We speak to Jonie Worton, founder of Bob & John Knitwear, about creating beautiful knits in a British seaside town.
Bob & John Knitwear is a small home manufacturing business in Lowestoft that creates gorgeous handmade knitwear for you and your home. The fabric is 100% Lambswool, made by the company’s founder Jonie Worton through a process of machine knitting, felting, cutting and sewing. We had a chat to find out more.
Can you tell me a bit about Bob & John Knitwear and your inspiration for starting the business?
At Bob & John Knitwear we create fashion and interior products using 100% Lambswool. Our ethos is about self-manufacturing, taking the time to make high quality products such as our most popular item the Knitted Letter Cushion. We design and machine knit the fabric in our Lowestoft studio in Suffolk.
What is the significance of the names Bob & John?
My inspiration came when I was studying for an MA at Nottingham Trent University in Fashion Knitwear Design. I wanted to brand my research project with something personal so I chose the names of my grandfathers.
Where are you currently selling your items?
I am currently selling my items as a partner on Notonthehighstreet.com, the Bob & John Knitwear website, and in other stockists around the country. I also sell at local fairs and events.
What makes your products different from others on the market?
My products are self-manufactured in my home studio meaning I have full control of the process at every stage, which I believe to be very important.
Where do you source your raw materials?
I source my materials from businesses in the UK, and where possible I use local businesses in Lowestoft.
How important is provenance to your business and what does ‘Made in Britain’ mean to you?
Made in Britain is fundamental to my business, and I feel it adds a personal touch which makes the products appealing to customers.
Do you promote the Britishness of your brand and how important is this to your marketing strategy?
I use the fact my products are Made in Britain as a selling point. When at fairs or events I speak to customers about the physical process and how important it is to the business that the products are made locally.
Can you tell me about the New Enterprise Allowance scheme you have recently been involved in and your visit to Downing Street?
I have been involved in the New Enterprise Allowance scheme with Ixion Holdings Ltd and the Government. It is a six-month scheme that provides you with financial support each week, along with access to mentors and advice. I recently won two awards from the scheme, Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 and Best Retail Business 2013. The awards have really boosted both my confidence and the business. As a result of this, I was recognised and invited to 10 Downing Street for a reception with the Prime Minister along with a number of other new businesses. It was an excellent event to showcase my work and network with other young start-up companies across the country.
Do you think there’s enough awareness regarding British made products and could more be done to encourage young people like you to set up a manufacturing business here? Could the government do more to help?
I feel things are moving in the right direction and since becoming part of the scheme I have encountered other ways that new businesses can receive help. There is always more that can be done, but I do feel there is definitely support for young people out there to follow their dreams of being their own boss. We also have the Internet, which is a fabulous tool to create connections, particularly social media.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for anyone wanting to set up a new manufacturing business here in the UK?
I say go for it if you love what you do and are willing to take the risk. You have to work hard and be willing to sacrifice hours and even days sometimes. What I have found interesting is that you get to learn about every part of the business from design and production to research and marketing as well as processing accounts. This is stressful but exciting as you have the opportunity to take full control and get to experiment, finding your own methodologies and techniques along the way.
What does the future hold for Bob & John Knitwear?
Currently we need to keep up the momentum we have created over the Christmas period. It is a really busy and exciting time at the moment as we are stocking in many different shops and galleries across the country and our shop on Notonthehighstreet.com is proving to be very successful.
In regards to the long-term future, I aim to continue designing new personalised products to give the customer something special. We are also planning to move to larger premises in the next couple of years, which will enable us to run knitting workshops and eventually enlarge the creative team to help the business to expand.