A passion for fashion…

The TN card is the Tunbridge Wells loyalty scheme that rewards shoppers for supporting local. This month its founder Jess Gibson chats to Laura Foley at Belle Empire on Mount Ephraim about sustainable clothing, style and self-expression…


Laura, congratulations on the opening of Belle Empire boutique

Thank you. Belle Empire was born several years ago and has taken me through a variety of avenues but the aim has always been to enliven, heal and transform women’s lives, and to bring more pleasure and joy. Belle Empire sells vintage clothing, but it encompasses a lot more than that. I work as a femininity and sensuality coach, a transformational burlesque guide, and a glamour stylist and healer.  Belle Empire is also an events and workshop space.


What would you say is Belle Empire’s USP?

I believe when we stop trying to compete with others or fit in, that we come to a place where we can really discover who we are, what we like and begin to have a lot more fun with life. My hope is to encourage women to access the more playful and experimental side of themselves so they can feel liberated from what is expected of them as women in the modern-day world.


What led you to open the shop? 

I have been selling clothing and accessories for the last decade, mainly online and at pop-up events but the dream was always to have my own space from which I could sell my pieces and run workshops. Entering the boutique, its ambience and décor, its smells and sounds hopefully inspires customers to feel as though they have stepped away from the mundane of the day-to-day and be elevated to a more glamorous lifestyle.


What influences your own personal style?

I have loved and worn a huge variety of styles over the years. I feel most passionately about the late Edwardian era through to the 1920s – I love the feminine elegance of the period and the embellishments.  However, I also love floating about in a 1970s maxi dress on a summer’s day or slipping into a 1980s mini dress for some ‘va va voom’ on a night out! I think people should be led by their heart every day in how they dress and be open to experimenting with different styles. If we each have a small collection of accessories (a quick and inexpensive way to alter the look of an outfit) then we can step into a different style and personality as the fancy takes us.


Why do you love preloved clothing?

I love it because clothes are still being loved and worn, rather than discarded, forgotten about or sent to landfill. Some of my pieces have been around for a long while and their craftsmanship has stood the test of time – unlike much of today’s fast fashion. I love imagining what vintage clothes have seen in their past lives, I like to think they would all have wonderful stories to tell. Don’t be afraid to wear lovely clothes from the past, you’re adding to their story. Every hole, tear or mark is a little piece of history made.


How do you help women feel more confident in themselves?

I consider myself a healer because I guide women to a place of self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love. I consider glamour to be a healing modality because it brightens up what can be quite a dark and difficult world. The more we give ourselves permission to live and dress from the heart, the more we inspire others to do the same. And so, the joy and the beauty spreads!


Is Belle Empire an inclusive space?

Yes, it is very important that everyone feels welcome at Belle Empire, whatever their age, background or gender. I particularly enjoy encouraging women of a more advanced age to embrace the joy of dressing. I always say: “You should become MORE you as you get older, not less. Don’t let yourself become smaller and invisible.”


You have two beautiful private rooms at Belle Empire, what are these used for?

Yes, I use them to host workshops and events, such as women’s circles, talks with designers, burlesque classes, film screenings, photo shoots and much more. They can also be hired out.


Thank you for joining the TN card. How do you thank members for supporting local?

Thank you for having me on board! Members receive 15% off their purchases in the boutique.


Who: Belle Empire

Where: 43 Mount Ephraim, TN4 8AA

Reward: 10% off on purchases from our boutique.

For more info: thetncard.com/belle-empire 

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