Just a girl from Barrow

Just a girl from Barrow
07/03/2024 Rae
Wonder Woman t-shirt | fwp by rae | change a girls life campaign

Wonder Woman t-shirt | fwp by rae | change a girls life campaignThis year I’m thrilled to be helping raise funds for The Prince’s Trust and their #ChangeAGirlslife campaign this International Women’s Day.

The money raised will help support young women, aiding them to build better futures for themselves through Wonder Woman t-shirt | fwp by rae | change a girls life campaignemployment, education or by starting their own businesses. Together, we’re helping thousands of young women who are facing disadvantage and adversity to build a better future for themselves.

With all this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to give you a bit of an insight into my background, and how I got to where I am now, owning and self-funding my own fashion brand which is about to enter its 7th year.

I grew up in the Northwest of England in a small shipbuilding town called Barrow-in-Furness.
My background is very working class. My father worked as an engineer in the shipyard and my mother did secretarial/office work. At around 14/15 years old (sketchy in my memory) my parents divorced, with my sister going to live with my mother a good 40 minutes’ drive away in the Lake District, whilst I stayed with my father. He regularly worked nights, leaving for work around 5pm and returning at 6 the following morning, so I became self-sufficient rather quickly.

Aside from usual stuff that 14/15 year olds get up to, one of my favourite hobbies was to make clothes. I had an old tailor’s dummy in my bedroom, and on the weekends along with my friend Tracy, I would scour fabric stalls in our town market to make skirts and tops for ourselves and sometimes our friends too. My favourite was a bright orange pencil skirt and I still have a penchant for orange now.

I went to an average state secondary school, scraping through my CSE’s (notice the missing G), and in 1986 left with equally average grades, except for Art which I did well in, but not much else that suggested I was destined for an academic future. Back then the careers officers weren’t very enthusiastic about my desire to study fashion, steering me towards an office clerk job in one of the many departments in the shipyard. I decided that if I was ever going to leave my hometown, I would need a skill that could be utilised anywhere, and with that in mind I headed to secretarial college where I learnt to speed touch type along with a thing called shorthand which I have absolutely no recollection of how to do.

With the college we were put on work placements, and luckily for me I got a gig at the local radio station, BBC Radio Furness. I didn’t know it then, but that was going to be my future ticket out. I can’t remember exactly how long I worked at the radio station, but I eventually got to cover full time for the girl I was assisting as she went on maternity leave, but unfortunately for me she returned and I ended up where I seemed to be destined for, the shipyard.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my time bouncing around departments there and I made some very good friends. However, I had an itch and I needed to scratch it.

Again, pulled from the depths of my fuzzy memory, I knew that I had a leg in when it came to my past work experience at the BBC, so with my super speedy touch-typing certificate under my belt (and I think shorthand, but how I managed to pass that is anyone’s guess as I was pretty shit at it), I applied for a temp job at Broadcasting house in London and was accepted into the fold of the BBC.

I had a good family friend who was living in Finchley North London and she kindly offered to put me up until I found my own place. The plan being, I worked in the day and then put myself through fashion college in the evenings. Without spoiling the whole story, this is not what happened. All the best laid plans etc….

I did move in with my friend and her gorgeous family in their equally gorgeous home. Ironically she owned her own succesful fashion business, making clothes for the likes of Miss Selfridge, Top Shop, Jane Norman and the like. Why I didn’t ask to work there is anybody’s guess. Maybe I thought I’d already asked enough of her as they had bent over backwards for me as it was, or felt that if she could have, she would have. I don’t know, but what I do know is that it was probably for the best because the following 18 months taught me so much and meant that I wasn’t relying on anyone else to take care of me or my future. It would all be down to me, mistakes and all.

The next 8/9 months I hopped around departments of the BBC, mostly White City but also Radio 2.  At one point I even had to stay at the BBC hostel in Bayswater where they put me up when I hit a tricky patch. In that time, I decided that even though I had enjoyed working for them, I needed to stick to my plan and find a job that was closer to what I intended to do which was work in fashion. Easier said than done. Jobs in the fashion industry, even when starting right at the bottom for no money were few and far between. I saw so many agencies and eventually when I was about to give up, a position came up at Sky TV so I decided to take it as after all, I needed to make some money and get settled.

This turned out to be the start of the next big chapter in my life, none of it mind you included fashion college. You see the issue with working in media (I eventually got promoted from secretary to sales assistant on Sky 1 and Sky News), is that especially in the late 80’s/early 90’s there was a huge social scene and many an evening would be taken up with leaving parties (someone was always leaving one ad agency to head to another), and other gatherings for various different reasons and it was all way too much fun, to consider looking elsewhere.

Within the next 5 years a lot happened, so to make it short it pretty much panned out like this:

Made redundant from Sky, immediately got a job at TSW (television south west).
Left TSW due to takeovers, immediately went to Carlton TV (ex Thames television).
Moved house circa 14 times, had 2 serious boyfriends, developed a serious shoe habit.
Got promoted to Group Head then being satisfied I had secured a safe position in the media world, handed in my notice to go travelling. By now I was 25.

I travelled for 14 months arriving back on UK soil just before Christmas 1996. By early January I was called up by someone I had worked with at TSW and Carlton TV, (a man named Mick Buckley), who offered me a job at Cartoon Network/Turner, and so began my next chapter – again, none of it included fashion college but it did reinstate my serious shoe habit. I was 27 years old, and within 9 months with the help of my step dad who leant me £5k, was able to buy my first flat in Victoria Park in Hackney. It was the happiest I’d ever been.

I think it’s worth reminding you that the only skill I had when I left Barrow was speedy typing and of course being someone who liked to socialise helped. Determined to make things work and stand on my own two feet, I spoke to people, made contacts, and made sure that people knew I was available to work and keen to learn. Everything I learnt was done on the job, it was all about convincing someone to offer me a job in the first place, once I had that in the bag, I made sure I could prove why it had been a good idea to employ me.

Rae Adam | Cartoon NetworkI absolutely loved working at Cartoon Network, especially in the first few years when it was small but very mighty. There were so many brilliant people in that company and I learnt so much, again, because I was interested and spoke to pretty much everyone in every department from programming to creative to the posties. I knew pretty much everyone in number 2 Soho Square. Then we moved in with CNN on Great Marlborough Street, Time Warner took over and as with every company that gets bigger, you start to feel smaller within it.

I had worked my way up to Director level, responsible for revenues of around £8m. I have 2 people  to thank for that really, Mick Buckley and a woman called Dee Forbes. I don’t think anyone could wish for nicer and more supportive people to head up a team and they were pivotal in my growth and personal development. I think if every company had a Mick and Dee there would be a lot less ‘fair working/women’s rights’ campaigns needed.

After 14 years there though, I felt my time was up. By now I was 41. Also, there were other things happening in my life which I won’t go into, and by the Summer of 2011 I was living in France with my then husband and 2 kids. We had bought a home with 2 gites and I went about setting up a family friendly holiday business while my husband busied himself sourcing wine for a new wine export venture.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life, or mentally had to dig so deep as I did when I spent those 5 years in France.  It was in no doubt the biggest learning curve of my life, and all in a foreign language that I’m still useless at – Bonjour bonjour bonnet de douche, ha ha.

fwp by raeAs we had bought a going concern, the holiday gites already had guests arriving for Summer so it was a hit the ground running situation. Over the following 5 years I spent almost all my time working pretty much 7 days a week and learning how to run a business. I was either running the gites (website, marketing, sales, changeovers, guest relations etc etc) or working on the wine business which amongst many other things, needed a website building (googles ‘how to build a website’) along with accounting (googles bookkeeping for dummies), along with raising a baby and a 5-year-old. It wasn’t until I got back to the UK that I realised how depressed I had been.

We finally sold up after 5 years, and with a huge kit of life tools under my belt we headed back to the UK. London was unaffordable, (what money I’d had, had been ploughed into the wine business), so we settled in Surrey, just a 30 minute train journey from my beloved city of London. However, all was not well in the marriage and hadn’t been for a long time, and again without going into further detail we separated. 

I continued on working on the wine business, running the accounts and website and handling restaurant orders and deliveries. It wasn’t what I wanted to do and for obvious reasons I couldn’t stay in that job, but as I’d been out of media for so long, and with the landscape changing I knew it would be hard to re-enter that industry, and to be honest, with 2 young kids there was no way I could anyway as who would look after them while I went to work, I certainly couldn’t afford any kind of childcare.

I kept coming across 2 brands, Selfish Mother and Kemi Telford. Both had created slogan sweatshirts and t-shirts, but they were clever, not your generic run of the mill words. There was meaning to them and were aligned with their brands, each having a good story.

As I had worked in the wine industry for over 4 years by then, I was used to writing up wine descriptions. I had done my level 1 and 2 WSET so knew something about wines and thought how cool to come up with something that was a wine related slogan but could also have another meaning. With that in mind I started working on some ideas and Bon Vintage was born along with Rosé (I appreciate rosé means nothing but rosé but I liked the simplicity of pink on dark grey and it’s a word that makes a lot of people smile as it references good weather, so I simply did if for fun).

In late 2016 I borrowed £1500 from the wine business, put myself on a screen-printing course, and over about 4 months found an ethical supplier of t-shirts and sweatshirts with styles that I liked (this is VERY important and the hardest part actually) and looked for a printer then went about building yet another website (3 websites in 6 years, maybe that was another industry I could get into if this fails).

kat farmer | rosé t-shirt | fwp by raeTo cut another long story very short (this is getting close to becoming a novel, sorry) I launched in late March 2017 and quickly started to make connections via Instagram, striking up conversations with the likes of Becs Bricks and Stitches, and Kat Farmer Does my bum look 40 along with Amy of Chambers and Beau, and after a lot of hard work and a big hit with Rosé (thanks Kat) the brand started to grow. I paid back the wine business within 9 months and I was finally doing what I set out to do age 18, only by now I was 47.

However, nothing is ever that straightforward. Becoming a single parent had to be the hardest thing ever, but a full-time single parent is much harder, and when you really are on your own with no financial help and very limited (now non-existent) shared childcare, trying to grow a business and make money to survive strips the joy out of it. It becomes more of a fight to survive mentality. I’m not ashamed to say that I had to apply for working tax credits. I couldn’t see any other way to survive. I was constantly balancing spreadsheets and calling on favours from school mum friends to look after the kids so that I could get out and meet people as I was becoming completely isolated. Spinning plates whilst balancing a spoon on my nose would have been easier. 

Yet against all odds (cue Phil Collins), here I am heading into year 7. It’s still a rollercoaster, and so many other things have happened in the process (covid, Brexit, cost of living crisis) but I now manufacture 95% of all my own pieces, only sourcing from a supplier on one line of slogan tees. I also branched out into making none t-shirt and sweatshirt items and working with woven fabrics and prints, and I stopped claiming working tax credits nearly 2 years ago, but I still have those spreadsheets as financially I’m still 100% flying solo. 

As for childcare, I’m still lucky to have those mum friends to step in, they haven’t got sick of me yet, and of course as the kids are now a lot older it is getting a lot easier, but I still haven’t managed to get away to visit my factory in India. That is definitely on the agenda but for now FaceTime and their little visits over here are enough.

I don’t know if my story is helpful to anyone, I really hope it is as I feel that there are some key pointers in all that blurb and if I can do it anyone can. So here are my tips:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I always feel guilty and hate doing it but 100% of the time everyone is more than happy to.
Question everything never just accept a no. 
Get advice but it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.
Be ready to learn. You can’t possibly know everything. There are so many courses out there and there’s always YouTube. I have done a few daytime courses and they are cheaper and flexible.
Talk to people and make connections. Connections are key.
Find someone to bounce ideas off. If you can afford to, get someone to work with you. In my 2nd year I took on Lyndsey and couldn’t have got this far without her.
Listen to your gut, it’s usually right. I have ignored it a few times and regret it.
Learn how to use excel – a spreadsheet is your friend.
Try not to compare. It’s natural to want to see what everyone else is up to, but businesses are build differently. Just work at your own pace, and as long as you are making money you must be doing something right. It’s not a competition.
Remember it’s your business so you can be flexible but don’t bend too much. If it doesn’t work for you then walk away.

Most importantly keep going. You will have really really shit days when you question what you’re doing but you also have really really great days and you should pat yourself on the back for that and celebrate the fact that you are actually doing it.

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and writing this has helped remind myself of just how far I’ve come.

Rae x