Why I started Midlife Chic – my story

Hi, I’m Nikki Garnett, I’m 53 and I live near the Lake District in the North West of England. I’m married with 3 sons aged 23, 19 and 17, 2 cats and a dog called Teddy. My husband and I run a small creative agency and I juggle an ever churning washing machine filled with muddy rugby kits with an ever churning brain filled with marketing strategies and do my best never to get the 2 mixed up.

A little bit of background

Like many women my age, I have a sense of ‘once I was…’ because for 9 years (in my pre-children days) I was a head of marketing at Selfridges with a particular role as editor of their customer magazines. I don’t need to tell you that being editor of Selfridges magazine was a fabulous job. Every day was different and I worked with fabulous (often famous but then not always so fabulous) people and gorgeous products in wonderful places. Every month I planned the content for a new issue, choosing what to shoot and what to write about. The world’s biggest brands were at my fingertips along with the incredible in store team and all of their fashion tips and wisdom. One of my lightbulb moments a few months into the job was learning that money does not buy style. In fact many, although not all, of the big designer brands are formed from marketing ‘puff’ and little else. The quality of their clothing is no better than top end high street such as Hobbs or LK Bennett. They simply make a strategic choice to sell fewer clothes at a higher margin. A wonderful buyer that I worked with taught me that clothes are like diamonds – it’s all about the Cs but rather than clarity and carat you’re looking for cloth, cut and colour. You can imagine what heady days they were – not only did we have a 35% discount but we also had access to the sales before they even began along with samples sent over for shoots that PRs didn’t require us to return. And of course every day I would receive at least 3 deliveries of bags groaning with cosmetics and goodies from the beauty companies. Style in those days was a no brainer. Like a good career girl, when my first son came along I took maternity leave but then returned to work, took another promotion and learned how to juggle magazine deadlines and overseas shoots with nursery fees and pickup times. But although the glamour stakes were rising even higher my heart wasn’t really in it anymore. I left it at home with the little boy with the big brown eyes who I said goodbye to at the breakfast table each morning and saw just in time for a bedtime story at night. When I found myself slurping the brine off a jar of olives (anyone else have that craving?) and realised that I was expecting another baby, I knew that it was time to quit. It was hard to leave a magazine that I’d launched and managed for 9 years so with the help of my very supportive marketing director, we decided to move customer communication online and closed the magazine down. It was hard. Selfridges had been my life. I’d been part of the team that had taken it from being a dusty old department store to being something truly global and exciting. Along with all the lovely merchandise, I’d found my lovely husband there and, as head of the creative studio, he would be remaining part of it after I went.

New beginnings

It was a really strange time after I left. I had my second son and 2 weeks later my eldest started primary school and most days my goal was to get back through the front door after school drop offs without anyone seeing me cry. It was such a culture shock going from the high octane excitement of publishing a magazine at the top of Selfridges to being a new full time Mum in a playground. I completely and utterly lost my sense of identity. None of my clothes were right – even if I could have got back into them. I didn’t know how to talk to mums who’d spent the last 5 years at home with their little ones, I just wasn’t on that wavelength and I felt so very, very guilty and aware of everything that I’d missed doing with my first beloved boy. We lived in Surbiton because it had been an easy place to commute from and now I didn’t know why we were there. It’s a great place if you’re only at home in the evenings and at weekends but otherwise it’s a hard place to belong. I found that we were in a ghetto of people like us, everyone we knew was a middle class professional the same age as us and starting a family. I wanted the boys to grow up knowing crazy old ladies and kind men with dogs who were known and accepted as a part of their everyday life. To top it all the battle about whether they were having a bath or a ‘barth’ every night was exhausting. Anyway these things always work out – as we know because we’re wise and over 40. A few months after we left the Westons took over Selfridges and everything changed. Our friends and colleagues cleared out and my husband decided it was time for a change. We took the brave move to set up our own marketing and creative agency, gained some great clients thanks to friends who had moved to high places and began working on brands ranging from New Look through to John Lewis, M&S and Harrods. Somehow I managed to fit in another son but I still had the feeling that something was missing. That something was the North – as the saying goes ‘you can take a girl out of the North but…’

How we ended up in the North

So, as if life wasn’t full enough we ripped our little family and baby business up by the roots and transplanted it to a very dilapidated old Georgian House with a view of the sea and the lakes. Plus ca change – whether it was a good idea or not we’ll never know because I’ll never know how life would have turned out if we’d stayed South. The bad thing was that many of our exciting retail clients couldn’t cope with an agency without a London postcode, also the nearest decent retail therapy is in Manchester which is an hour’s drive away. The good things have been the huge choice of outstanding state schools for the boys, the fresh air, the down to earth people (including crazy old ladies and kind old men with dogs), the house that we could never have afforded down there and the friends that we wouldn’t otherwise have made. I’ve been able to keep my career going on my own terms – I’m at home for the boys every night when they get back from school.

How I lost my style mojo

Trying to pin down exactly when it happened reminds me of being a teenager and agonising over when a relationship started to go wrong. I think it began when I stopped working and I wanted to fit in with the playground. I remember going to pick my son up on one of his first days and it was raining so I popped on a Burberry mac with matching hat. It was a state school and as I was walking through the gate one of my neighbours tactfully pulled me aside and told me that I wouldn’t get on very well if I dressed like that. It was true, as I stood outside his classroom I was aware of women glaring at me. From that day on I dressed down. On top of this in the North it rains all the time so you tend to wear a lot of sensible Berghaus type stuff. After my third baby I somehow didn’t lose the last stone and of course having no shops you rely on mail order so everyone who wants to look ‘nice’ depends on Boden. I have nothing against Boden, in fact I am eternally grateful to Johnnie for getting me through the last exhausting 12 years of being a mum at home. However it’s never a good thing when you walk out of the door and everyone knows what season you’re wearing and how much it cost.

Five years on

Which brings us to 2019. After four years of writing Midlifechic I can honestly say that I had no idea of the joy that it would bring me. Here we have an active community of over 45,000 women who read each post. There’s lots of interaction that goes on and readers have built friendships both with me and with each other. Our core conversations are always about style but often we move on to other topics too, discussing life with teens, travel, and both the physical and emotional factors that menopause brings.

Midlifechic has taken me to all sorts of exciting places including Kensington Palace, Chelsea Flower Show, London, Paris and Transylvania. It has opened up opportunities for me to work with brands behind the scenes, helping them to develop their ranges with midlifers in mind.

The best part of it though is waking up to an email from a new readers telling me that she has found hope, laughter and reassurance in this midlife world that we have created. After all, a blog is only as good as the community that grows around it.

So I thank you for reading my blog. I believe there has never been a better time to be a midlife woman. We are forging a whole new way of approaching midlife and it’s up to us to change society’s view of who we are and what we stand for. We need to show them that we’re not dead yet. Exciting times lie ahead for us, I hope you’ll stay and join us as we blaze the trail!

How Midlifechic began

So, even though I was running a business, raising 3 boys and coming to the end of a long house renovation project, I still felt as though something was missing in my life. Increasingly I found myself looking around, asking myself “what now?” Suddenly I had a little more time for myself. My parents had gone and the boys were increasingly absorbed in their own lives.

I was ready to spend more (non work) time with my husband and also to put more hours into steering my job in interesting directions. To do this I needed to feel and look the part. I dug out all my old styling skills from Selfridges and began a self-renovation project. I decided to share my journey online and Midlifechic was born on 4th February, 2014.