From the outside her life looked perfect, but behind the scenes Charlotte-Anne Fidler’s world was crumbling. And that’s when survival mode kicked in.
Charlotte-Anne Fidler’s life today is a world away from her old one, which saw her rubbing shoulders with celebrities in her job as a glossy magazine editor.
‘Recently, I was running a stall at a local school fair, selling my skincare and hair range, casually dressed, hair tied back. I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought how different my life is compared to my years wearing Prada and flying to exotic locations for photo shoots with some of the world’s most famous women,’ smiles the mother of two. ‘These days you’re more likely to find me unpacking boxes, visiting my manufacturer in Somerset or packing customer orders late at night. It’s less glamorous, but I’ve never felt more grounded or satisfied.’
What makes Charlotte-Anne’s story of entrepreneurism stand out from the crowd is the fact her business, Spots & Stripes – a range of natural products for eight- to 18-year-olds – was born out of the most devastating time in her life. In late 2016, her husband of 17 years announced he was leaving her and their daughters Anouk, now 16, and Bo, 11. ‘I was completely blindsided. I believed our marriage was happy, so it came as a huge shock,’ she says. ‘We’d been a couple for 23 years; I didn’t know a life without him and he was my best friend. I felt an overwhelming desperation to save our marriage for the girls’ sake, to protect them from their world falling apart. But I couldn’t, and after Christmas that year he moved out.’
Five years previously, in 2011, the family had relocated from London to rural Wiltshire, and after two years of commuting to her magazine job in the city, Charlotte-Anne went freelance in order to spend more time at her 17th-century five-bedroom home. ‘We’d moved for the rural dream, and for this gorgeous house, but I was never there. So, after 23 years working for the likes of Vogue, Elle and Glamour, I stepped back to work from home and enjoy our life here.’
A keen Instagrammer, Charlotte-Anne had built a following (currently 73,000), posting images of her stunning home, its gardens and her children. ‘By the beginning of 2017, I was single, living with my daughters and trying to come to terms with what had happened. I’m not a wallower and I kept going – working, looking after Anouk and Bo, and beginning the awful process of divorcing. I went to bed every night scared and woke up every morning scared. I felt I’d lost control of my life because of a decision I hadn’t made. My weight dropped to seven stone because I was running on adrenalin.
‘Instagram followers would comment on my photos, “Your life is a fairytale”, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. They had no idea what the girls and I were dealing with behind the doors of my home. I’m naturally a private person and I didn’t feel ready to share; I hated the idea of people feeling sorry for me.’
In April 2017, Charlotte-Anne’s estranged husband dropped another bombshell. ‘He wanted to sell our family home. My immediate reaction was, no, I’m not allowing that. This house represents my dreams, hard work, the time I spent away from my children to earn my salary. It is their home, and the place where we feel safe. I felt so fired up, adamant I may have lost my marriage but I wasn’t losing this house.’
Realising she needed to generate a bigger income that would allow her to buy her husband out of the property, Charlotte-Anne considered her options. ‘The media landscape had changed so dramatically I knew I couldn’t return to my old, well-paid magazine career. Those jobs didn’t exist any more,’ she says. For a couple of years, a concept had been germinating in her mind, but it was her quest to save her home that would see it become a reality.
‘In 2015 I’d had the idea for a skin and hair range for tweens. I’d always used natural products on the girls when they were little, but when Anouk reached the age of ten, I realised there was a gap in the market for chemical-free products such as deodorant and body wash, packaged in a way that would appeal to children her age,’ she says. ‘I went so far as to create a mini-presentation of my ideas, and even meet a botanist and manufacturers, but I never committed to it. I was busy freelancing, I had a happy family life at that time and the idea of investing my own money into a business I knew little about was too daunting.’
Until 2017 when, buoyed by determination to hang on to her home, Charlotte-Anne decided to resurrect her idea and make it a reality. ‘I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and that gave me the courage to take a risk. I didn’t have that bravery before because I didn’t need it; I had a safe life. Around that time, I shared with my Instagram followers what was going on in my life, and was overwhelmed by support and solidarity. It was a side of social media we don’t often see; I feel fortunate to have experienced it.’
Using her beauty industry contacts, Charlotte-Anne was introduced to a Somerset-based manufacturer who produces a number of natural brands. ‘We spent eight months researching and developing a range of nine products, including shampoo and cleansing lotion, with me using my daughters and their friends for feedback,’ says Charlotte-Anne. ‘My aim was to create products that looked great, were effective and helped tweens and teens get through those tricky years of puberty, especially when today’s image-obsessed world is so tough for them. During those months, developing the range was my salvation. I’d sit with my manufacturer, drinking tea and eating biscuits as we sniffed lovely ingredients, and it was cathartic to feel proactive. I’d leave our meetings on a high because I knew I was creating a new future for the girls and myself.’
In December 2017, Charlotte-Anne placed her first order, investing a significant chunk of her savings. ‘It was scary but exhilarating. All the feedback I’d had – from kids, parents, industry experts – was positive.’ After developing her website, online shop and dedicated Instagram account for Spots & Stripes, in September 2018 the range went on sale. Since then the business has gone from strength to strength.
‘I have zero marketing budget so social media has been incredibly important – not only my accounts, but those of other parents with followings. With their help and positive reviews, the profile of the brand has grown. And we’ve won a number of awards, including Best Skincare Product for Teens at the Beauty Shortlist Awards. Most sales come via the website but I also have some stockists and I sell directly at local fairs and events. Anouk helped me at a recent one and as we were packing up, she said, “Mummy, I’m so proud of you. You’re amazing.” I felt very emotional.
‘I don’t think I’m amazing; I’m just a woman who is surviving and doing her best, but despite everything, being a positive role model for them has been at the forefront of my mind. On the rare occasion I’ve cried in front of them, I’ve seen how helpless they feel. I would rather they see me as resilient and determined to create something positive out of such a difficult time. We’re still living in our home and although that side of things hasn’t been resolved yet, I am hopeful and as determined as ever.’
Charlotte-Anne still finds time to maintain her own Instagram account, @charlotte_annefidler, and recently heard of a celebrity follower. ‘Word reached me via a friend that Nicole Kidman is a fan, which is thrilling! I plan to send her some products for her daughters.’
Three years on from the end of her marriage – the trigger for her life-changing journey – does Charlotte-Anne feel she has changed as a person? ‘Hugely. So much of my identity was wrapped up in my relationship, and when that was taken away, I lost a part of who I was. In building Spots & Stripes, I have rebuilt myself and forged a new identity. I believe in myself again and I know I am braver than I ever imagined. It has been a revelation.
Find out more at spots-and-stripes.com