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Sister Act: going into business

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From Lily and Sarah to Sienna and Savannah, sister businesses are booming. But what is it really like to work with a sibling? Tamsin Davis, 32, runs ethical womenswear label Nancy Dee (www.nancydee.co.uk) with her sister Seraphina, 28.

It was in 2007 that we first thought about going into business together. I’d finished my second degree and was looking for work; Seraphina was at make-or-break point with her designing.

We finally launched Nancy Dee in May 2008 and within our first year had a major argument at a trade show in Paris. There was screaming and slammed doors, enough to make us rethink the whole idea of working together. That was a defining moment, because we managed to talk it through and decide that an argument of that magnitude was never going to happen to us again. We properly grew up in each other’s eyes – we were no longer playing the roles of big sister, little sister, but saw each other as partners in an idea that we both wanted very strongly to work.

As close sisters, we’ve always known exactly which buttons to press to have an effect. But there was a moment of clarity during that trip to Paris - knowing what those vulnerable points are means it’s therefore possible to avoid pressing them in the first place.

We have very strong characters and inevitably disagree

We both have very strong characters and inevitably disagree on things – we’re passionate about what we do. But once we realised that we’re basically working for the common good of our company, an argument suddenly seems counter-productive. We understand each other so much better now, and are able to discuss everything.

We’ve learnt that because we are very different personalities, we are better suited to different tasks in the business. So Seraphina sticks to the designing whilst I concentrate on the business side.

The thing about being sisters in business is that you have such a massive shared history – we understand instinctively references and ideas that would have to be explained to other people.

Fashion is a tough business to crack and I’m so glad we have each other to share the painful parts, as well as the success. When we first started out we had to traipse round boutiques in different cities, turning up unannounced with a suitcase of clothes to speak to a buyer. I couldn’t have coped with the many rejections and rude comments if I had to do it alone.

Likewise, being able to toast our successes together, like our very first boutique order, is really brilliant.

I think working together as sisters requires an instinctive understanding of the other person, and ultimately comes down to trust - and I trust Seraphina completely.

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