Where are they now? Saint Luke

Tessa Holladay, founder and CEO of Saint Luke looking through a rack of clothing
Tessa Holladay, founder and CEO of Saint Luke | Virgin StartUp/Saint Luke
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
17 April 2024

Virgin StartUp launched back in 2013 – for the full story of why, check out Richard Branson’s blog . Since then, it has supported some incredible founders to grow amazing businesses. In celebration of Virgin StartUp’s 10th anniversary, we’re catching up with some of the founders who received support in the early days to learn about their start-up journey.

Tessa Holladay launched Saint Luke back in 2015. We had a chat with her about her business journey since then…

What’s Saint Luke’s 30-second elevator pitch?

Saint Luke embodies the essence of island life, catering to globetrotters and adventure seekers alike. Established in 2015, our Caribbean-inspired menswear label made waves with its signature canvas holdalls, boasting a striking fusion of vibrant hues and exotic patterns. Since inception, we’ve embarked on an enriching journey, broadening our repertoire to encompass an array of summer essentials such as swimwear, t-shirts, outerwear, linen shirts, and shorts, all infused with the brand's unwavering tropical fervour.

Tessa Holladay, founder and CEO of Saint Luke
Tessa Holladay, founder and CEO of Saint Luke | Saint Luke

The latest milestone in our voyage is the opening of our inaugural boutique on the sun-kissed shores of Barbados' west coast. Infused with inspirations drawn from travel and cultural encounters, our collections conjure the blissful, carefree ambiance of tropical island escapades, beckoning you to embrace the rhythm of rum-filled glasses and sand between your toes.

Why did you choose Virgin StartUp and how have you used your Start Up Loan to make a difference in the world?

I was working at Virgin Unite – the independent non-profit foundation for the Virgin Group and Branson Family – when I first started the brand, so it felt like a very natural step. I knew that as well as financial support, Virgin StartUp provided advice through a mentor which was really valuable to me at the time.

Initially we started giving back by donating a percentage of profits to Waves for Water, though more recently I moved to Barbados so our efforts are now focussed towards local initiatives.

If your start-up journey had a theme song, what would it be?

"Beautiful Escape" by Tom Misch. I discovered Tom Misch while I was still employed but had been working on Saint Luke during the evenings and weekends and became obsessed with his music. I had Beautiful Escape on repeat during the early days of Saint Luke as it gave me so much energy and I suppose was the soundtrack to my own escape!

Saint Luke
Saint Luke

If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

I try not to have any regrets! It's important to learn how to fail if we are to learn how to succeed. Having said that, I suppose if I could change one thing it would have been to start earlier. I massively underestimated how long it takes to build a brand, it really is a marathon and not a sprint.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken with your business?

Opening a store in the West Indies! It was a bit of a leap taking Saint Luke from online to brick and mortar but for the business to grow I felt it was important to branch out and diversify and what better place to do that than where the brand was born? I believe business is about taking risks and if you're not being audacious then you're not moving forward.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business now?

I think Karen Lamb said it best: “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.”

I think I actually first saw this on Richard Branson's blog and it couldn't have resonated more for me. So many people try to over complicate things to create barriers to entry, scaring new players out of the game while inflating their own egos. The moment you realise that it's all crap – it's so freeing and empowering. Anything you really don't know how to do, you can quite easily learn. Or even better, teach yourself a new way and break the mould by doing it better! So: "Screw it, Let's Do It!" as Richard says.

Inspired to launch your own business? Visit Virgin StartUp for Start Up Loans, advice, supporting, mentoring and more.