Thu, 02 May 2019
Returning to the area where she went to school was never in the plan for Caroline Dallas.
But a chance glance at a cottage in Marlborough has seen the 40-year-old mother-of-two come full circle – via London and South Africa.
Making life-changing decisions is not something Caroline has ever been afraid to do, which is why she now finds herself living her dream at the helm of Luna Boutiques’ four shops.
Growing up in Herefordshire, she went to Downe House school in Cold Ash and then studied politics at Newcastle University.
After graduating, Caroline moved to London to start her first job, which was in recruitment.
“I got fired because I wouldn’t toe the line,” she admits. “I found it very ageist and I don’t think age is relevant.
“That was the beginning of knowing I would eventually have to do my own thing.
“While I was in that job I had booked a holiday to Cape Town, so I still went.
“I met people out there and they said ‘stay here, you don’t have a job to go back to’. So I stayed and worked in a beach bar for six months.
“I had a great time; it was amazing.”
After her stint in the bar, Caroline got a job in the film industry, working in the art department and driving cars on set.
It was at this time that she also discovered outdoor parties, “dancing under the stars”.
One day she says she was “thrown on the decks” at an after-party and found it was something she was quite good at. She quickly started getting asked to DJ at parties and festivals.
“It was a great life and I had a blast,” she remembers.
“But I knew it was something for when I was young and I would have to do something else eventually.”
I love my job so much.
It is my passion;
it is my life and we are nearly there now
So after four years abroad, in 2004, Caroline returned to the UK and moved back to London. It was here that she met her husband.
“We soon realised we needed to move out of London and settle down,” she says.
“One day we went for a drive around and ended up stopping for lunch in Marlborough.
“We saw a cottage and decided to move there that day. We went back to London, packed up and moved out.”
She describes the next year as “a very carefree, idyllic, basic life”, but says that within a year she felt a “need to regroup and get some skills back”.
She began a bookkeeping course at Swindon College.
Her next job was business development for a company that sent water testing kits to the Third World.
Shortly after starting there the company told Caroline she was being signed up for a masters degree in water engineering.
It wasn’t what she was expecting of the job, but she describes the experience as “great; something I could really get my teeth into”.
“I am essentially a humanitarian though and the company was then taken over by a very sales-driven manager and I didn’t see it as a sales-based industry,” she explains.
“I found myself falling out of love with the job because of principles and so I was back wondering what I would do.”
It was a realisation that the feelings she used to get on the dancefloor had never really left her that took Caroline in the next direction, at the end of 2011.
“I wanted to find a way to get that feeling back without being out in a field at a festival at 4am,” she adds.
“I was chatting to a friend who had had a clothes shop before and we decided to open a shop together.
“I took a little lease on a shop in Marlborough and I got a credit card and we went and bought stock.”
Luna Boutiques was born.
Unfortunately the union with her friend didn’t last long and, the day that they opened a second shop in Hungerford, in March 2012, Caroline found herself solely in charge of the business.
“It was sink or swim,” she admits. “I was still quite new to the area, but I managed to find friends to help out in the shops and whatever money I made that week I would take to London on the Sunday and buy new stock. We kept doing that until I found my way and we grew out of it.
“I fell pregnant at that time too. It was all insane when I look back now, but from that I found my thing.
“I found that magic of the dancefloor.”
Things haven’t been plain sailing since then but, chatting to Caroline, you can tell that any bump in the road is taken as a new challenge and has only made her stronger and more focussed.
Having opened her third shop in Newbury’s Parkway in November 2014, Caroline then faced her biggest challenge.
While pregnant with her second child, and just as her toddler son was about to undergo a cochlear implant, the Hungerford store flooded.
This led to the panic opening of a pop-up store in Devizes in a bid to sell the full summer stock that had been waiting to go out.
It was a huge success and Caroline decided to open a permanent shop there – it is her most successful branch to this day.
Four stores and 16 members of staff is now enough for the businesswoman, who lives in Newbury with her husband and two children, but not one to just sit back and relax, Caroline continues to find other ways to grow.
She has recently undertaken a colours and styling course and is now offering the service from a new studio opposite the Newbury shop.
She is also launching her own label belts and bags this year, having been out to India to find a manufacturer. She hopes to bring out a whole range of clothing next year.
“I love my job so much,” adds Caroline.
“It is my passion; it is my life and we are nearly there now.
“We are always non-judgemental and everyone is welcome and I think that is why we have grown.
“We respond to the weather; any situation and that keeps things so alive. But we can never rest on our laurels.
“I don’t have a background in fashion, but I have a background in listening to people.”
And it is that skill that will keep the customers coming – and keep Caroline, and Luna Boutiques, such a welcoming breath of fresh air.