I had been teaching and stopped to have my first child and could not make up my mind if I wanted to return to teaching. Some friends 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 and started to visit local Markets, buying bric a brac like Bretby vases, old 1930s tea sets, an old table cloth here and there. As I started to explore the market I was drawn more and more to the old textiles, especially the old laces and anything white – old flouncy petticoats, lace inserted camisoles, old Chinese silk embroidered blouses – anything which would have been –“one stitch at a time”.
I would get up early rush down to Portobello Market in London, under the arches, come home with bags of old lace and clothes, wash, mend (well my Mother did that bit) iron and get up early again and get a market stall to sell my textiles, in Hampstead, then Camden Market, then Codicote in Hertfordshire. My little son, by now four, would be enticed to come along with the promise of lots of playtime.
Gradually I found the area I most wanted to develop and this was an old lace known as tape lace or Battenberg.
One summer our family was in Venice, at the local market, and there on one of the stalls, piled high were tape lace tablecloths, 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.
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. Lunn Antiques and And so to Bed in London, told me about Harvey Nichols, so I knocked on that door, then Selfridges, then we did the very first Top Drawer Show.
So much excitement, halcyon days of wonderful opportunities to sell these glorious textiles under the brand name of Lace Lady.
Next came going directly to China.
As I started to explore the market I was drawn more and more to the old textiles, especially the old laces and anything white – old flouncy petticoats, lace inserted camisoles, old Chinese silk embroidered blouses – anything which would have been –“one stitch at a time”
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 hailed a taxi to God knows where and a lovely taxi driver, who spoke English chatted to me. I told him I wanted to go to Canton in China, and asked how I could get there. I still remember him laughing at me. He drove me to the ferry terminal, bought me my ticket, put me on the ferry and waved good bye. Visa, yes I had one. I was wide eyed and entreprenuerial and determined to find the lace of my dreams.
I stepped onto the overnight ferry, hungry, the only European woman, went to the restaurant, and pointed at what looked appetising and then joined other chinese women in a communal sleeping area, waking up the next morning sailing down the Pearl River, to Canton and the Canton Fair. I met my suppliers who arranged for me to visit a factory and there I saw the future story of my business.
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 I have witnessed.
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 the 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 times required this energy.
The Business and Brand is still here today as we carefully walk into the future