When Andrew Pearce made a wedding dress for a friend 25 years ago, he never imagined that one day he would have a hugely successful business selling them with his husband.
But that’s how his life has turned out.
Andrew and Rob Pearce own Creatiques in Southsea and brides-to-be travel from all over the country and abroad to find a dream dress for their special day.
Inside the shop in Albert Road, amongst all the stunning wedding dresses from some of the country’s best designers, is a shelf full of both local and national awards.
And what also stands out is their huge collection of thank-you cards.
They are from brides all over the country and beyond who have found their dream dress at Creatiques.
It’s all come from a business set up by a loving couple who took the leap one day – and it paid off.
The story began 25 years ago when Andrew, who had made ball gowns in the past, was asked to make a wedding dress.
Andrew, 50, says: ‘I was a baker and confectioner at the time. A friend of mine asked me to make a wedding dress. I had already made ballroom gowns and costumes, that type of thing.’
At the time, Andrew was a keen ballroom dancer and used to compete against dancers who went on to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.
Andrew got his creative side from his gran, who taught him how to sew and cook.
Sadly, she died in a car accident shortly before he and Rob got together.
‘I was sitting at home one night in a mess and I thought “my gran wouldn’t have wanted me to be here, she’d want me to be out enjoying myself”.
‘So I went out and that’s when I met Rob.’
At the time, Rob, now 47, was working at Next as an assistant manager while Andrew was hairdressing.
‘I thought he was too pushy for me,’ Andrew says.
‘But we went out one evening and somebody asked if we were together and Rob said yes.
‘Since then we’ve had three nights apart in 14 years.
‘Rob is very creative. He was making jewellery and bits and pieces. When I was designing the dresses for the brides, he would make them a piece of jewellery.’
Andrew and Rob started their business by working together from home, making dresses and selling them.
Then one day in 2006, the pair took the plunge and got a shop in Marmion Road, Southsea.
‘When you work from home you have no overheads, but then all of a sudden you go to a shop and you do,’ Andrew says.
‘But I did a business course and we bought into a dress collection for the shop. That’s how it started.’
At just 325sq ft, it was a small space. But it was just the start of their journey.
Within two years they had outgrown it and had to move to the opposite side of the road.
And then in 2014, the pair moved into their current home in Albert Road, which measures 2,100 sq ft.
Andrew has also opened a hairdressers at the back of the shop.
He says: ‘We’ve doubled our turnover this year.
‘The growth in the business has been huge.’
Last year,they won Best Retailer at the Bridal Buyer Awards among other plaudits.
Their customers travel from far and wide to find their dream dresses.
But it’s not how Andrew pictured his life going when he was younger.
‘I never wanted a wedding dress shop. That first dress that I made was stressful enough,’ he laughs.
‘I always wanted to work in the theatre.
‘But really, when it comes down to it, you can’t get more theatrical than a wedding.
‘You’ve got the two main characters and then the audience.
‘There’s drama, tears, laughter, comedy and love. We’ve got it all.’
But building a business with your partner is a challenge and it’s not something that all of us would be willing or able to do.
Andrew says: ‘Working together and living together, you have got that added pressure.
‘It might not work for everybody, but it works for us.
“We’ve got the hair salon as well and I spend a lot of time in there.
“It’s been amazing really. It’s very rewarding.
‘Not just for us, but as a team to look up at the wall to see all our awards and to know what we have achieved.’
Rob explains: ‘On the whole it works out fine because Andrew is in the salon and I am here in the shop.’
The pair had a commitment ceremony around a year after they got together and then had a civil partnership.
On their 10th anniversary, Andrew surprised Rob by arranging for them to have their vows renewed in front of their family and friends and experts from the bridal industry.
And last September they got married – on the same day as Rob’s parents wedding anniversary, as a tribute to them.
Rob recalls: ‘We didn’t tell anybody. We just went and did it and then went for dinner afterwards.’
‘WE’RE GODPARENTS TO THEIR CHILDREN’
Finding a dress for a woman to wear on the happiest day of her life is quite a challenge.
But Andrew and Rob Pearce know what they’re doing. And helping to make that decision is a huge honour for them both and makes their job extremely rewarding.
‘You have to listen to your clients and know what the girl wants,’ Andrew says.
‘It’s like our daughter getting married every single Saturday.
‘I feel proud to be part of such an important day.’
Rob adds: ‘The majority of our friends now are former brides. We are godparents to their children. ‘
Andrew and Rob do everything from helping a bride who falls pregnant to find a new dress, to driving a two-hour return trip to deliver a veil to the venue and doing a bride’s make-up.
‘You get involved,’ says Andrew.
‘You’re on that journey with them for such a big decision and you want brides to feel comfortable, to be relaxed and to enjoy the whole process.’