Born and brought up in Glasgow, Ms Mone left school at 15 with no qualifications, and successfully found full-time employment at Labatt Brewers. By the age of 20 she was running their sales and marketing team, but became inspired to start her own business. Based upon her desire to invent a bra “more comfortable, more innovative, more attractive and more cleavage enhancing than any other bra on the market”, she set up MJM International in 1996.
Ms Mone says that her biggest challenge early on was securing finance, but that she took risks which eventually paid off. One bold move was to send one of her products (– a bra in her “Ultima” range) to the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts’ stylist. Her initiative paid off when Julia Roberts wore an Ultimo bra to enhance her cleavage in the film Erin Brockovich in 2000 – and this exposure [excuse the pun!] is what made Michelle Mone’s lingerie famous. While she has since gone from strength to strength, she has experienced the odd set-back along the way – such as the time when a distributor purloined £1.6m of her money. She regards such incidents as part of the learning process, however; and in this instance she has put procedures in place to prevent any misappropriations from occurring again. Ever optimistic she states, “The best piece of advice is always to think of plan B in case plan A fails, and kick in with plan B as soon as you think it’s failing. Don’t be scared of changing your mind – go with your instinct.”
Over the years MJM International has created a number of brands in addition to Ultimo; and has supplied retailers including Selfridges, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda, Next, Figleaves, MaxCleavage and ASOS, along with a number of independent lingerie stores across Europe. It has also developed a range of worldwide patented inventions including the Ultimo Miracle backless body. In 2009 Ultimo became the first UK lingerie brand to debut on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week and several in-shop boutiques within Debenhams in key cities across the UK.
In addition, MJM has developed partner lines with Tesco, Asda and Debenhams. Ms Mone says, “You’ve got to decide why each retail partner would want your product. We don’t give every partner the same things. It has to be individual and give them a unique selling point. You have to treat each retailer individually, and listen to their needs.”
Michelle Mone has received a large number of awards and accolades over the years, including an Honorary Doctorate degree by Paisley University in 2002. In 2005 she attended a speaking engagement with former US president Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, and went on to support the Sultan of Oman in setting up a women’s enterprise project in the Middle East. She has even received an OBE by the Queen for her contribution to business in 2010.
Michelle Mone declares, “I’m not the typical businesswoman in a pin-stripe suit; I dress the way I want to dress. If you want to be glamorous, then why not! Walking into a meeting well groomed, with your lipstick on and high heels, makes you feel good. I use my femininity to its full effect!”