew Seven Dials was also home to Coco de Mer, the luxury lingerie brand owned by Lucy Litwack, and I also knew it was one of the very few lingerie brands at the time that was female-run and female-led. It played a significant role in changing the power dynamic and conversation for women around sensuality, where it had previously been decided by men.
That made me curious: what other incredible stories and women were hidden behind their sparkling glass windows? It turned out a lot. Tatty Devine was pointed out by a friend as we were walking past. ‘Oh, I LOVE this brand,’ she said about the acrylic statement jewellery brand owned by Harriet Vine MBE and Rosie Wolfenden MBE, whose pieces were designed to make women be noticed.
It’s also a reflecting pool for important, current conversations around identity and representation. I came across Fashercise on Instagram and had to see the shop for myself, and learned about the ethos of owner Alexandra Vanthournout, who started out as a fashion journalist and set up the brand for curvy women after struggling to find her sizes in stylish activewear. There’s also Karine Jackson, who runs the first London hair salon to be 100% sustainable and not have any single-use plastic.
It’s not lost on me that these incredibly important conversations about the quality and sustainability of life in London as a whole are led by some of the women in this area.
Poorna Bell writes about women’s issues, mental health and fitness for The Times, Grazia, and The Guardian
Image of Poorna Bell courtesy of JKG Photography