As a child Valerie Singleton of Blue Peter was my absolute hero and I made everything that she demonstrated as I watched on our black and white TV! But my creative side was never encouraged. However, I avidly observed mum sewing long gowns for dinner & dances, which my parents frequented in the heady times of the 1970’s. I learnt by watching and having a go myself. By the age of 12 I was making money from sewing 3 tiered floral skirts with frilly petticoats for my friends and class mates. The entrepreneur was there in me even then!
I continued with my education eventually achieving a degree, but I never felt it to be my destiny, so hot out of college I grabbed the chance to sew for a designer in California with open arms! I knew then that the path I was meant to follow would involve a sewing machine, a pair of scissors and some pins!
By the early 1990’s I was in London working for Jenny Packham, yes, she who designs many a frock for our future queen! There I met Andrea, a super talented pattern cutter, the key to my lock, as I could sew but couldn’t make a pattern. We developed not only a deep friendship but a long lasting business relationship, still working together to this day, 25 years on! Both sick of commuting we decided to go it alone and open our own Bridal Wear business in 1993. How very naïve we were! But hard working, and tenacious – essential qualities if you want to succeed in business. We did make a success of it, and during our 15 years we dressed many brides, bridesmaids, mothers of brides and grooms! One year we made over 100 wedding gowns! How ever did we do it?
We had NO LIFE other than working. In 2007 I was ready for a change, not really knowing what that would be. By then I had a new hubby, Bruno and Frankie in my life. David was getting sick of working in London so the decision to sell up and move to Devon was not a difficult one! We needed and wanted to achieve a better work life balance.
My desire for a complete change led us to open a little shop selling gifts and home wares from British Designers – EASY LIFE – yes, but not at all satisfying! I needed to be making things! I was knitting much admired dog jumpers for Bruno and a growing fan base of local dogs, dreaming that one day I would get my patterns published in a book! Who knew that 7 years later that would be a reality! But the knitting was not enough; I needed to SEW, to use my hands for more than arranging a beautiful window display!
After a couple of years, we knew life in Devon wasn’t for us, but in order to make the move back to the South East we needed a more portable business, an on line business. Redhound for Dogs was our answer. I set about planning the range and our launch at the Country Living Fair in November 2010 where we won Editors Choice Award and giving me all the encouragement I needed! I knew that if I could succeed making Bridal Gowns I could do the same with Dog Clothing!! Having a needy, shivering whippet to guide and inspire me was certainly a very large part of it, but all the skills I accrued over the years in the fashion industry also proved to be invaluable.
So very many of the same principles apply to both businesses, a few being:
- My aim to provide the best possible quality and fit for dogs as I did for brides
- My selecting of fabrics that are suitable for the job
- My requirement to provide customers with an exceptionally high level of service
- My choice to use a fabulous photographer to showcase our products
- My great attention to detail when designing new items
- My constant creativity that enables me to develop and increase our offering
I still work with Andrea, we design together, but instead of the choice between a sweetheart neckline and a cowl, now it’s which seam we can put a harness hole in!
We spend so much of our lives working. I feel that the ability to sew is a gift that has seen me through my working life and enabled me to always love what I do. A luxury that not all of us have, but should be aspired to, if at all possible. I believe it is never too late to follow your heart and your dreams, do what feels right, but most of all, do what makes you happy.