Friday, 23 May 2014

Friday Finds - Kitty Kay


Today's Friday Finds is my friend Wendy from Kitty Kay - Make & Sew. Wendy and I met at the Country Living show in 2011 where we both had a stand in the WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise) section. We hit it off immediately and I still get excited when I see her designs in department stores in Norfolk ( or anywhere else for that matter!)


© Kitty Kay

When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental? Tell us your story of how it came to be...

For over 10 years of my early working life I worked as a retail fashion buyer, for some of the biggest retailers on the UK high street.  At times it was an amazing job, and luckily for me the product areas that I worked in were very creative ones, however it was also incredibly high-pressured and full of long hours and stress!  So there were many occasions I would crawl onto a plane, exhausted and stressed out, and go lie on a beach for 2 weeks just dreaming of having something that was mine, something that I had created, and that I owned!   So when I had my first son, I realised that this way of life couldn’t continue and I had to find a way to balance my new family life, and fulfill these dreams that kept tugging away at me.


© Kitty Kay

I had no idea how that was going to work or what I was going to do, and it didn’t happen quickly, and therefore wasn’t really planned either!  But having left full-time and then part-time employment as a buyer, I started to lecture at a local university in Fashion Marketing, I set up running an after-school sewing class at my children’s school, and then signed up for a-one-day-a-week city & guilds textile decoration course.  And it was really from a combination of these three things that I started to rediscover my creative roots, and go back to what drove me to study fashion and textiles to an M.A. degree level in the first place.

So I officially launched ‘Kitty Kay – Make & Sew’ back in the Autumn of 2011, at the ‘Country Living Christmas Fair,’ but I had probably been working on the business idea and developing the product concept for at least a couple of years before that.  However, by getting back into designing, printing and starting to sell products at local craft and Christmas events, as well as teaching children to sew, it lead to developing the sewing and craft kits for children and then ‘biting the bullet’ to step up and do a big London show!

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn?

The initial reaction was immediately positive, which was a huge relief, but I had been determined to manage the business at my own pace, working around the family and not getting into a situation where things could ‘run away’ from me or become stressful; so in all honesty it has been a slow-burn, but deliberately so.  I decided to launch at a consumer show, in order to ‘test the market’ and get direct feedback on the product and ideas, and learn from the customers themselves what they liked and wanted.  It then took about another year before I thought I could take the product to the next level and do a trade show for the first time. 


© Kitty Kay

Do you do your business part time or full time?  

Kitty Kay – Make & Sew is now my full-time business.

Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you happy with it as it is and why? 

I am looking to grow the business to be bigger, but again only at a pace that we can manage.  We are looking at some key opportunities that have been presented to us and which could fuel the growth we are looking for, but as the business is based at home and we manage it all ourselves at the moment, again we want to do everything in a considered way, with limited risk. 

Where do you sell your work? 

The ‘Kitty Kay – Make & Sew’ range of sewing and craft kits for children are available online at:
www.notonthehighstreet.com/kittykaymakeandsew and also at various independent retailers around the UK.  We also sell directly at key consumers shows, such as: The Knitting & Stitching Shows in London & Harrogate, The Spirit of Christmas Fair & The Country Living Christmas Fair – both in London.

© Kitty Kay

Which of the selling methods that you use works best for you? Why do you think this is?

I learnt very early on that in the world of retail you have to cover ‘all routes to market’, meaning that you have to cover all options, whether it’s being online, on the high street (via the trade shows), selling directly at consumer shows, or even having a mail order option.  And in todays digital age, it’s also about having routes by which any potential social media consumers can purchase through, such as a Facebook shop.  So they all go into the mix, but in terms of being able to talk about and sell your product directly to the ‘end user’, then it’s definitely the consumer shows.  Through these you are able to interact directly with your customers, chat to them and explain the products and garner fantastic feedback that helps shape the future of the products, and the development of the business.


© Kitty Kay

Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you approach them?

I have had some fantastic publicity in a lot of the national sewing and craft magazines, and the great thing is that they have usually approached me.  These companies often attend the consumer and trade shows, and are always on the look out for interesting companies and products to write about; so I have been very lucky that they come and seek me out!

Who do you think your typical customer is?

Wow, that’s quite a tricky one to answer. In the main it’s women of all ages who want to buy a creative gift, or encourage their children/friends’ children/nieces/nephews, etc. to get making.  However, the biggest portion of my customers, particularly at The Knitting & Stitching Shows are the older generation of crafters/sewers/knitters - grandmothers and great-aunts - who are desperate to ensure that their grandchildren and great-nieces/nephews get to learn the key skills and the joy of making things, that maybe the parents missed out on.

© Kitty Kay

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most?

I most enjoy the pure pleasure of designing and coming up with new ideas, sampling and prototyping; but also figuring out a way to get ideas through to the finished, packaged product. 

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?

I’m sure there are loads of things I could/would have done differently, but I see it all as part of a journey.  Developing your own business and product range is all about the ‘learning curve’ but equally it’s about learning from and about yourself.  You can’t afford to have regrets, or wish you’d done things differently, because all of it is and continues to be on-the-job learning.  You work out what not to do next time!

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?

Probably a bit of both.  I’m a big one for lists and being organized, and thinking and planning ahead.  But then there are occasions where something will spark a gut instinct about a product or idea, which can be a light-bulb moment, and I have to act on it immediately! 


© Kitty Kay

Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do how did you find people who were the right fit for you?

The only people I currently ‘employ’ are my husband – Chief Felt Cutter - and my kids – great packers/helpers!  So far, everything else is managed by me!  But there will come a time, in the not too distant future, where I may have to source outside help, particularly to deal with the production side of the business, but in the meantime I’m keeping all the balls in the air!

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that the way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see that changing?

I work from home and I am usually alone most of the day, except for the cats!  I actually enjoy the solitude and peace of this, because with two active, sporty, growing boys and a very busy family life, I need this quiet, reflective time as balance; and it gives me the space and thinking time to plan and create.  Although I do make a determined effort to get outdoors and have human contact on a daily basis! 


© Kitty Kay

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?

I don’t have a mentor, but I do discuss and brainstorm my business on a regular basis with my friends, and with my husband; and with both of us coming from creative backgrounds, and having a strong working knowledge of product development, branding and marketing we work well together at planning and strategising what’s needed.  And particularly when I get ‘stuck’ at points in time, he will help me through these, and maybe get me to see a different view or perspective on things.

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise?

I think it’s fair to say that no day is the same, but that it also greatly depends on what time of the year it is.  September to Easter is my busiest period, with all the key trade shows staring in September and then rapidly followed by the key consumer shows in the build up to Christmas; followed again by trade shows in January leading up to Easter.  This is what I call my ‘mad time of year’, then followed by my quieter period, during the spring and summer, of reflection, development and planning to start all over again come the following September!  In fact I had my dream day this week and spent it with my creative buddies in London, doing the exhibitions at the Tate Modern and Fashion & Textile Museum, and shopping for fabric!


www.notonthehighstreet.com/kittykaymakeandsew

Thank you Wendy - smashing :)

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