As this month marks a rather momentous milestone - the 10th year of Grace & Favour Home - it might be fun to have a little trip down memory lane. So get comfy, make yourself a drink, and enjoy!
10 years ago, we were living in a tiny village on the edge of Dartmoor, the snow had been heavier than we would usually expect and the roads were impassable without a four wheel drive and an iron will.
At the time I was entering the second term of my PGCE year, training to be a secondary Design Technology teacher, and willing the snow to last as long as possible to delay my return to the classroom. The knowledge that the snow would indeed melt at some point was a huge weight on my shoulders, and while I had enjoyed my course until this point and made some fantastic friends, I knew deep down that my strengths lay elsewhere. With the backing of my now husband (and also now business partner) Steve, I quit my course and embarked on the Grace & Favour Home journey.
This might not be quite the departure it sounds, as previous to my PGCE I had completed a degree in Fashion Design at the University of the West of England. I decided to go big from the outset, and spent a rather scary sum of money on a stand at the Country Living Magazine Spring Fair, with only six weeks left until the show. I had no stock, no money, and truthfully, no clue what I was doing, so I sat down and began to sew. Having visited the show previously, and being a long time reader of the magazine, I made the kind of products I wanted to buy at the time – floral cushions, hanging hearts with different sentiments, and bunting. ALL the bunting. And all a far cry from the products we produce today!
I set off to London with my mum in tow and haven’t looked back. The show went far better than I could ever have imagined, I sold products (phew!), gave out hundreds of postcards with details of my somewhat rudimentary website (cringe!) and came home elated. I found myself a studio space to work from in the nearby town of Chudleigh and settled into a nice little routine of making, experimenting and playing shop when the opportunity presented itself.
At another Country Living Fair in London I was approached by an editor, who asked if I’d ever considered sewing for a book. Obviously my jaw hit the floor but I composed myself for long enough to say yes, thinking how wonderful it would be to contribute a project to a book. I gave them my card and tried to forget about it When home though, the publishers did get in touch, with a suggestion for a book I might like to write. A book. A whole book! By me! Flabbergasted did not even come close, but my answer was definitely yes.
Then followed contracts, and planning meetings, and sample development, and writing instructions and professional photoshoots with proper equipment – it was a most surreal and wonderful experience from start to finish and culminated in the first book in a brand new series by publisher Search Press.
I also wrote a second book for them on Christmas Stockings, and decided that with two books under my belt, I could definitely call myself an author.
When finishing my first book I was also heavily pregnant with my first child, the superstar that is Henry, and being self employed I was working again within 2 weeks of him arriving, juggling nap times and getting orders out the door, designing new products, sourcing materials etc.
What really became apparent at this point though was while I loved making, I always felt like I was cheating by using other people’s fabrics – working with Liberty, Laura Ashley and Sanderson fabrics was great, but it didn’t reflect me as a creative person. I started to develop my own designs, based on the little bits of ephemera I collected and treasured – faded bus tickets, buttons from my grandma’s sewing box, postcards I had chosen because of the beautiful old handwriting rather than the images on the front.
These all became motifs in my fabric designs and ensured that a part of me was woven through each piece made in my now home based studio in Hennock looking at the rolling hills. My weekends were spent going from craft fair to craft fair, setting up my little stall and talking to my customers, and I began to think about how I could push it further.
I wanted to be stocked in shops, and I wanted customers to be able to find my products further afield. So I signed up for a trade show, and with Henry at 3 months old, he (and I) attended our first event, travelling to Harrogate, with Steve manning the stand when I was feeding the baby, and then swapping over again (this juggling has been the thread running through our life ever since!). It was an unexpected success and a sharp learning curve with me handing out catalogues of our product that I had burned onto a CD, memorising my prices as I went along and pretending I knew what I was doing (again! This is quite a telling theme, say yes and learn later!). So we signed up for another, and another, and we travelled to London and Harrogate on repeat, selling our products to massive museums, galleries, small independents, and department stores. Even Harrods, customising our ‘stamp lavender bags’ to become Christmas scented decorations, of which we delivered 600. Obviously we had to visit just so I could take a cheesy picture of me next to the decorations!
At this point, I was struggling to keep up with orders, both wholesale and direct to customers while looking after Henry and I wasn’t sure how I could continue without massive compromise. We had always talked around the idea of Steve leaving his job and coming to work with me and we decided to take that leap, which we haven’t regretted since. Steve had been so involved with the business anyway, using his holiday and weekends to help with shows and orders, and suddenly, there we were, jumping in at the deep end and relying on the business entirely for our family income. And not one day has passed that I’ve regretted the choice, especially with two children, we can make sure we’re there for school pick ups and assemblies, and manage the school holiday juggle between us, and while it is very hard work, with little head space, we wouldn’t change it.
With two of us working from our tiny converted outbuilding studio, and with the office side of things taking over the house, we spent a long journey home from a Harrogate trade show pondering moving the workshop away from home again,and by the time we reached the greenery of Devon, we’d arranged to view an industrial unit a few miles from home. 1000 square feet of usable space, waiting to be transformed into a proper HQ. We got the keys a few weeks before our second child (the whirlwind that is Bertie) arrived, and suddenly, with a stock room, a making room, and even a room for all our cardboard boxes, we were up and running and taking our business to the next level.
We spent 3 and a half years in that studio, designing and developing new collections, new products, shipping out thousands of orders and moaning about the cold (concrete floors and block walls are brutal!), but we dreamed about a different kind of space, something warmer, more welcoming, and somewhere people could visit that would really fit with our style as a brand.
We viewed lots of spaces, and after a few disappointing false starts, the opportunity arose to take on our current premises on Station Road. Less than half the size of where we were, needing loads of work, but in the town we call home, with room for a small shop space It was a no brainer really, and in June 2019 the Grace & Favour Home shop/studio opened in beautiful Bovey Tracey. We are so thrilled about how welcoming everyone has been to us, it is a wonderful community and one we are proud to be part of.
We’ve now expanded our offering and have added some carefully selected gifts and homewares by other companies producing their products in the UK.
Thank you for supporting us on our adventure, and we're looking forward to the next ten years and beyond!