I'm on my way to The Mantique, an independent clothing and accessories store, nestled in a quaint side-street of Winchester City Centre. The Mantique is for "the man who has everything" and is a must-visit for any of those hard-to-buy for men in your lives.
As I enter the shop, Liz Raffles, the owner, is sat (looking effortlessly flawless!) surrounded by an array of thick, handsome scarves. I am suddenly propelled into what is, evidently, a sweet shop for men! Smart, yet playful socks sit neatly next to beautifully made leather wallets.
My eyes are immediately drawn to the selection of active wear for men and I mentally add it to my christmas list for my impossible-to-buy-for-boyfriend. After I have swooned over garments and accessories on display, I take my place next to a beaming Liz, ready to get to know a little bit more about how a mum of two has built her shop for men!
WWD: Hi Liz! Thanks for having us. Let's start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Liz: Ok, well, I'm a mum to two children (11 and 9), I have a Sports Science degree, I grew up in Devon - LOVE cream tea (got to be jam first though!), sailing is an absolute passion and I sailed professionally for 15 years. I spent a year in Australia and whilst there I drove one of those massive trucks (I dated an Aussie truck driver!) and I had my name in the local paper in the Whitsundays for coming second in a sailing regatta. Love cycling with the kids although sometimes struggle to fit it in, I rarely watch TV and prefer to read although at this time of year I'm a fan of Strictly and Bake Off.
WWD: Who doesn't love Bake Off?! So, you have a back ground in Sports Science and you love sailing - what made you open your shop?
Liz: After 15 years as a yacht skipper, it became tricky around the kids and it's very seasonal in this country. I needed a new challenge and after visiting a shop in Edinburgh that was specifically for gents it immediately struck me as a brilliant idea for Winchester. It took a while to gain the self belief and quieten the doubts about starting a completely new venture but now the business has become my third child and it's given me a new passion for life!
WWD: What do you love about owning your own business?
Liz: Having complete autonomy over how I work, meeting so many lovely people. There's a wonderful network of business owners in Winchester and I'm loving getting to know them, helping each other out. I love meeting new customers, getting feedback direct from them about what they'd like to see in the shop. I love discovering new designers and being able to showcase them in the shop. I'm very passionate about supporting small, local and British designers / makers and I love seeing positive reactions from visitors when they see the products I've sourced. I'm enjoying the creative process of building up a shop that is also a welcoming, enjoyable experience for visitors.
WWD: Sounds like fun! Are there any aspects you find difficult?
Liz: I'm not a natural at marketing and I do have to push myself to get out there on social media. At the moment it's just me in the business and it's really hard work, sometimes overwhelmingly so. I doubt myself and my ability at times so I have to push myself out of my comfort zone a lot. Sourcing new products has been quite instinctual though so that side of it has been really easy for me.
WWD: Tell us a bit about your professional background?
Liz: I trained as a professional yacht skipper and did that for 15 years. Lots of racing, team-building, coaching. Loved it! Loved meeting new people, the social side of it, working as a team, the tactics, seeing people enjoy themselves. It gave me a huge amount of confidence - I was very shy and completely lacking in confidence before that! Alongside that, when the kids were little, I wasn't able to sail as much so I set up a cake business from home. I supplied cakes to Cadogan and James for 2 years, as well as making bespoke birthday cakes and running a few workshops teaching cake decorating skills.
WWD: Ah - now the Bake Off love makes even more sense! If you could only purchase one item from your shop, what would it be?
Liz: Oooh good question! At this time of year it would have to be one of the lovely lambswool scarves - they're super soft and snuggly!
(If those scarves sound as good to you as they do to me, here's the link: https://www.themantique.com/collections/scarves/products/lambswool-colour-block-scarf-navy-gold)
WWD: Why did you choose Winchester as your shop location?
Liz: It's such a lovely city where people really appreciate the independent shops. The people here appreciate good design and something a little different, it's great to be able to offer that outside of London.
WWD: The Mantique is a very striking name, what's behind it?
Liz: It's a boutique for men! It had to be welcoming and accessible for men to shop, but also for women too! I wanted it to have a sort of Gentleman's club feel about it.
WWD: What does The Mantique have coming up for Autumn?
Liz: Lots more clothing! When I first opened it was very much about the accessories and bags but over time, after talking to customers it's evolved to become gradually more and more about the clothing. I'll also be creating a much better changing area and hosting various events so watch this space!
WWD: That sounds very intriguing, we will keep our eyes peeled! Thank you so much for having us. Before we go, tell us, will there be any more The Mantique's popping up elsewhere?
Liz: Oooh definitely! I'm concentrating on developing my online presence and my own line of exclusive products first but yes, definitely!
You can visit The Mantique online here: https://www.themantique.com/ or if you're in Winchester pop along to Parchment Street.