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essence fashion

EX CL USIVE WITH THE FASHIONISTA OF Q UESTA Celebrating 25 years of success Louise Alexander-O’Loughlin talks to Amanda Cook, owner

of Questa, the popular and well-established Cobham ladies’ fashion boutique, about celebrating its 25th anniversary. They discuss

how it all began, her incredibly close family unit, dealing with the tragic loss of her brother, Jonathan, and keeping his legacy alive, whilst looking forward to another 25 years.

So how did it all begin? Take me back in time... Well, in 1979 my amazing mother, Janet, opened up next door with a range of ladies’ occasionwear. It was a huge success and soon the shop was literally overflowing with clothes and clients, so she bought our current premises to expand her business, and my brother Jonathan and I were brought on board to run the shop we are in today.

Did you and Jonathan bring your own ideas about what you wanted? Yes, Mum welcomed change, and Jonathan and I wanted to offer more casual wear from some of the top designers. We had already established that’s what our clients were looking for, so we ploughed ahead to meet their needs.

Clearly Questa continues to be a huge success, outliving many boutiques in Cobham – what’s your secret? I think it’s because we know what our customers want. We have had the same clients for over twenty years now, and even when we are buying we think: “Mrs Smith [or whoever] would love that!” It’s just a warm and welcoming environment.

Did you both have experience in fashion before your mother let you get your hands on Questa? Yes, Jonathan worked in Harrods’ menswear and with other retailers, and I left school and did a management course at Bentalls. Then I decided to start up a business with a good friend of mine selling ladies’ clothes at parties.

I suppose you’ve clearly always had a passion for the fashion industry? You could say that: my girlfriend and I even sold our cars to raise money for our little enterprise!

When you started, you had just had your children, Francesca and Alex, thirteen months apart from each other – how did you make time? I did a lot from home, up until they went to school, but I was always there working with Jonathan, buying and steering the business with him, but you could say he pretty much ran the shop during those years.

Tell me about the team. They are all amazing – truly amazing – I don’t know what I would do without them. They all bring different qualities to the world of Questa. June worked with Mum next door and I interviewed her to work in Questa. Really thinking about it now, she was the first person I had ever interviewed in my life, I was terrified! Jenny, June, Betina and Annie are my extended family. They’ve all been working at Questa for over 50 years collectively, and it’s just lovely to know that the customers are all comfortable with each of them.

The thing I personally love about your team is that they won’t tell you something looks fabulous when it clearly looks rubbish! Yes, we are all very honest – and want our customers to enjoy their shopping

experience and to leave the shop looking and feeling great.

I know they were incredibly supportive during the time of Jonathan’s tragic death four years ago. Absolutely, they were amazing, it was just the most terrible time and I still find it hard to talk about, I think I always will – my mother’s world collapsed and mine too. The team and their support really did pick us back up.

Jonathan would be proud that you picked yourselves up – he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way – you are realising his dreams. Well yes, his spirit keeps us going too. He was so upbeat about everything, but saying that, I have actually let him down with regard to Questa’s online shopping. 29


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