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Bianca Miller: 'I welcome healthy competition'

DOWN TO BUSINESS: Despite not winning the show, Bianca Miller plans to press ahead with her hosiery business

AFTER MONTHS of having to dodge questions from family and friends about how far she had progressed in the competition, the wait finally came to an end for Apprentice runner-up Bianca Miller.

The south London businesswoman, who was kept in the dark about the end result until a week before the finale, said it was a huge relief to come clean to her loved ones.

And although “disappointed” she was beaten to first place by rival Mark Wright who now has £250,000 to start his own digital agency, Bianca revealed she has no regrets about appearing on the BBC reality TV show and will be pressing full steam ahead with her business idea of skin-tone hosiery for women of colour.

“I would do the show again tomorrow,” said Bianca, who runs the Be Group, the personal branding service she launched in 2012. “I don’t believe in regrets.”

RESPONSE

She added: “Life is about experiences and you take from them what you can. That would have been the same if I had been fired earlier, or had a negative response [from viewers] because I think life is a learning curve. I learned so much from the process that I could never regret it.”

And the 26-year-old has already had her first taste of the challenges of being in the spotlight.

Ahead of the finale, a businesswoman called Ella Bennett, 37, spoke to the Sunday People accusing Bianca of ‘stealing’ her idea for flesh-coloured tights for darker skin tones after meeting at a networking event.

The LSE graduate claimed she came up with the idea two years ago, while Bianca maintains she first thought of the idea in 2010 and has been developing it since then.

In her pitch to Lord Sugar, Bianca told him: “I have been to one of the top most expensive tights retailers and the darkest shade they have isn’t dark enough for me.

“I would expect to be able to pay for tights that suited me. There is definitely a market. I have looked into the market. There isn’t anyone offering it.”

Responding to the allegation, Bianca said: “I am not the first and I won’t be the last to come up with the idea but I view any other brand providing a similar product as healthy competition. I don’t want to comment any more on it, but I think Ella has an opportunity to do something and good luck to her.”

Ironically, while the show – recorded six months ago – was on air, another company called Nubian Skin offering nude bras and hosiery for darker skin tones launched to great fanfare.

GOOD PRESS

Bianca explained: “I had already recorded the show when Nubian Skin launched and I thought ‘great – someone else has had a similar idea’. I was really happy to see the good press they received. They haven’t come out and said anything, so I don’t know how they feel about my business but I would hope they think ‘fantastic’ and view me as healthy competition.
“There are many tights manufacturers co-existing peacefully. Every company has competition. You don’t see Pret, Costa and Starbucks fighting each other. They’re all on the same high street.”


FRIENDLY RIVALS: Bianca with Apprentice winner Mark Wright

When asked whether she thought it was patronising for black women to only have one option for hosiery, Bianca replied: “Options are so important. Shoppers want a choice. It will also drive you as a business to do the best that you can. It keeps you on your toes because you know your customers could go elsewhere if you don’t raise your game.”

Bianca’s proposal was warmly received by Lord Sugar who agreed it was an “interesting proposition” although she was criticised for planning on retailing her luxury tights at £24.

She has since reconsidered the price of her range, which will be called Bianca Miller London. Bianca said: “During the process, I envisioned a more luxury product; seamless [and] ladder-resistant.

“I agree it would be better to have a product with a price point that was more obtainable to more people. I still think the luxury product would work, but right now I want more people to benefit from the product which will be priced at £7.99.”

The website has since crashed due to the volume of people who have visited it to register their interest, but Bianca still needs an investor to make her dream a reality.

However, she feels optimistic about the future and the role she can play being an ambassador for women or young people in business and said she “could only dream” of enjoying some of the success of Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of The Apprentice, who has enjoyed a ten-year career since then.

She said: “I’ve had more schools, colleges, and universities asking me to come in and do personal branding talks to help young people be better prepared to be successful after education when they go into the workplace.

TEACHING

“I’ve always felt passionately about working with younger people and teaching them how to talk about themselves positively, how to introduce themselves, how to shake hands. These are things that should be natural, rather than the shock of leaving school and not knowing how to present yourself.

“And while not every young person can start a business, I don’t think schools and career services disseminate enough information about self-employment and I would like to see that happen. When I was in school, my teachers said I could be a lawyer, doctor or a scientist – none ever said I could start my own business.

“In today’s market, there is more scope to create your own job. The world is changing so quickly because of technology. A few years ago, there was no such thing as a social media manager for example.”

Bianca credits her own parents for her own poise under pressure but revealed she was taken aback when her commitment to being professional was used against her in one episode of the show, in which viewers saw Bianca get tearful while being interviewed for the semi-final.

She admitted: “I had expected questions about my business plan which I was prepared to discuss at length, but I did not expect questions about me as a person or my personality. My business is personal branding, so I didn’t want people to get the impression I am not a nice person or unemotional.

“My approach was that this was a business programme, and I was behaving in the way I would in any professional setting. There were times when I was laughing and joking but the reason I was there was to represent myself as a potential business partner for Lord Sugar. I really don’t think a man would have been asked those questions.”

The Apprentice runner-up added: “I’d really like to thank everyone especially Voice readers for their support on social media, face-to-face and over email – it has just been phenomenal. I’m happy they think I did them proud.”

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