Have you ever thought, ‘Surely I could do something with this old cashmere jumper rather than just take it to the charity shop or clothes bank’?
Well, now you can. Turtle Doves, based in Shrewsbury, will turn your cashmere jumper into mittens, hats, scarves, ponchos or throw and send you a free pair of cashmere fingerless mittens in return. And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill mittens either; Turtle Doves owns the patent for a glove that doubles up as a wrist-warmer in one movement so you never lose the mittens whilst your hands stay toastie warm. The company receives many orders from Raynaud’s and arthritis sufferers and they have recently been asked to visit the Houses of Parliament to receive an award for Environmental Best Practice and Sustainable Development 2015.
Kate Holbrook started Turtle Doves in 2009 as she recovered from a broken leg (her dogs ran into her). ‘I had no intention of creating a business’ she says, ‘That first Christmas I just tried out a stall at a local school and the gloves sold really well because they were recycled, made locally and well priced. I needed quality material that was cheap and I thought ‘Charity Shops!’ At first we used jumpers from any material that stretched but we soon realized that we could charge more for the cashmere gloves, which meant that we could wholesale to shops too. This fundamentally changed our aspirations for the business. By 2012 we needed to find a bigger source of cashmere jumpers than the Shrewsbury charity shops. This was when Graham’s retail experience, particularly in the field of reverse logistics (products moving back up the supply chain) came into its own.’
‘Probably the biggest challenge has been managing a family of three young (now teenage) daughters and a growing business, whilst Graham worked away during the week. Obviously the girls got top priority whenever possible but to be honest Graham and I agreed quite early on that growing up in a chaotic household run by a woman who was trying to grow a business wasn’t a bad start in life.’
Graham agrees. ‘I spent nine years working away from home but in a way since Turtle Doves started it’s been a glue that’s kept Kate and me talking on the phone long into the night and that has been good for the marriage. The girls will say we argue too much about the business but I reply that at least we’re not arguing about each other. After 20 years of marriage that’s quite cool.
‘Kate’s the artistic ‘people person’ who exists in the now. I’m the hard-headed businessman who is always planning and I get frustrated when good ideas don’t get executed because someone dropped the ball. Our skills should match but they often clash. As the Turtle Doves team grows bigger Kate has stopped trying to do everything herself and handed over some of the plate-spinning to others and applied her artistic talents to proper marketing. This is transforming the business. Designing great products gets you a long way. Designing great adverts and delivering superb personalized customer service gets you a lot further.’
Sales have doubled each year since the business started. Turtle Doves moved out of the family home last year and operates from a studio and small factory in Shrewsbury, selling to over 170 independent shops in the UK and increasingly abroad. They employ 20 people, all women, all of whom are paid above the Living Wage and are offered very flexible working hours and location. ‘We know how lucky we are to be able to run this local business with its fabulous people and customers,’ Kate told us. ‘We aren’t the corporate types so we try to look after everyone as best we can.’
‘But we like to be entrepreneurial so we’ve invested a lot of time and money trying to develop a successful online presence,’ says Kate. ‘We are now on our fourth website and this winter we hope that online sales will exceed turnover through our wholesale and market channels combined. It’s been like nailing jelly to a wall because the technology and customer expectations change very frequently. But right now I have to say it’s been worth it. We get so many great comments from our online and market stall customers about the quality of our products and customer service. Our Trust Pilot scores are among the best in the industry.’
You can find everything you need to know about Turtle Doves at www.turtle-doves.co.uk including where to send your old cashmere jumpers or how to meet Kate at her stall in the Shrewsbury Market Square on the dates listed on the website.
And for readers of Queen of Easy Green, Turtle Doves is offering you a 10% OFF coupon ‘QENOV15’ and by joining as a Friend of Turtle Doves on the front page of the website you receive an extra 10% coupon via your mailbox.