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The Independent Culture
Four years ago, aged 24, Christian Rucker decided to get out of magazines and start her own business. Today she owns The White Company, a specialist mail order company which now has a turnover of pounds 3m. Christian was nominated for the 1997 Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award.

At school I was sure I was going to be a famous fashion designer so I left at 16 to do a dressmaking and design course at college.

My first job was with wedding dress designer Anneliese Sharpe, sewing on buttons and making the coffee. I soon realised that the fashion world wasn't quite what I'd imagined. Anneliese suggested I try to work for a magazine instead. I called up Conde Nast and six weeks later started as a receptionist. After eight months, I went to work in the fashion department of GQ magazine, before moving on to Brides magazine.

Eighteen months on, I decided that I ought to get a proper qualification, so I enrolled in a journalism course - it was a complete waste of time, so I went back to Conde Nast.

There were no full-time positions. So I went to work in the PR department at Clarins. There, I met Tina Gaudoin from Harpers & Queen - she's now editor of Frank - who by chance needed a new assistant. I was at Harpers for two years and when I left I was assistant health and beauty editor.

In 1993, I was staying with my sister-in-law when the idea for the White Company came to me. She only liked white towels and white bed-linen, and I realised I felt the same. My husband Nick, who who runs the mail order company Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts, agreed that white was a good idea.

Nick encouraged me down the mail-order route. The beauty of mail order is that your overheads are low and you can cut your margins to a bare minimum.

To raise some capital, I got a grant from Hammersmith and Fulham's CENTEC scheme and sold some shares my grandmother had left me. I wrote about 500 letters to source our suppliers and by March we had put the brochure together.

The business actually started four years ago in an attic room in Nick's house. My sister Jo and I sat there with a computer we didn't know how to work, just waiting for the phone to ring! It was so nerve-wracking. Little bits of PR helped, then our customers started recommending us to their friends. We started off with between three and seven orders a day and now we do up to 350 orders a day.

The most important thing is to thoroughly check that you've got a large enough market and how to reach it. When I've come across something I wasn't sure how to grapple, Nick's taught me how. Don't waste time doing what you're not good at - delegate to someone else and concentrate on your own strengths.

Interview by Mike Higgins