Headline article image From a £3k loan to a multimillion-dollar brand

From a £3k loan to a multimillion-dollar brand

Naked Dresses founder Danielle Notaro explains how celebrities helped fuel her success.

Danielle Notaro shares her tips for building a fashion brand

  • Find your niche.

    Moving into the prom dress sector while other brands focused on party dresses helped the business grow.

  • Take opportunities.

    Reaching out to the high-profile women following Naked Dresses on social media led to more exposure.

  • Learn to say no.

    Stocking brands that offer exclusivity has been key for the business.

When Danielle Notaro first launched Naked Dresses in 2013, she would spend long evenings checking who was engaging with the brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

To her surprise, when the business was just under a year old, she noticed that American model Crystal Hefner had liked one of her pictures. “I have no idea how she would have seen us,” says Notaro of Hefner (who was Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s wife). “I took the initiative to message her online. We got into a conversation, and she asked for some of our dresses.”

So Notaro sent a package of dresses to the Playboy Mansion, and Hefner started wearing – and being photographed in – Naked Dresses. 

Other celebrities soon followed suit, and started ‘liking’ Naked Dresses’ posts, so Notaro reached out to them directly. Soon, she was sending dresses to well-known British celebrities, and reality television stars from Big Brother and The Only Way Is Essex.

"I wouldn’t have been able to pay for influencer marketing at the time."

- Danielle Notaro, Naked Dresses founder

“I was happy to post out dresses to people who are influential in fashion,” explains Notaro. “I wouldn’t have been able to pay for influencer marketing or advertising at the time and the visibility was key to phenomenal brand growth in a relatively short period of time,” she explains. 

And suddenly the business – which had started in Notaro’s home with a Facebook page and a small collection of party dresses that she sold locally from her lounge, and at dress parties she hosted at other people’s homes – was in demand nationally and internationally. 

 “Celebrities wanted the dresses for red carpet [events] and we were able to grow organically this way for quite some time because people genuinely loved and wanted the dresses, and could not find anything similar for their events.”

She believes the timing was lucky, as the Instagram-led influencer boom was just beginning. Her celebrity following and self-taught social media success also meant she didn’t need to invest in advertising until the business was five years old. 

From side hustle to success story

Notaro started Naked Dresses in 2013 as a way to build a career while also having flexibility to care for her one-year-old son.

“I’ve always had a love for party dresses and dressing up with my girlfriends, so I started to explore the idea of selling dresses I myself would love to wear but couldn’t easily find online or available for quick delivery,” she remembers. 

“I purchased my first batch of stock from China on a £3,000 credit card and it all began in my lounge. I had rails of dresses in my home and had girls from my local town all come to try on and buy dresses for their weekend or special night out. I also hosted dress parties, so people could try on and buy dresses from their own homes with their girlfriends.”

"I hosted dress parties, so people could try on dresses from their own homes with their girlfriends.”

- Danielle Notaro, Naked Dresses founder

She loved dressing up herself and creating that fun, memorable experience for other women while keeping low overheads by not paying rent on a shop. Her customers frequently posted the dresses they wore on Facebook, which helped generate interest and momentum.

The star factor 

But it was only when she started gaining a star following, with her dresses being worn by celebrities featured in magazines such as Hello! and OK!, that Naked Dresses became a mainstream brand. Press coverage with celebrity endorsement offered credibility and recognition to the brand and she’d frequently repost the coverage on her social media sites.

Picking the perfect name

She believes that her brand name, Naked Dresses, helped her stand out from the crowded fashion market immediately and was crucial to the business. “The name was risqué and memorable. It was perfect timing as ‘naked’ dresses, first worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1959, were gracing red carpets and were being worn by the likes of Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé. All the social handles were available to me and so it all just fell into place,” she says.

Offering a niche product

Notaro also believes that finding a niche in a crowded market is crucial to business success: “We evolved from party dresses to mainly prom dresses and evening gowns. This gave me a chance to have a niche and to gain market share, which was a good platform to build my customer base upon.” 

"Carving out a niche allowed me to gain market share.”

- Danielle Notaro, Naked Dresses founder

As the business has developed, she has started working with labels, including hard-to-find brands from Australia such as Abyss By Abby, Nookie and Portia & Scarlett. She is the only outlet for these brands in the UK. “Working to secure exclusivity with two key Australian brands initially was key to big stages of growth for Naked Dresses,” says Notaro, who points out that UK customers can buy Australian gowns from her site without having to deal with duties or shipping costs.

Setting the terms

As her business has expanded, she’s learnt to say no to brands that didn’t offer her UK exclusivity. Notaro also encourages them to become UK VAT registered so she has room to accommodate for returns and focus on growth. 

“It wasn't easy as not every brand I worked with understood how we needed to really work together very closely to make this happen in a big way,” she explains. “But I was able to demonstrate Naked Dresses’ selling power and growth and get more stock here in the UK.”

Keeping packaging inhouse

One of her biggest mistakes was moving to use a fulfilment centre to package and send orders out to customers. “Not having visibility of the stock and returns and how the dresses were going out to customers was one of the most stressful times of my life,” she says. “It didn’t work for Naked Dresses, so we now fulfil orders in-house and intend to keep it that way moving forward.” 

Party dresses in a pandemic

The pandemic was quiet: with no parties the demand for party dresses dropped off. Now a mother of three, Notaro was pregnant and took maternity leave for part of lockdown. She also worked on business strategy and took time out from the business to assess her brand strengths and weaknesses, and pinpoint new opportunities.

This downtime has paid off; since UK lockdowns have ended, Notaro has seen sales jump by 600 per cent, compared to pre-lockdown figures. “There’s been a huge momentum and our team has more than doubled in size from three of us pre-pandemic to eight employees now,” she says. The brand reached £1m turnover immediately after the pandemic and she expects a turnover of £2m by next year. 

While her marketing strategy continues to evolve, she still has never paid anyone to post pictures of themselves wearing Naked Dresses apparel. “If an influencer or celebrity stylist wants dresses for an event, we love to send them as a gift, if it works. I think because we’ve now been around for nine years, and worked with lots of stylists and people in the spotlight, Naked Dresses is known and trusted.” 

Over the next two to three years, she will be working with new brands to increase her range of dresses, including a second drop of Naked Dresses’ own label. She expects to move to a bigger warehouse to house her stock, and will also be focusing on improving her returns rate, which is something that concerns many online fashion brands.

"Being able to wear now and pay later has been key for many of my customers."

- Danielle Notaro, Naked Dresses founder

With 30 per cent of the brand’s sales going to international customers, with huge rises in the United States and United Arab Emirates (UAE) since the pandemic, she intends to expand further into these regions.

“We plan to increase our Google advertising and house stock ourselves in both those countries in the next two to three years. UAE same-day delivery is on the cards soon,” she says.  

She has found Clearpay invaluable to her business. “The price point of our product is a little higher since the pandemic, and being able to wear now and pay later has been key for many of my customers, allowing them to be able to afford that dream dress,” she explains.

She also believes that it has helped sales by association. “We have seen traffic come through from Clearpay [due to] being featured in the Clearpay directory,” she says.

All references to any registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Clearpay does not endorse or recommend any one particular supplier and the information provided is for educational purposes only.


Written by
Genevieve Roberts
Genevieve Roberts is a journalist and author. Photographs by Gareth Iwan Jones.
Back to access