I had been teaching and stopped to have my first child. I was undecided about returning to teaching and a friend of mine in the Antiques business suggested I look at developing an antiques business as it would suit my new lifestyle of raising a child. I had to smile at this suggestion as I had no idea which area of antiques I should get involved in. I had no more than £30 saved. I started to explore local Markets, buying bric-a-brac like Bretby vases, old 1930's tea sets, a white table cloth here and there. As I continued I was drawn to the old textiles, especially old laces and anything white – Victorian flouncy petticoats, lace inserted camisoles, old Chinese silk embroidered blouses – anything which would have been made –“one stitch at a time”.
I would awake early rush down to Portobello Market in London, under the arches, come home laden with bags of old lace and clothes, wash, mend iron (well my Mother did that bit) and rise at dawn and head out in the early morning, setting up in Hampstead, Camden Market, Codicote in Hertfordshire to resell to the discerning general public. My little son, by now four, would be enticed to come along with the promise of lots of playtime and play he did.
Gradually I found the area I most wanted to develop and this was an old lace known as tape lace or Battenberg.
Summer 1981 our family was in Venice. At a local market one of the stalls was selling piles and piles of the same antique look alike tape lace (Battenberg) tablecloths and bedspreads, which we were informed were Italian. Ha ! not true. We discovered the source, wrote to a Chinese supplier and my first consignment came in 16 large cartons which Lunn Antiques in London snapped up.
Sitting at our kitchen table in Welwyn, the brand Lace Lady, was born, filling a gap in the Uk market for handmade lace products, reflecting the halcyon era in which we were living.
I can no longer remember who advised me to contact Blakes Hotel in London run by Anouschka Hemple, an actress and hotelier, who at the time furnished her hotel with this same lace. They bought a huge amount. The Housekeeper at Blakes Hotel recommended I contact And so to Bed in London - who told me about Harvey Nichols, so I knocked on that door, then Selfridges, working my way through the London retail stores and then I took part in the very first Top Drawer Show, on the top floor of the old Derry and Toms Store in South Kensington amid the strutting pink flamingoes.
So much excitement, halcyon days of wonderful opportunities to sell these glorious textiles under the brand name of Lace Lady.
Back in 1982 I had never travelled on my own, and certainly not to a Communist Country like China. But I was intrepid, I was an adventurer, fearless.
With £2000 and an overnight bag, took a plane to Hong Kong in October 1982, stepped out of Kai Tak Airport late in the evening, hot and humid with not a clue as to what to do next, I know I wanted to be a big Hong! I boarded the last ferry out of Hong Kong and sailed down the Pear River to Canton in the early hours of the morning for my first visit to the Canton Fair.
Photo - Great Wall of China 1986
After a few years, having explored the Chinese market with all its beautiful laces and embroideries I wanted to find out what the Western World Market had to offer. I'd heard Brazil had equally beautiful laces, so travelled to Rio and discovered I had to go visit Fortaleza in North East Brazil where I discovered delicate bobbin lace made on a pillow, lace for women's and children's clothing.
photo - Rio de Janerio
India being my place of birth, I had to return to the memories of small cloth shops selling exquisite handloom silk saris, many of them with chinese style hand embroideries. I created a range of two tone silk quilted bedspreads with hand embroidery, oh the colours were so edible.
photo - vogue India
As the years passed and our business developed, especially in the Home Accessories area, being conscious of the changing consumer needs and trends and a hightened awareness of environmental changes, we brought out a new range of recycled wool cushions called Henry & Friends.
True to our ethos as a business we used recycled wool for cushions and small accessories, using "cross - body dog walker bags", doorstops and throws, with hand machine embroideries, selling to Garden Centres and boutiques across the country, delighting many folk with our Town and Country animals who carried a social message.
With our first Collection in 2016 we wrote a short illustrated story of Henry & Friends - Into Winter Wonderland - written by Adam Antoszewski, with some help from myself and illustrated by Gloria Wong.
1982 - 2020 is a long time to have been in business. Some would say that’s amazing, some would say how did you manage to remain in such a volatile and demanding market.
I would say that focusing on a particular product area and the business which I have been a part of for so long and being the best that I can be, has enabled me to ride the rollercoaster of storms, recessions, challenges, risks, and trends, through all these years.
My product areas have changed, but my basic ethos for business has not.
Travelling extensively in countries like China, which have grown almost beyond recognition, especially the big cities, has kept me involved in the changes reflected in our business.
My product area – textiles, laces, developing new designs for bags, garments, cushions – always striving for perfection and playfulness, never compromising on quality and insisting on good business practice, has been an integral part of my Business and Brand.
Retaining the essence of my business, to some extent remaining containable in order to move quickly and swiftly when required.
What the future holds for us since the Covid-19 Pandemic we can plan and forsee only a partial future.