Michelle Berkins talks about her journey into fashion and textiles that has led to her owning one of the most stylish and glamorous ladieswear shops in the North West, writes Gail Bailey. Photography: TVPAV.com
Experience, hard work and determination have been the drivers behind Michelle Berkins’ success, who had a 25-year career in textiles before opening the doors of her award-winning ladieswear shop michelle b in Barrowford in 2005.
Lancashire born Michelle began a career at Albert Hartley’s Barnoldswick, as a silk screen separation artist. After 10 years she moved within the group to Dorma in Swinton, Manchester: “Being a separation artist gave me a skill that people are less likely to get now – the process is done by computer – recognising quality in fabrics purely by touch.”
Within the Dorma Group Michelle led the department and became more involved in design and sales for home textiles, working with leading stores and in particular Marks & Spencer.
She recalls: “As my role developed further into design, I began to work directly with designers such as Jeff Banks and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. Upon design selection we would then develop it across the range of fabric products.”
Michelle travelled far and wide to places such as India, Italy, Austria and Turkey but, once married, decided it was time to find more of a work-life balance: “I knew I wanted a career, as I had always had one,” Michelle says.
“I was destined to open my own business but couldn’t decide between fashion or interiors, I just knew I wanted to use my creative skills and use my knowledge of colour and fabrics. In the end my husband made the decision for me! He acquired the post office and newsagents premises in Barrowford. We spent 12 months transforming the building and have never looked back since opening michelle b.”
Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years ago has not stopped Michelle – if anything it has made her even more determined and dedicated: “I had always dreamed of having my own business and my illness won’t stop me working – if anything, it helps to give me even more of a purpose.”
Michelle and her team offer a very bespoke service and she credits this with their success: “The business has evolved and grown over the years and most of this is down to the very individual service we offer along with a fabulously loyal clientele,” Michelle explains. “Not everyone enjoys shopping, so we ensure that we make coming to our store a very personal experience. We give lots of time, we’re patient and ensuring people are completely at ease is paramount to what we offer.”
The team know some of their customers so well they put a personal rail together before they arrive, which showcases some of the garments and mixed branding that they know will appeal.
Michelle speaks highly of the team she has around her who all share her philosophy, honesty and approach to the retail experience they give to all their customers: “We have new brands coming into the shop and it is an exciting time for us all,” she says.
Along with her husband Kevin, owner of the Fence Gate, Fence Gate Lodge and the Eagle at Barrow, Michelle has the continued support of another family member – Betty her faithful Norfolk Terrier. “Betty is in the shop and comes everywhere with me, even to visit design companies,” Michelle says.
“Our clients can come in with their husband, partner, children or even their dog – it’s not a problem. Our mission is always to go out of our way to make everyone feel welcome.”
And after spending time with Michelle, and hearing her story, this is definitely a true reflection of her outlook and approach to both life and work.