Before the days of Home Education I used to enjoy helping my children make something for their teachers at Christmas or the end of the school year, things such as handmade chocolates, cakes or lavender bags. Now the children are older and once again at school, we undertook a more ambitious project at the end of the last academic year of translating their drawings into applique to decorate bags and accessories.
Another regular make was, and still is, party bags. As you’d imagine I dislike the idea of plastic goody bags so I designed fabric versions for my children to give to their friends at the end of their own birthday parties, so instead of giving something that would be thrown away once the contents were removed, the fabric bags formed part of the gift and many of my children’s friends still have them years later.
With my children back at school I wondered whether I could make a business using my needlework skills: if the compliments from family and friends were genuine then maybe other people would like my work enough to buy it? It seemed worth a try and the worst that could happen was that I would be left with the items I’d made which would keep us in teachers’ gifts for years to come.
Every business needs a name and I looked to my youngest son for inspiration: christened Andrew he was called Owie by his sister, Owie became Owie-Doodie, which in turn became Doodiebug and eventually Doodlebug. Wanting to develp a business that specialised in making bags, I chose to adapt my son’s nickname (which he still has incidentally), and hence Doodlebags was born!
I wanted Doodlebags to embrace my commitment to recycling and chose to work with textiles which had been something else in a previous life (curtains, bedding, fabric sample books). It would also be the ideal opportunity to make use of the stash of buttons and trimmings that I had removed from clothing over the years and kept in the belief that they would “come in handy one day”……….my Dad would be so proud of me 🙂 .
My first project was lavender hearts made from woollen blankets which I felted and dyed, and in January 2011 I took some along to two small shops and they agreed to stock them on a sale-or-return basis. Compliments from family and friends mean a lot, but for someone independent to consider my work good enough to have on their shelves…….words can’t describe how I felt. Even better, people actually bought them!
The next step in my plan (not that I’m organised enough to have an actual business plan you understand, but it’s on my To Do list) was to have a stall at a craft fair and research led me to the Mansion Market at the Michael Steiner School in Forest Row. Armed with some lavender bags, gift bags and party bags (now known as the Doodlebag) I took a stall at February’s market; looking back at photographs it was a pathetic display. I sat timidly beside my stall, lacking the confidence to talk to customers or even smile, but I received compliments on my work, made some sales and came away with a profit. Admittedly it was only a £3.50 profit but at least it wasn’t a loss.
As I attended more markets my confidence grew, as did my product range. I design and make everything myself and am constantly developing and extending my range; rather than struggle to fill a 3ft table, I now struggle to fit it all on a 6ft one.
I take every available opportunity to promote eco-awareness and encourage recycling wherever possible and I have plans for a blog which will explain just how much recycling/upcycling is involved in my work. My focus for Doodlebags remains on upcycling and whilst some people have a preconceived idea that upcycled and handmade might mean a little shoddy, using upcycled textiles in no way impairs the quality of my work, in fact, some of the sample book fabrics I have the privilege of working with retail at anywhere from £50 to £300 per metre!
16 months has passed since I started Doodlebags and I’m happy to say that, though still a very small scale business, I have established a reputation for quality and hope that this will help Doodlebags to grow. My work is in a few shops, both local to me here in Tunbridge Wells and in mid Wales and whilst my shop sales remain moderate, it’s great simply to have a presence in the retail world, albeit a small one; however, I am planning to approach more shops in the near future (also on my To Do list). I continue to have a stall at the Mansion Market and a weekly stall at Hildenborough Farmers’ Market and I attend a variety of craft fairs throughout the year, but have yet to take the leap into the larger, more high profile events. One day……