Pigeon (Organics for Kids) founder Jane Shepherd tells us how she’s supporting her Nottingham-based manufacturer to keep her kidswear brand made in the UK
When Organics for Kids launched in 2004, Founder Jane Shepherd’s plan was to have all of her organic cotton products manufactured in the UK, and as locally as possible. She achieved this with a family-run Nottingham factory, until tragic circumstances in 2013 meant the closure of this well regarded family business.
In our interview, Jane talks me through the circumstances that forced her kidswear business , now re-branded as Pigeon, to manufacture some products abroad. And how they are now working with the original manufacturing family in Nottingham once again.
Jane, firstly can tell our readers a little about the history of Pigeon (Organics for Kids)?
I found out about organic cotton whilst working for a charitable trust, looking at the social, environmental and harmful implications of non-organic material.
Then, following a move from London to Oxford to raise my young family, I decided the time was right to realise my dream of starting a brand making babies and children’s clothes from certified organic cotton. Organics for Kids was founded in 2004.
Organics for Kids always aimed to make the softest organic cotton garments with serious attention to detail.
From your launch in 2004 your entire range was made in the UK. Tell us a bit about your manufacturer and the relationship you had with them?
I was very fortunate to find an amazing family run, Nottingham factory who were renowned for their exceptional quality. When I started working with them, China had just opened up and lots of their business had been lost to manufacturers over there. We were growing fast and soon became 90% of the factory’s business. I loved the closeness of working with them.
The factory in Nottingham had between twenty and twenty-five machinists and I loved being able to visit them and see my products being made. The fact they were family run, and that the whole family were involved, made it an even more special place to work.
I believe that the relationship and the connection between brand and manufacturer is so important and what makes local manufacturing so special. Big global organisations don’t have the same direct accountability and there is often an alienation between makers and users.
“I believe that the relationship and the connection between brand and manufacturer is so important and what makes local manufacturing so special. Big global organisations don’t have the same direct accountability and there is often an alienation between makers and users.”
What happened in 2013 that forced you to take most of your manufacturing overseas?
Sadly, in 2013 the factory owner who was also the manager and a pattern cutter suffered a huge stroke. His children tried desperately hard to continue the business, but without his experience it became impossible to run such a large manufacturing unit, and sadly the factory went in to administration.
We were devastated for them, and also in a terrible situation as Organics for Kids was left with almost no stock. I tried to find another manufacturer in the UK, but was not able to do so, and so most of our products then began to be made overseas. We did still keep a small proportion of the production with the family of the original UK factory though.
We used an Indian factory to make some of our seasonal fashion garments, whilst other products were being made in Turkey and the Ukraine. We have a big market in Germany, and they were wary of manufacturing outside of Europe, hence why we used Turkey and the Ukraine for the core collections.
You are now making the more of the collection in the UK again, can you tell me how this came about?
Well, this is the nice bit of the story, the phoenix rising, if you like.
We continued working with James, the son of the original factory owner, in the hope that if he could develop the business once more we could go back to using him for our range. We decided that if we could support him in growing his family’s business once again, it would also help our business too. So we worked closely with him and offered guaranteed orders going to help him get the factory off the ground again.
“We worked closely with our manufacturer and offered guaranteed orders going forward”
Now, through our support, James, his sister and his wife Maria have opened a mew manufacturing unit called Poppet, in a converted stable block on a farm in rural Nottinghamshire. They currently have four machinists, James’s sister being one.
The best bit is that Poppet have just been approved by the SOIL Association to manufacture certified organic products, which is a great step for them and for Pigeon Organics too.
So how far are you hoping to continue your working relationship with Poppet, and do you anticipate being able to manufacture 100% in the UK again?
Absolutely, that is the aim. Poppet has capacity for ten to twelve more machinists and I am optimistic that in two to three years time they will be able to handle all of our manufacturing for us.
Of course after such a difficult time, they are cautious not to try to expand too quickly and we are also careful to make sure that we have a back up, so that we don’t put ourselves in a position where we are without stock again. But we are all 100% committed to making this work.
I am hopeful that by this time next year we will be manufacturing 50% of our stock in Nottinghamshire.
Lastly, tell me about the new name, Pigeon (Organics for Kids)?
Well, the name came about because we quite simply decided that Organics for Kids was a little dull. It did what it said, but felt a little unimaginative. We liked Pigeon as it sounded a bit cheeky, a loveable pest, like the little people the brand caters for!