The Turtle Doves Story

untitled-designAt our October Telford & Wrekin WiRE meeting, Kate Holbrook and her husband Graham were invited to share a success story which really is one of ‘Rags to Riches’.

It all started 7 years ago when Kate was bored after breaking a leg and decided to ‘upcycle’ a bag of old jumpers. She dreamt up a design for some unique wrist warmers which were also fingerless gloves.

Light enough to wear all day and warm enough for those that feel the cold, she started making some for friends. Boosted by good feedback, she made more to sell at markets and fairs and was delighted by the sales.

When turnover reached £10,000 she realised it was no longer a hobby but a business and the product needed a name. Her husband Graham suggested ‘Turtle Doves’, because it’s Cockney rhyming-slang for gloves.

Today is on target to turnover £1m, employs 22 workers, makes 600 products a week and supplies 150 shops round the country, as well as having a successful online shop. A real business.

Kate’s love of sewing and recycling was born 20 years ago when she worked at Scrap Scrap in Ironbridge, where second hand clothes were re-purposed into new items. She loves the idea that gloves are made out of something that would be thrown away. Today her cashmere and other fabrics are bought in bulk from material merchants.

As gloves were mainly seasonal, Turtle Doves has expanded its range over the years and now makes ponchos, wraps, scarves and hats, tiny little booties, hats and mitts for babies, throws and cushions for the home and even a men’s range. Kate’s ability to spot an innovative use for unwanted material has enabled her to offer new products to existing customers and attract new customers, a winning combination!

Kate has also started to work with other fabrics such velvet and second hand, imported saris which she makes into scarves and snoods. Also Guatemalan cotton from tribal costumes which she makes into a ‘squoval’ practical shoulder bag.

Top Tips from Kate

  • Offer value for money, start low and raise prices, but make sure everything is costed
  • Having a good margin on a staple line can support other new products
  • You can charge a premium for quality British products
  • Don’t be afraid to re-invent, Kate is on her fifth website having built two herself and been overcharged and let down by another supplier (she is now very happy with her new website and online shop)
  • Take full advantage social media particularly if you have products that are visually appealing – Twitter Facebook and Instagram
  • Stay connected to your customer, don’t always sell, Kate writes her own genuine regular newsletter which creates a community feeling and showcases discounts and offers

It was refreshing to hear from a company that is ethical in all its practices including making all products in Britain, looking after staff, recycling post-consumer waste and even recycling what little material she does not use. As Kate says: “For us re-use is what it’s all about and we like the new items we make to be useful and lovely too.”