Baker & Bray was born out of my inspiration from my grandmothers, both keen knitters and sewers. I have fond memories of them creating the most amazing knitted jumpers and hats, especially over the holidays. These memories spurred me on to buy a sewing machine and start creating the ideas I had flowing in my head.
Knowing absolutely nothing about sewing, I took a trip to John Lewis, where a helpful assistant patiently piled up the items I needed to get started, including an entry level Brother XN2500 sewing machine. My goal was to never sell the items I made myself; rather, to gain an understanding of the process of making garments and to learn how to communicate my designs to a professional tailor. One of the difficult aspects of this would be to clearly communicate what I want to a professional. So for me, this early teach-myself period was really important.
I started off with basic things, using scraps of material to learn how to use the machine. The first real item I made was a double-sided bandana in blue paisley cotton. These were a great experience for me as although they look simple- just two triangles sewn together- they are surprisingly difficult to perfect; they need absolutely straight lines and flawless corners. It took quite a few practice goes before I had something I was prepared to show my friends!
Next, I gave jackets a go. Having downloaded various patterns from guides on the Internet, I modified them to fit my dogs and put them together. At the beginning they looked terrible and it took forever to make one - definitely a whole weekend job for me! However, after a few failed attempts they started to look like decent dog jackets, so I attempted to make matching corduroy and fur lined jackets for Christmas.
They turned out surprisingly well, complete with piping, buttons etc. I took my dogs out on Christmas Day wearing them and had a number of total strangers approach me to say how adorable the jackets were.
This was really a turning point for me; to have some positive validation from total strangers was fantastic, which gave me the confidence to start thinking about this more seriously. I began to look into tailors in London, and after some searching found a fantastic studio in Islington, which I continue to work with today. I setup the company, and as the inspiration for the idea came from my grandmothers- grandma Baker and grandma Bray- Baker & Bray seemed like a fitting name. Baker & Bray was born!
The first 9 months were all about design and prototyping, taking my design ideas and working on them with my tailors. We made many different variations and after working through these ideas, and trialling them on many of my friends' dogs, I had the first line of samples for Baker & Bray.
During this period I came across Liberty of London's British Open Call, a Dragons' Den-like day, where new designers can apply to show their products to a panel of specialists and buyers from Liberty. I applied, mostly to get their feedback and criticism, and surprisingly I was accepted to show my products. I've always loved Liberty print fabrics and decided early on that I would like to incorporate them in some of my designs. So for the British Open Call, I produced 4 sample jackets, two of which featured my favorite Liberty print fabrics.
The response I got was amazing. I was fast-tracked to see the Managing Director, Ed Burstell, who was really positive about my products. I presented them to Ed, Head of Press Kate Brindley, and various other buyers who sat in on the presentation. It was amazing to get such positive feedback from Liberty, the first retailer I showed my samples to, and that the response was so encouraging. One of the negatives, however, was that Liberty doesn't stock any pet products, so I left the Open Call with a "we're interested, but not now".
About a month later, Ed Burstell called and invited me to take part in their Get Creative series of workshops in the store. We setup an area for Baker & Bray on the ground floor on Saturday and showed the products to their customers to get feedback. It was such an amazing experience; I've never done anything like that before and it was quite daunting having Channel 4 cameras with me all day! It was great to get first-hand feedback from the public. Unfortunately, the products I had taken were samples, as I had not yet started trading or manufacturing, which was a shame as there were customers that day who were interested in purchasing. It also gave the impression to Liberty that my products were only custom or bespoke rather than ready-made, which is what they wanted.
The Channel 4 programme "Liberty of London" aired in mid-November, which was a fantastic start for my business. I had launched my website just prior to this and the show provided a great way for people to hear about Baker & Bray.
So what's in store for Baker & Bray now? I'm working on new designs at the moment for jackets & collars and hoping to introduce a line of jackets for dachshunds and lurchers in the autumn.