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After spending 15 years in fashion retail, Alex Morris is heading a new type of marketing business, Plainsight Consultancy

At the young age of 22, Alex Morris started her own fashion retail business. Italian-born, she had only come to England to practise her English on a year out, but stayed to study theology at Manchester University and ended up working part-time in a fashion boutique in Nantwich during her final year. It was here that the idea for her business was born. ‘I didn’t have any qualification to do what I was doing apart from being Italian,’ she laughs.

Working in the clothes shop was Alex’s first job. ‘My dad being a southern Italian was quite old-fashioned,’ she explains, ‘There was no chance of getting any work before that.’ She grew up in Livorno, Tuscany, with her half-Swiss, half-Swedish mother and her father, who was from a small island off Naples.

After finishing her degree in Manchester, she moved to the North East with her husband (they have since separated) in 1997, and 17 years later is still here in the North East, which she says feels like home: ‘I think the Geordies are quite similar in temperament to the Italians, quite friendly and loud and brash.’

Alex ran her fashion boutique, Eden, for more than 10 years. She started it in Hexham then moved to Jesmond and at one point had three stores and more than 20 people working for her. But the retail crisis and recession hit at the same time as the break up of her marriage, and she also had a good offer to vacate the unit the business was in. ‘It was a good time for me to make a move,’ she explains.

After a decade of self-employment, Alex found herself in need of a job. ‘I had this dream that I wanted to be the next Mary Portas,’ she says. ‘When I had the shop I had been approached by Mary Portas to be on her programme, but didn’t think I needed it,’ she laughs. She spent a year as a consultant at a small company, helping them set up a retail concept. ‘That was really fulfilling,’ she recalls, ‘I got to use everything I knew to help someone else set up their business.’ After that she spent some time at Jules B, and again was able to use her own experience to help the business develop.

At this point Alex knew she wanted to run her own business again, and decided to do an MA in Media and Cultural Studies at Sunderland University to give some formal endorsement to her experience, ‘I had been in retail for 15 years but I had a degree in theology.’ Alex describes trying to juggle two children, full-time work and an MA as a rollercoaster, but her extremely organised personalilty seems to be her saviour. ‘My diary is ridiculous, it’s all colour co-ordinated, but I think it’s the only way,’ she says.

Alex’s new venture, Plainsight Consultancy, is a marketing company, but more of a network than a traditional, formal agency. Alex works with clients to plan their strategy, then brings together a team of expert freelancers from her network to put the plans into action. ‘As an individual freelancer there’s very little you can do, you can only ever deliver a chunk of a project,’ she explains, ‘We’ve put all the resources together, and as a team there’s nothing we can’t deliver.’ Between them, Plainsight can create television adverts, print adverts, websites, 3D animations, musical compositions, images and more. ‘You get the best of everything, but because we’re all freelancers and we don’t have big offices to pay for we tend to be able to deliver the same if not better quality of work as some of the big agencies for a fraction of the price,’ Alex enthuses.

After spending so long running her own business, Alex loves to see the difference her work can make to other people’s businesses. ‘I do get very emotionally involved,’ she says. She finds that people often get so wrapped up in their own business that they can’t see it clearly any more, and she tries to pull people back so they can see what needs to be done. ‘I’m living out my dream,’ she smiles, ‘Mary Portas is a brand and marketing consultant, so without realising I’ve ended up exactly where I wanted to be.’

Published in: April 2014

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