Former Army friends Rachel Day and Merry Whitaker have found homespun success, giving new life to treasured items of clothes. Alex Green finds out how LoveKeepCreate was born.
It’s a dream shared by many a new mum: to indulge in your hobby and turn it into a successful business that fits around family. But that’s exactly what friends and business partners Rachel Day and Merry Whitaker have achieved with their new venture, called LoveKeepCreate.
Together, they have turned what began as Rachel’s crafty idea of making a blanket out of her son’s first baby clothes, into a keepsake company that is doing well on the national stage.
Their charming products range from bespoke teddy bears to blankets, quilts and cushions made from a loved one’s favourite clothes. All of them hold deep sentimental value for the people that receive their creations.
“I’ve always enjoyed making things, so when I had my son Freddie, I tried to find a way to work from home,” explains Rachel.
“I found an old-fashioned sewing machine and started making dresses, hats, and make-up bags. It wasn’t until my husband Chris was being posted back to Afghanistan that I decided to do something with Freddie’s baby clothes.
“I knew I wanted to upcycle them in some way, so I created a blanket and embroidered Freddie’s name and date of birth and gave it to Chris, so he could feel close to us while he was away.”
I meet the friends at their studio in Plymouth. It’s a well-organised haven of creativity, where they appear relaxed, completely at ease in each other’s company and without a hint of the pressures that can result from running your own business while raising young children.
It takes a minute or two to realise that Rachel, 35, is calmly breastfeeding her third child Harriet, as she begins to tell me how, soon after posting a picture of her home-made blanket on Facebook, she had a year’s worth of orders.
There was clearly a market for Rachel’s designs but soon there an overwhelming backlog of orders. After a catch-up with her friend Merry, who had just had her first child, they talked about going into business together and soon everything began to slot into place.
Not only were both women getting used to life as new mums after years of military service in Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they each had a desire to move to the South West with their husbands (both happen to be called Chris), where they wanted to put down roots to bring up their children.
Plus, they knew they could work together. As Merry, 35, explains; “We first met at Sandhurst while training for the army and got paired up as ‘basher buddies’. That meant we had to share and do everything together. So, for example, while one of us cooked the other had to put up the tent.
“It was quite an intense period and we were inseparable. We knew what we were like at the lowest of the low, at times of high stress and tiredness.”
That was 14 years ago and, despite long periods of time apart, they remained the best of friends before becoming business partners.
They made the move to Devon, because, as Merry says: “We love everything that the South West has to offer, from the climbing, kayaking and mountain biking to the coastline and the moors.
“I grew up in Exeter and always wanted to come back to Devon. Rachel’s parents had already moved to Peter Tavy and she wanted to be close to them.”
Rachel agrees: “I love being on the edge of Dartmoor. When we first moved here, the sewing machine sat in front of the window, so while I was working, I would look out across the Dartmoor landscape at such beautiful, inspiring scenery.”
For the first year, they both worked from home.
“We would take it in turns to drive to each other’s houses and had a beautiful commute to work across the moor, avoiding the ponies and sheep, past Two Bridges. It was stunning,” says Merry.
Entering the Dragons’ Den
They invested in branding and the development of a new website, which went live in May 2013 when LoveKeepCreate was officially launched. Since then, business increased, more staff were taken on, and at the start of this year, they appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den.
It was a successful pitch and had all the Dragons so convinced that they nearly walked away with a better deal than the one they were asking for. Somerset-based Deborah Meaden won the investment opportunity and has been supporting them since with their strategy, marketing and growth plans.
In turn, the business now gives something back to the community, employing young graduates from Plymouth College of Art and Design and supporting fashion and textile students while they study. Brittany, 19, is a student who currently divides her time between college and working as one of the team’s nine seamstresses. Georgia, 21, joined as an apprentice while studying at Plymouth City College and is now a full-time member of the team.
Their most popular products are still the keepsake teddy bears and memory blankets. With a creative team bursting with ideas to bring to the table, new products are in the pipeline, says Rachel: “We recently launched a lamb toy and we’re developing designs for a kangaroo keepsake. A penguin design will be ready in time for Christmas – our busiest time of year. We have to stop taking orders in November to be able to make everything in time. We also do Keepsake gift boxes and these do really well as presents.”
The business now has a Facebook following of almost 150,000 people. Happy customers share their newly-received treasured items and this inspires more interest. People are generally looking for their own personalised keepsakes to remember special moments in their lives, from their wedding day to the birth of a new baby, or to remember a loved one.
The two friends make running a business and being a mum at the same time look easy but they have worked hard to get to this point, as Merry says: “It’s difficult to create a successful business without a lot of hard work and perhaps missing out on a bit of mum time. I don’t think you can have it all.”
“It’s only been possible because we can share the load, by working together as good friends and with a good team to support us.” Their officer training has clearly been put to good use. I wonder what they did with their old uniforms?
Source: Devon live