Helen Venables On How Colour Stopped Her Depression

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Discovering what colours and styles suited Helen Venables was a pivotal moment for her, helping her to breakthrough and recover from post-natal depression and start a new career with House of Colour, the colour analysis consultants and personal stylists.

Fuelled by the desire to help other people make life-affirming changes in their lives, Helen accelerated through the ranks of House of Colour to her current position of Managing Director. She now heads a growing franchise of over 100 personal stylists in the UK alone and is looking to create up to 100 new stylist jobs in the next five years in this country, as well as continue with the exceptional growth in the US.

So how does someone who thought she wasn’t intelligent and who “switched off academically”, and whose fashion work experience comprised selling handbags in John Lewis, reach the heights of Managing Director of a burgeoning company whose UK franchisee revenues are up 12% on last year despite the current economic climate?

As a teenager, Helen embraced the rebellious 1970s glam rock, David Bowie androgyny, complete with metallic stars and bright green eyeshadow.  Her favourite outfit was brown cord flares, a velvet jacket and a chocolate brown fedora hat, which was known to leave her father speechless. Helen describes her father as being disappointed when she got 98% in tests which ultimately resulted in her switching off academically, rebelling and in her words “completely wasting the opportunity of attending an outstanding girls’ school in London.” But what she didn’t know at the time was she had already stumbled across her style personality known in House of Colour as a ‘natural classic’.

Helen’s early working life was at John Lewis selling handbags, but she was noticed for being bright and quickly moved into training and HR.  “From a young age I learnt to be independent, energetic and to take opportunities offered.”  Helen then married her first husband when she was 19 years old, moved to Watford because it was “the only place we could afford to buy a house” and started a family at 22 whilst being involved in leading women’s groups and founding a charity to help teaching in schools.

However, after the birth of her third child, Helen experienced crippling post-natal depression leaving her unable to get out of bed in the morning. Coming to her aid, a good friend recommended ‘getting her colours done’ at House of Colour. This was to be a transformational and confidence boosting lightbulb moment for Helen at a time when she needed it most. She discovered she was a spring palette suiting warm, bright colours, and threw out the entirety of her fuchsia pink, black and dark navy wardrobe and armed with her new knowledge, replaced them with mostly treasured finds from charity shops seeking out clothes in turquoise, geranium and Oxford blue.

“This ‘wow’ moment acted like a switch for me.  I had been really quite ill with post-natal depression and couldn’t relate to myself in any way. I had completely lost my way. My consultation helped my recovery because I could see the person I knew I had once been and I felt exactly what House of Colour clients experience now. Colours are far more powerful to our mood and how we see ourselves than we fully understand, and wearing the right colours can be incredibly confidence building

“I then went on to do a style session and learnt style is not only about dressing your body shape, by understanding proportion, balance, architecture but also our personality. We can reflect that through pattern, texture, cut, accessories and detail and together this results in who you are being expressed visually. We often see that lightbulb moment in our clients and sometimes the results produce some very happy tears.”

Two years after her initial consultation, with renewed confidence Helen became a stylist too. Within four years she had joined the training team, become a regional manager and two years later Franchise Director, recruiting new image consultants. In 2012, Helen became the Managing Director of House of Colour, and the business is expanding and flourishing under her management and she is soon to celebrate her 60th birthday after 20 years with House of Colour.

Established in 1985, Helen and her co-directors (all personal stylists themselves) have successfully moved the business from the 1980s image consultant to contemporary, entrepreneurial colour and style consultants.  In the last 12 months House of Colour has attracted 18 new franchisees in the UK and 13 in USA alone. New makeup products have been launched this year adding to the already 250 seasonal-orientated line and they have several strategic alliances including a new one with Park Lane Jewellery secured.

When asked what she sees as the future for the fashion industry, Helen said: “It’s going to be really interesting.  Digital has completely disrupted the fashion industry. The consumer has so much power – we can rate, deliver the next day, review and choose whatever we want at the click of a button. Powerful e-commerce platforms are the only way to go.”

As for the future of House of Colour, “I want us to be known for changing lives, building confidence and revolutionising people’s approach to creating an eco-friendlier capsule wardrobe. We want the brand to use our powerful voice to talk against fast fashion and for protecting the environment. We advise our clients to buy less and to buy as good quality items as they can afford so that they last and feel wonderful and can be worn time and time again.”

“For me personally every day is different, and it is fulfilling and a huge privilege to help our clients go through powerful transformations.  I have the opportunity to recruit and coach new consultants to make this incredible company even better in the future.”

Helen and her dad ended up being very close and he was incredibly proud of his daughter whose success was probably based on being a bit of a rebel, her passion to lead people to change and her personable, enterprising nature. He died before he saw her become Managing Director, but ‘That’s ok too’, she said.

Helen’s top style tips are:

  • Focus on the foundations – buy the best underwear you can afford.  The right bra and knickers can make or break any outfit.
  • Once you know your best colours its really easy to create impact.  Choose any three colours from the colour palette that suits you to make a statement and show intent. Make sure you are wearing the right colour jewellery – warm colours for Autumns and Springs including golds, and cool colours for Winters and Summer including silvers. 
  • Go shopping in your wardrobe. Try items on together you didn’t buy together.  If your clothes are in your right colours and styles you can create a spectrum of outfits you didn’t know you had.

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