Show me a woman who doesn’t enjoy a good bag and I will show you my extra leg! We are women and we are somehow intuitively connected to bags and their amazing capacities to house everything we need and look delicious at the same time. Today’s Ladies At Work interview is with the fabulous Kate Barrow of Kate Barrow Bespoke Fabric Creations who has lovingly built her little empire from a cozy boutique workshop in Manchester where she creates the most beautiful bags as well as many other gorgeous items such as blinds, curtains, seat pads, cushions – the list goes on…
Kate, please could you tell us how you came to start Kate Barrow Bespoke Fabric Creations?
I started the business 5 years ago after taking voluntary redundancy from Thomas Cook. Prior to me training as an Air hostess I had learned how to sew in factories making anything from cycling gear to ski wear and I always loved that process of making something from start to finish! I was off work poorly a while back and it was then that I decided to put into practice a little idea I had: to make beach bags for my fleet for their long-haul flights. The bag would need to be washable and to lay flat in a suitcase – and so my ‘La Plage’ reversible beach bag was born! The design has changed over time and the variations increased but that’s where it all began.
I love that! How did you go from there to branching out entirely?
Well the bags sold out instantly – they were a massive hit! I took some in on my return to work and they went like hot cakes and the orders came flooding in. At that point the company were offering voluntary redundancy and so it seemed that fate was opening a door for me.
Was the process of starting out a difficult one?
Starting anything new is difficult but if you are excited by it and passionate for it then it helps. I soon opened my first tiny little shop and then 18 months later I moved to a bigger one with more workspace so I could also teach sewing lessons and hold workshops. That really gave my business a well rounded chance.
Tell us about your designs and the ranges you’ve created.
In the last 5 years I have made so many different things! I’ve played around with loads of designs to see what the customers liked – jewellery cases, yoga mat bags, holdalls, evening bags, beach bags, robes – to name a few, but as there is only myself there on a day to day basis I have cut the range down over time to the pieces that are really popular.
For example, I stopped making my bags reversible because I learned from a survey I undertook that most ladies preferred the security aspect of a zip, flap or buckle. So I tend to stick with my main bag designs and their matching items like make up bags, tissue cases and key-rings. There is one common denominator amongst all of my pieces and that is the travel-themed name…a shout out to my old flying days. Recently I moved into home furnishings and that’s going really well and I enjoy it so much.
What’s the reality of juggling your own business with motherhood and life in general?
As a single parent it can be difficult! My son comes into the shop with me on Saturdays and I am sure he would prefer to be somewhere else but I get him involved with the sewing and keep him busy with odd jobs. Then there is the issue of late payments and cash flow that most small business face not to mention missing out on social events and festivities during the crazy Christmas period! It’s my busiest time and so often I have to axe the shopping/sending out cards etc in order to meet my deadlines. I also feel terribly guilty about taking time off to go on holiday! It’s all worth it though. The upsides are being in love with what you do and getting to fire your passion every day!
You’ve very kindly offered my readers the chance to win a MEMORY CUSHION, such a wonderful idea; please tell us more!
I was asked by a customer to create a Memory Cushion made from an item of clothing from a loved one who sadly passed away. It’s such a comfort to those grieving and provides a really special lasting memory. Not only that but I recently made some cushions from hooded tops for a lady to give her daughter as a gift! Such a fab way of keeping something you may have outgrown or moved on from but still want to cherish.
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR A FREE MEMORY CUSHION OF YOUR OWN DESIGN PLEASE:
1.LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW
The winner will be drawn on February 21st
UPDATE: THE WINNER IS NATALIE! Congratulations Natalie, we have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered!