Category Archives: Interview

An Interview With Mad4Tools & Scruffs Womenswear

imageLadies, if you work in an office or a similar environment where smart clothing is de rigeur, finding suitable work clothes is fairly easy.  If you work in an industry where your work clothes need to be tough, waterproof and safety orientated, your choice is limited – often resulting in wearing menswear or unisex that isn’t always flattering or comfortable.  Mad4Tools – a shop renowned for its quality tools and workwear, has just expanded into womenswear launching a new range of high quality workwear that is not only stylish and feminine, but has paid attention to the cut of the garment as well as featuring safety requirements of the highest standard.  I spoke to Mad4Tools director, Paul Swain, to find out more … welcome Paul…

Hi! I am Paul Swain, director of Mad4tools.com; passionate about providing an online one stop shop for quality tools, equipment and workwear for all.

Mad4Tools are an online tools and equipment store launched in 2012. What gave you the idea to expand into women’s workwear for 2015?

When we first launched our website we did offer some standard workwear and safety boots for women although it was largely just men’s clothing described as womens (not by us, I’d hasten to add). Though we did receive interest in the womenswear we felt that, after having had several conversations with regular customers and contacts in the industry, there is a gap in the market place for more stylish and fitting workwear much like what is available for men. After speaking with our suppliers about this last year, it was confirmed that for winter 2014/15, Scruffs would launch a brand new stylish and fitted range of safety boots and clothing as a starter into the womens market.

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Your womenswear collection is supplied & designed by Scruffs who are known for providing innovative safety footwear & clothing for tradesmen. What did you feel was so special about adding their ladieswear collection to your repertoire?

We already supply Scruffs safety boots and clothing and since 2003, it has become the largest workwear brand in this industry. This is because the clothes are generally of high quality, very well thought out from a functionality point of view and look great as well with some bold designs and styles. The range that has been released is the tip of the iceberg also as this is just an initial range to see what works and is popular. On top of this Scruffs are known for doing things properly by not cutting corners and providing good details on what makes each garment or boot better or different from the next.

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I must admit I do love the Goliath Cleo Pink Ladies Waterproof Safety Boots – very trendy & fine looking yet exude high safety requirements including being oil and slip resistant. What ladieswear or footwear seems to be going down well with your lady customers?

Yes, the Cleo safety boots have always been popular. They were with us from our initial range of womens workwear and safety boots. These have been supplied to customers all over the world.  Of the new Scruffs range, the Edens have been significantly more popular. Two of our most popular items of womens clothing currently are the Scruffs Women’s Executive Jacket and the Scruffs Women’s Worker Plus Black Trousers.

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When it comes to workwear – what item seems to be most popular bought by your male customers?

Safety boots always out sell work clothing. For us, the most popular currently being the Switch Back Safety Boots available in brown, tan and black finish and second to safety boots are our Trade Work Trousers. Currently the standard trade trousers are being phased out for a new breed of trousers regarded as a 3D Trade trousers as the trousers are cleverly made so that the trousers better fits the shape of your leg and that pockets and knee pads are off set so that when the user is wearing them, the pockets are angled in such a way that things do not fall out of them or dig into the side of your leg; also the knee pad area is at a slightly different angle also so that it stays in position when in the crouched/kneeling position. That on top of the standard high quality reinforced stitching in high pressure areas and other great rip resistant materials, it makes for a great new type of trouser.

Scruffs design their workwear to provide fashion inspired trousers, tops, base layers, shirts and rain suits made from active performance materials. Have you had any unusual stock requests from customers though?

We had a customer in Singapore that wanted the Cleo safety boots to confirm that the ones we were selling were legitimate Goliath safety boots as there were some counterfeit ones on the market in Singapore and they did not meet the high safety standards that are delivered in the Goliath safety boot range. Obviously we reassured her that we only deal with the manufacturers so all our products are legitimate.

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You offer worldwide delivery. What work safety clothing/footwear is most popular overseas?

We have a customer in the Philippines who buys a lot of Acid Safety wellington boots from us as well as chemical safety suits – these are arguably the most popular products for us internationally currently.

What work clothing/footwear can we look forward to seeing online for Summer 2015?

We have a range of professional trade work shorts coming out in the Summer and a new range of men’s Scruffs safety boots. We also have a new Active Wear T-Shirt with 50+ SPF protection as well as being light weight and moisture wicking.

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Hypothetically speaking, what famous person would you love to have as the “face” of Mad4Tools/Scruffs?

Lee Evans,  because he is the sort of guy you could imagine running on stage with a chainsaw in his hand much like our mascot Madly. However, we wouldn’t want Madly to feel second best, so we might have to have Lee Evans in a Madly suit. 😉

Being in the tools/equipment industry for over 30 years, what was the best piece of business advice you ever received? And dare I say it, the worst (in respect that you followed the advice but it didn’t work out as you hoped)?

This advice is not necessarily just business, but the best piece of advice I had was to not give up, you don’t get anything worth having without hard work. Worst advice, this is a hard one for me, even something that goes badly based on a suggestion I don’t necessarily believe it was bad as I always take something away from the situation, though one was that we should get a large stock of one particular heater into stock this winter as they sold out last winter and we still have a lot of them now!

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Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

It’s fair to say that I don’t go shopping enough or as much as I would like. I tend to wear Diesel brown leather shoes, jeans, a polo shirt and a thin but warm coloured jumper. I have been know to wear the odd floral shirt also.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

I don’t necessarily favour any particular sites, in fact I’d prefer to shop somewhere a bit off the beaten track so sometimes you can get some great different stuff through eBay and Amazon from international retailers. Delivery times are somewhat extended although you do end up with something you don’t see on the high street every day. I do, however, buy a few things from ASOS.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I could really do with some casual trainers and a gilet. 

Boots or Shoes? 

Boots. I’m not sure if it’s because I played a lot of basketball when I was younger or what, but I prefer the feel of a boot. Although saying that, for the office, where I spend most of my days, a shoe.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about Mad 4 Tools and Scruffs.

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Mad4Tools.com and you can follow us @mad4toolscom. Our website is mad4tools.com.

Thank you very much for speaking with us Paul.  It’s an area of womenswear I never really considered before but there was definitely a gap in the market for decent workwear for women in industries that are not office based and I’m so pleased that Scruffs have stepped up to the challenge.  What do you ladies think? Do let me know!

Linda x

Photo Credits : Published with kind permission of Mad4Tools.com/ Scruffs Womenswear

 

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An Interview With My Glasses Club

This week I’m looking at the world of glasses … not as in “wine” glasses but as in spectacles! Serial entrepreneur Scott Woodhead is co-founder of the company My Glasses Club, which claims to be the world’s first subscription based glasses club.  Intrigued? So was I …. so I chatted with him to find out more. Welcome Scott…image

Hi! I’m Scott Woodhead, one of the co-founders of My Glasses Club. I’m 31 and live in a lovely little Yorkshire town called Richmond with my wife Anneka and our 14 day old son Emerson.

My Glasses Club is the world’s first subscription based glasses club. What gave you the idea in the first place?

Well, I noticed lots of clubs cropping up selling everything from artisan coffee and organic foods, vegetables to healthy snacks and even gourmet sausages. But I questioned whether many were solving a real problem or just jumping on the subscription model bandwagon. I have observed for many years the frustrations of many glasses wearers who complained about the upfront cost of owning glasses and then servicing them when lenses got damaged or prescriptions changed. So I asked myself the question, could we use a subscription model to solve these real problems?

What is the aim of My Glasses Club?

Our aim as a team is to learn, grow, have some fun and make a difference. If we can do that over the coming years then by my definition we have been successful. If we can also make it easier and more affordable for consumers to own multiple use pairs, then we would have realised part of our vision.

What benefits do members enjoy that they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy at a traditional High Street opticians when it comes to buying spectacles?

I think the type of consumer that shops with us is not only price savvy but wants to do everything from the comfort of their own home in a few clicks and have it delivered to their door. So I would say price and convenience are the big advantages of shopping with us over a high street optician. Members also get our free reglazes guarantee which is very unique and covers their lenses against damage or prescription changes.

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Can you explain your “Buy A Pair, Give A Pair” promise?How important is the charity aspect to your company?

In all the businesses I have started having a deeper purpose is very important to me. A lot of entrepreneurs these days seem to get into business so they can personally profit. But in my view business is about giving. Giving back to your staff, customers, suppliers and wider communities. Our “Buy a Pair Give a Pair” is one aspect of how we are using of the business to help others. So whenever someone joins our club we give someone in Africa a pair of glasses.

Your range of prescription spectacles and sunglasses is vast and covers designers such as Hugo Boss, Vivienne Westwood and Jimmy Choo. What brand seems to be the most popular with members? Do you have a favourite brand?

Well, Vivienne Westwood and Jimmy Choo seem to be getting the most attention amongst our female audience. I particular love our Original Penguin frames which are really unusual and subtly branded.

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Can you tell us a bit more about the order process?

Customers visit our website with a budget in mind. So we have 4 membership plans to cater for everyone starting at £0.99. Each plan has a selection of frames, with the more expensive plan including the top brands. All they do is select a frame, upload a prescription and choose any additional lens extras on top of the ones which we include with each plan and then the customers glasses are delivered within 5 days. All members get our reglaze guarantee which covers their lenses against damage or prescription changes and then every six months they can choose another pair.They pay one off joining fee of £30 and each plans is billed monthly via Direct Debit with no contracts so they are free to cancel at anytime.

This is a UK based club at the moment – have you any plans to venture overseas with the idea?

Of course, our research has shown that there is a pent up demand for our business model worldwide, but we want to maximise the potential of our home market here in the UK first before we start tackling the wider opportunity. When we do internationalise, we may have to adapt the flavour, and I am excited by that challenge.

Hypothetically speaking, what famous person would you love to have as the “face” of My Glasses Club?

Chris Evans would have been great, but I think he had laser surgery!?

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Being a serial entrepreneur, what was the best piece of business advice you ever received? And dare I say it, the worst (in respect that you followed the advice but it didn’t work out as you hoped)?

The best advice I have been given is to have fun. Business will have its ups and downs but if you’re not enjoying yourself what’s the point. I think when you are having fun and enjoying yourself progress takes care of itself. I can’t really point my finger at anyone and blame them for giving me bad advice that failed, at the end of the day if I took the advice the responsibility lies with me.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Anything that is comfortable. This has got me into trouble though at times, when I refused to wear and shirt or tie for my wedding.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I don’t really enjoy shopping and prefer to use my time either with family and friends, working on making MGC better or being with nature.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Well as soon as I get a hole in something it is usually the moment when I look to Anneka and say “help”.

Boots or Shoes? 

Shoes that are comfortable, unless I am walking in the Dales then sturdy boots are a must.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about My Glasses Club.

http://www.myglassesclub.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/myglassesclub
https://twitter.com/myglassesclub

Thank you Scott for explaining the concept of My Glasses Club!  I’m sure you’ve given many readers food for thought.  What do you think?  Is this an idea that could work for you? 

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission of My Glasses Club

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An Interview With Author Liat Hughes Joshi

Parenting – Traditional or Modern – which method is best when bringing up your offspring?  It is an age old argument amongst different generations that their methods are best.  Despite having 5 children of my own, who are currently aged 24 down to the youngest at just 8; each birth was accompanied by different sets of recommendations. Take weaning for example: with my eldest it was recommended to start weaning at 3 months …. by the time my youngest was born it was frowned upon any earlier than 6 months!  My personal opinion is to find a happy medium between the two styles that you and your offspring feel comfortable with ….and that’s why I was so excited to chat to this week’s guest on my blog, Liat Hughes Joshi, author of “New Old Fashioned Parenting” – a guide to help you find that balance between traditional and modern parenting. A big warm welcome, Liat….image

Hi! I’m a writer and journalist from London but originally from Lancashire. I specialise in writing about parenting and family life, with clients including national newspapers, parenting magazines and websites. I’ve also popped up on TV and the radio providing comments about parenting matters.

Your 3rd book on parenting, published on 12th February 2015, is the “New Old-Fashioned Parenting” – a guide to help parents find the balance between traditional and modern parenting.What inspired you to write this guide?

There were a few incidents that particularly crystallised my thoughts on just how very child-centred and over-indulgent SOME parents can be these days and the contrast with when most of today’s parents were kids in the 70s to early 90s. One time, I was in a coffee shop waiting to come out and two toddlers were playing by the door in the way. I waited patiently, not wanting to spoil their fun too soon, but then waited and waited some more. It was very obvious I wanted to leave and they were blocking my way. The parents were right next to them and definitely saw me but didn’t say “guys move out of the way for the lady” or similar. They carried on and on and there was just none of the consideration for others that surely should be there. A few days later, I was in a busy train station and whilst the children I was with were sat down happily, those from the adjacent table’s group were hurtling round getting in everyone’s way. Again, the adults they were with made no effort to get them to stop. When did we end up with such low expectations of kids’ behaviour? They can still have lots of fun but be considerate when needs be.

imageWhat are the main themes in the book?

It works on two levels, I hope. On one, more general level it’s about taking a step back and asking ourselves what’s really best for our children. Parents are bombarded with all sorts of messages about how to bring their children up nowadays and I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that more than anything we’re here to prepare them to be happy, well-functioning adults. Of course we want them to be happy along the way too, but sometimes the right thing for the long term doesn’t always make them content now. I’m definitely not suggesting making anyone unhappy for the sake of it just that sometimes as a parent you have to take a hit for the long term and do something they’d rather you didn’t. On a day-to-day basis though, there’s also lots of practical advice on everything from getting them to do more chores to preventing fussy eating, how to get the right level of involvement in their education and looking at issues of screen time and them growing up too fast.That’s the paradoxical side of modern childhood – on the one hand, we’re wrapping them up in cotton wool and not letting them have much freedom, but on the other we’re pushing them academically harder than perhaps ever and they’re growing up faster than we all did too thanks to media and commercial influences. This is one of the dilemmas I hope the book helps parents with.

Having 5 children of my own that span from the ages of 8 to 24 (!) I have encountered many idea changes on parenting. You have, like me, a 9 year old son – what parenting issue(s) do you find most frustrating when it comes to conflicting advice?

Wow you must be busy.. I’m one of four in my family and it was pretty hectic, although the age gap wasn’t so wide. I think all the child health advice is probably the most confusing because it changes all the time and then you just end up feeling guilty about something you’ve done/ fed them.

imageYou have written other parenting books – “Raising Children – The Primary Years” and “What to Buy For Your Baby” – as well as being columnist & feature writer for AOL’s parenting website (www.parentdish.co.uk). Have you always wanted to have a career in writing?

I did always love writing and it was something I wanted to do as a child but there were other ideas too. I wanted to be an interior designer at one stage and a lawyer at another. I’m also very interested in business so spent nine year as a management consultant before finally giving in to the urge to write in 2002.

You’re also a judge in the Annual Slow Toy Awards, launched at Selfridges in 2012, Harrods in 2013 and John Lewis in 2014. What toy(s) have you personally been most impressed with over the last 3 years?

This year’s big find from Slow Toys for me was this cool magnetic wooden block toy called Tegu. It’s been a pleasure to be part of it. It’s been interesting to see the awards evolve since 2012 and the entries and shortlist have got so strong – there were some brilliant toys entered this year. Outside of Slow Toys, LEGO is timeless and never fails to impress – I’m often going on about it but it’s the basic piles of bricks and people I’m into rather than prescribed models as they tend to get made and then what does a child do with them? They might play with them a bit or rebuild them once or twice but it’s much less imaginative.

imageYou are currently writing another book, due for publishing in May 2015, called “How To Unplug Your Child”. Can you tell us a bit more about that book?

It’s very simply 101 ideas to get children of all ages away from screens more. There are other kids’ activity books out there but this has the digital generation in mind and toddlers to teens, whereas most of the existing ones focus on the younger end. I’ve tried to have something to suit all kids in there too as a lot of the book’s competitors have a focus on arty and crafty activities. I have a deeply un-arty son myself so know it’s not everyone’s thing. Overall I don’t think we should fight screens altogether though as they can be brilliant in lots of ways and are part of our lives now – these are just ideas to get them away more rather than something preachy about getting them to give up gadgets altogether. It’s about sensible use rather than panicking that it’s all bad.

What sort of book genre do you like reading? Favourite books or authors?

My Kindle is loaded with contemporary fiction (I was really anti- e-readers at first but absolutely love it now). A favourite read of recent years was The Hundred-Year Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Utterly charming and very funny and I kept buying copies for people I know. (That’s one of my favourite books too, Liat)  

What was the best piece of parenting advice you ever received? And dare I say it, the worst (in respect that you followed the advice but it didn’t work out as you hoped)?

It’s a Mumsnet thing: “this too shall pass”. As in most of the stuff we stress about when they are babies and toddlers will be a short-lived problem. And believe me I did do lots of stressing when my son was a baby (why thank you colic!) The worst was simply the ‘thou shalt breastfeed no matter what’ pressure when my son was born. Of course evidence shows that it’s better wherever possible but that pressure can go too far and make you feel guilty about something that circumstances, health and the like sometimes get in the way of no matter how much you want it to work out.

A little bird told me that you are passionate about tennis – have you ever been tempted to write about tennis or do you play purely to rewind?

I don’t really understand enough about the professional game to write about the circuit and pros – I prefer to just play – but I have done a few features about tennis holidays/ resorts and used to edit the travel pages of a tennis magazine. It was not exactly hard work doing the testing of all these amazing resorts! A dream job for me in fact.

imagePersonal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I am stuck in a fashion rut and this has got worse since we got a puppy this last year.. I throw on skinny jeans, a longish top and then boots before dashing down to let him out in the morning and it all needs to be suitable for walking the dog (I.e. getting covered in mud). I’m still determined not to be become a ‘frumpy dog lady’ so am trying to keep a vague element of style to it all with a bit of luxe knitwear and nice scarves at the moment.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

I’m pretty boring – high street stores such as Gap and John Lewis (especially John Lewis, I do love it) do me fine. If I won the lottery (which would be especially lucky given I don’t actually bother playing it), I might head to Paul Smith or Nicole Fahri more but really I’m happy with high street so wouldn’t change that.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Things that get me out of this jeans/ long tops rut. I’ve got a personal styling session booked with a fashion writer colleague turned stylist called Jo Payton soon and I’m hoping she will push my boundaries! And I so need a new pair of specs. They are kind of a trademark of mine but I have had these ones too long.

Boots or Shoes?

Wellington boots for the dog walking. Otherwise heels but ones I can walk in easily as I am short so need a height boost.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about you and your books.

My website is liathughesjoshi.co.uk and I’m on Twitter at @liathughesjoshi.
The books should be hitting bookshops with savvy buyers soon and are available on Amazon and Waterstones websites for pre-order before publication:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Old-Fashioned-Parenting-Balance-Traditional/dp/1849536724/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1407160295&sr=8-4&keywords=liat+hughes+joshi

http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Unplug-Your-Child-Gadgets/dp/1849537194/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1420580462&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+unplug+your+child

It has been smashing chatting to you Liat and I wish you much success with your books.  So, dear readers, what aspects of parenting or parenting ideas do you find bemusing?! Do share your views, I’ll love to know…

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission of Liat Hughes Joshi

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An Interview With Pia Rossini

A heady mix of aquatic blues, pastels, nautical trends and bursts of bright colours are about to hit the stores heralding the start of Spring and, I for one, am looking forward to freshening up my wardrobe with a few accessories! So I couldn’t ask for a better guide to what’s hot for Spring/Summer 2015 (and a sneaky preview into what’s new for next Autumn/Winter) than chatting to the mother and daughter team that head leading accessory brand, Pia Rossini,who supply from the UK fashion accessories to boutiques and stores around the world. A big warm welcome to you, Debbie and Kirsty:

Hi! We’re Debbie Shaw (Company Director. Resort Wear Collection) and Kirsty Shaw (Head of Range Developmimageent and Accessories Buyer). We are delighted to have the second generation in the company, Kirsty joined us 4 years ago as Head Accessories Buyer.

Pia Rossini, the brand, was launched in 1999, supplying fashion accessories to boutiques and stores throughout the world. What was the inspiration behind the brand launch?

We wanted to create a collection of fashionable accessories that co-ordinate so the consumer did not have to think about what matches, and the retailer would be able to merchandise with ease. It’s a concept that has worked and we continue to develop, our retailers can now buy a fully merchandised set of products ready to hang on the wall.

imageThis Spring your fashion boards comprise of aquatic blues, pastel shades, nautical stripes and bursts of bright colours – namely, fuchsia,orange,violet, yellow, blue. Is there a marked difference between countries and their favourite fashion boards? Were certain Autumn/Winter 2014 items more popular in one country and not in another?

To be honest we have found that a great style is a great style globally and our ranges sell all over from the Caribbean to Australia. Our ranges are universal.

I gather that the Ultimate Pool Shoe Collection is a new feature for 2015. I am quite excited as the sandals look exquisite and makes me yearn for the warmer weather! Are you launching any other new collections in 2015 /2016?

We love all the faux fur that are on trend at the moment and we have really expanded this collection including some fantastic new faux fur gilets and two tone faux fur collars. . We have also added some easy to wear waistcoats in knitted fabrics, these look so casual but at the same time fashionable and easy to wear.image

Personally, I love all your Spring/Summer 2015 colour boards and can see myself having items from all 4 in my wardrobe! Have you any personal favourites from the collection that may be included in your wardrobe?

We both love the 1 print 3 bags combo, I took the Riviera set with me on holiday to Miami and I did not require any other bag – it has a tote, a cross body bag and a purse – so useful, a bag for every occasion! Plus of course our shoes, I had 3 pairs with me on holiday this year!

You have 5 distinct collections in a year: Autumn/Winter Accessories; Spring Accessories; Resortwear; Summer Accessories; and The Ultimate Pool Shoe Collection. Where does the inspiration come from that inspires each collection?

We are passionate about what we do, so we are always working and seeking out new ideas. We gather ideas when we travel, whether on holiday or with the job. It’s important to be aware of what is going on around you and often good to adapt and develop ideas you spot when travelling.

Which famous lady would you love to see as the “face” of Pia Rossini?

We would love to see Olivia Palermo wearing our product. We think she has an effortless sense of glamorous style, something we try to exhibit in our ranges.

Looking ahead to Autumn/Winter 2015 – what styles & colours will we be seeing in your collection?image

Our Autumn/Leaves palette is all about papaya orange mixed with essential navy and deep red tones. We also have forest fruits mood board which exhibits a blend of deep plum and mulberry hues. This year we expanded our styles, silhouettes and designs in various genres to suit every buyer – our latest collection includes faux fur gilets and pattern waist coats. We are really excited about this year’s collection. Our collections continue to evolve and this year is no different but we believe this is our best collection to date and can’t wait to show it.

Apart from supplying boutiques/stores, you also offer a “private label” service offering a company/boutique the opportunity to create their own collection using the expertise of your own inhouse design & production team. I think this is a fab idea. Have you had any that have took up the service that create vastly different designs to what you would class as typical “Pia Rossini” or are the designs pretty much on the same wave length?

We have produced some specific requests for companies such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Phase Eight in the UK, and also some group stores in Scandinavia, but our main focus is to continue to develop and expand our own brand, Pia Rossini. We are passionate about Pia Rossini and still have a lot we want to achieve.image

Personal now, what clothes/shoes dominate your wardrobe? Any favourite retailers?

My wardrobe is built around great staples  – jeans, shirts, cardigans – casual clothes that I can dress up with our accessories. There is nothing more chic than a blazer and jeans teamed with a scarf and a Fedora hat, it’s effortless..

To view the fabulous Pia Rossini accessory range:

www.piarossini.com

Thank you Debbie and Kirsty!  I am really quite looking forward to Autumn too now – I just love the thought of the Forest Fruits colour theme…and papaya orange!  So, dear reader, what do you think? What colours will tickle your fancy in 2015? I’d love to know!

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission of Pia Rossini

 

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An Interview With Autograf New York

Buying smart, well made, comfortable and trendy shoes is a nightmare if you are a lady with an uncommon shoe size. Designer Monica Kusinska for years squeezed her feet into shoes that were too small because her size wasn’t available, resulting in foot problems that required surgery – so being a US size 12 shoe size wearer  herself and as part of her search to find comfortable, well made shoes that fit, Monica created Autograf New York.  Without further ado, please welcome onto the blog this lovely, bubbly lady …Hi Monica!image

Hi, I am Monika Kusinska, a New York Shoe Designer. I devoted my life to fashion ever since I graduated from Middlesex University in 1998. Shoes is my passion.

As a small girl, did you always want to design footwear?

My fashion dreams started at the age of 7. I adored Barbie dolls and endlessly made clothes. Then over the years I taught myself how to stitch and make my own clothes. By 18 I wanted to be a professional designer. My passion for shoes grew over the years because of my experience with shoes and not finding my size and eventually moving to the shoe industry.

Your latest shoe range is looking to cater for women who wear uncommon large shoe sizes – from US sizes 10 through to 15 (UK 8 – 15; European 41 to 49; Japanese 27-34). You yourself are a size US12 so that must have been the inspiration for starting your own brand! How difficult was it for you to find shoes to fit and how difficult is it to produce a shoe for the larger foot?

imageWhen I turned 17 my foot grew to size 41. The biggest size available in Poland in late 1980s was size 40. I tested my body and wore high heel pointy shoes for 2 or more years. This fraction of time was long enough to injure my bones permanently. I guess this painful event led my career into the footwear industry and in 2000 I attended Parson School of Design in New York to learn about shoe making.

You graduated from Middlesex University in London with a BA in fashion and first class honours. In 1998 you won Best Women’s collection at the BHS Graduate Fashion Week, selling your entire collection within a week of launching. How did you feel being awarded that accolade in front of around 2000 London Fashion editors?

imageIt felt incredible and fulfilling. My education was sky-high expensive for my parents working in Poland to support me. It made all the hard efforts so worth it. I wish my father could have seen it. Unfortunately he passed away 6 weeks before I graduated and I was not able to see his face happy with pride. It was a very difficult time for me and I dedicated my graduate collection and the award to him. This also sealed my commitment to my profession. I knew from that point on that no matter what, I am married to my so dreamed-about occupation. Today even when I struggle as a mature designer, mother and a talented individual – I remember my own private vows from 1998. That surreal moment of me walking down the catwalk in front of 2000+ people, cameras, photographers cheering and clapping hands was the biggest crowning I could have received at the age of 26.

imageIn 2000, you moved to the USA doing couture beading and then in the embellishment division at Ann Taylor until 2004. You also attended the Parsons School of Design concentrating on footwear. Was it a difficult transition from fashionwear to designing shoes?

It was a natural transition for me. When you dream deeply about something and have been trained to draw and paint since the age of 16, and all your life revolved around art, composition, colors and design – you can then apply your passion into any creative venue. Education helps, but persistence and personal believe that this is our own path are the keys of a successful journey. In a way you need to train yourself, dream big then relax if you can and immerse yourself in a trade of a kind. I did that in 2004 when I accepted a lower position of Associate Designer just to break in the industry. But it has been such a fascinating journey and I am so fortunate to be able to walk my chosen path and I am acutely aware of my luck. Luck of knowing what I want to do, knowing my talents, knowing my mission. But it took all my life to be comfortable about it and to be able to call myself today  a New York Designer. I earned it dearly. I worked over 10 years in a corporate environment from New York, Dallas and all the way to El Paso, Texas. I worked in a huge office overseeing Bryant Park off Times Square, then in the middle of a factory in El Paso in a windowless office shaking from all the machines and heavy duty equipment making 700+ western boots! Ask me which one made me happy?! El Paso of course! I mean if you could just see the happy faces of the Mexican workers who after 30-40 years in the industry are artisans in their own trade.
I simply love the smell and feel of handcrafted authentic footwear.image

Since 2004 you have worked in the footwear industry, travelling to places like India, China, Brazil and Italy. Where was the most unusual place you’ve visited? Which country inspired you the most?

I think I already answered that. Definitely El Paso in Texas. I had a secret crush on Western Boots. Don’t ask me how I got it. I just wanted to design western boots ever since I can remember. My dream came true in 2009 when I was at the time working in Fossil, launching a new women’s footwear line. I was approached by a New York headhunter to move to the legendary Boot Company in El Paso. At first I was not interested but after flying in for an interview I was totally sold. For the next 3 years I would commute by plane once a week to El Paso and work in the factory in the middle of the desert.  I was also influenced by INDIA. I loved the colors and the deep heritage of the country. It is somewhat difficult to swallow the beauty surrounded by social divisions of the class system in India. It blows your mind to see homeless people wondering amongst dirt and holy cows on the streets of the big cities and then walking into 5 star hotels with food and luxury, dripping with wealth. I guess this is what is most dear to me, after working with the beading houses, knowing what goes into handcrafted beading or block-printing. It supports families and villages specializing in this rare craft. I would love to be involved in creating workshops which would provide income and education for young girls. I believe in education as the only way to change the world to be a better place. Women are also genetically equipped to protect, nurture and provide shelter. We need to get the power to protect this planet and secure a clean environment for future generations.

imagePersonally, I LOVE all your shoes and boots from your winter range but I have a soft spot for the Regina Italian Handcrafted Denim Cashmere Suede Flats. Have you got a favourite out of all the shoes you’ve designed?

I love them all. I also wear all my collection to test and so far have not had one complaint in my head. I am very critical and having had foot surgery at age 23 it has made me acutely sensitive to shoe-related pain. I will rather take shoes off than suffer. My favorite right now is Massima and Cara. I love the SOLES. Unit soles made out of hi-tech PORON material makes these unbeatable in comfort. When you pick up the boot, your first impression is shocking. It is feather light! It looks heavy but it is super light. Comfort beyond belief! My hair stylist recently broke her ankle and can’t wear much fashion due to the pins still holding her ankle in place. I introduced her to Massima and she was literally shocked at how comfortable and light this construction was. She owns now a few pairs and is my advocate at Vidal Sassoon on 56St and 5th Avenue. I will try to win my consumers with comfort and reliability. Once your wear my shoes you will come back for more because I personally test each style and think about my consumer first before fashion. Fashion is only a tool to make an otherwise functional product more attractive.image

What shoe or boot style was the most popular this winter with your clients?

Definitely SIMONA in Cognac. Immediately this classic riding boot has became a favorite. It is very simple and effortless. Well made and durable and will last many years. I found that women are happy that the boot is plain and classic – a few complained that the boots today are overdesigned and that they have been looking for a simple riding boot that will hold the look and value. Once they saw Simona they wanted it. ZARAH also blew everyone’s expectations. It is a fully stretchy shaft boot and the secret is in the Fit-All-Calf! It hugs a skinny calf and will stretch twice its width to accommodate a wider calf. I intend to carry this boot for a few seasons. Once on the foot there is no need to market, women will fall head over heels for this style.

imageWhat famous lady would you like to see parading around in your designs?

Angelina Jolie. I appreciate her ultra classic and sublime chic style. Her effortless style enhances her natural stunning beauty. It would be such an honor to have her wear Autograf New York classic styles.

You’re launching new products for Holiday & Spring 2015 – what designs and colours look to dominate from your point of view?

I have been playing with masculine inspiration for years. I made a chukka boot in mirror GOLD – this is literally a show-stopper! I revealed a few pictures from the photo shoot via Instagram and was blown away with immediate requests and love. I think this style, SIENA and flat Mary Jane in the same Mirror metallic gold will be a hit. I also brought light turquoise and Laventini –  a color I called after my favorite drink, Lavender Martini.image

What are your goals for 2015? Any plans in the pipeline?

2015 is super important. I realized that over the past 90 + days since I launched my website that actually my 15+ years experience in fashion is golden but I need to think outside the box. I tried to apply everything I have learned but what is different in the market today is CONNECTIVE ECONOMY. I think few people realize how it will revolutionize the way we live and think. It is a positive shift in human mentality to open up and make friendships and business with people we can’t touch. But it connects us through our passion and common hobbies and dreams. Once I realized that, I decided to improve and push my social media presence. I can only reach a handful of women today but I have been growing steady followers on Instagram and FB and Twitter. Recently I left my SHOEBOX (literally a shoe closet turned into a tiny office) and started walking the streets of New York to get my product in front of consumers. I have been welcomed by Brooklyn boutiques and I realized the power of the Indie and fashion undercurrent. I belong in the underground. I have been always striving to provide unique, original and authentic footwear and the mass department stores do not support that ideology. Williamsburg is my next home. I have placed Autograf New York products in a few boutiques and we are working on the Summer 2015 collection. I realized this unique potential. In a way I will become their private designer manicuring mini collections for their needs. The beauty of working with Italian factories is that the orders can be super small compared with Asia. I will be able to target each venue differently offering unique colors and themes. I am thrilled about this perspective of 2015!

imagePersonal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing ?

I am a mother of 2 young children so my life is constantly on the run. I get up early and do some work before they get up and then run all day between schools, daycare and Williamsburg or Soho boutiques. I am also 5ft10 so I wear flats and flat boots. I have a collection of boots dating back to my days at El Paso so most likely you will find me in BOOTS of all kinds, form western to riding to traditional rain boots (Aigle not Hunter). I respect legacy and what each brand offers. I do not like to wear brands without a story behind it. I like to think that there is or was a great idea behind each company making a statement.
A friend recently called me Bootress! I think that name fits me.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?image

I have respect for Net-a-Porter and AGL. I have been following Net-a-Porter for few years now and I like that they made luxury on-line shopping accessible. I like that they keep an unique fashion profile. AGL shoes is my favorite shoe brand apart from my own. I appreciate their flair and Italian dedication to modern design. The three sisters are also branding themselves now and it is good to see real faces behind a great fashion brand. This motivated me to expose my face behind Autograf New York. After talking to a few Brooklyn boutique owners it was clear that people want to see the face and hear the story. It will make the icebreaking purchase easier and it will motivate to stay loyal supporting a local New York designer. This is what I intend to do on branding going forward.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Nicolas Ghesquiere Spring 15 LV bag. I have not invested any pennies in a good bag recently and I admire Nicolas so it makes sense to own one of his pieces. I like the fact that fashion is turning the spotlight on designers again. What value is it to just buy a mass-produced LV handbag without a great brain and creator behind it? Fashion became polluted with famous names scoring license deals with big houses. Luckily on a street-mass level. Not on a serious designer level. But it did open the door of all kind of wannabe-followers to buy a name on a cheaply made accessible product. I can’t identify with this mentality and I want to invest in important pieces. This collection of LV Spring 15 is important.
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Boots or Shoes? 

BOOTS! Boots have an unique history. Two main categories of boots, English and Western are both Riding Boots. Both genres have a lot in common: to protect the rider, be well made and durable and have legacy of culture and lifestyle. By default it is lifestyle of privileged classes, those who own horses. But what a boot gives you that the high stiletto shoe does not, is the SWAGGER! When a woman wears boots, she walks like a man, she is the equal. When a woman tip-toes in high heels she is vulnerable, can’t run and becomes an object of admiration and fantasy. I like to own my life and feel equal. I am not an object. I respect when the high heel wearing becomes an asset of a wise woman in power. But I disagree with the otherwise sexual attachment to high heels and how it portrays a woman in a men’s world. I like to dress to manifest my personal beliefs and boots represent my life mantra.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that my readers can learn more about Autograf New York

FB >> https://www.facebook.com/monika.kusinskapaez
Twitter >> https://twitter.com/AutografNY
Instagram >> http://instagram.com/autografny/
Google+ >> http://goo.gl/GM200d
Pinterest >> http://www.pinterest.com/AUTOGRAFNY/

Fantastic to know that you are a fellow boot lover!!  Thank you so much for chatting to us tonight and I wish you and your business continued success in 2015 and beyond.  Now, dear readers, you have no excuse if your feet are on the large size – Monica has come to the rescue!  Have you got a favourite style?  Do tell!

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission from Autograf New York (Monica Kusinska)

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An Interview With Author Linda Finlay

It was quite a coincidence that over the last couple of weeks I have read two historical novels based on the young Queen Victoria – one was a moth eared paperback I spotted at my mother-in-law’s by Jean Plaidy (made a change from the kindle & it was enjoyable); the other was a first novel by author Linda Finlay,  a historical saga published by Penguin, that I downloaded, called The Royal Lacemaker.  This novel was equally enjoyable and highly recommended – perfect for fans of Jean Plaidy, Dilly Court and Katie Flynn. So I am really chuffed to welcome to the blog this week the delightful author herself and chat about her book, lace making and of course, her views on fashion! Hi Linda!image

Hi! I’m Linda Finlay, an image consultant and novelist with an avid interest in people, what they wear and what makes them tick.

Congratulations on publishing your first novel, a historical saga called The Royal Lacemaker. Where did you get inspiration from to write this novel?

Thank you. The past few months have been very exciting. The inspiration for The Royal Lacemaker came on a visit to Beer in Devon where I saw the sign for Ye Olde Lace Shop. Naturally I had to investigate and so my story was born.

Your novel follows the fortunes of a 17 year old orphan girl and the choices she must make when she becomes part of a secret commission to produce the Honiton lace for the wedding dress of Queen Victoria.  I hear you were taught lace making too – was the incentive to do so linked to getting a sense of reality to the story or was it something you’ve always wanted to do and now with your novel in place you was able to indulge yourself?

Research took me to All Hallows Museum in Honiton where I watched a demonstration of lace making. It looked such an intricate craft I had to try it for myself. I like to think my experience added authenticity to the story as I find it hard to believe women used to make lace in their cottages to supplement their incomes, along with the household chores and bringing up their children.

imageAs I’m somebody who cannot knit or crochet and can barely sew despite 3 years of needlework lessons at school, I really admire you! Was lace making hard to learn?

Although I love knitting, sewing is not my forte. Luckily I found a very patient teacher in Colyford, who along with her team of lovely ladies, kept my lace making on track. It really is as hard to go back and re work the lace as I indicated in The Royal Lacemaker. However, if I managed to make lace, you certainly can too!

Ha, ha … we’ll see! Swiftly changing the subject, what made you realise that you wanted to write books? Did you like story writing as a young girl?

I have always loved writing stories. Along with sport it was the only thing I was really any good at in school. Frequently I would lose myself in a story rather than tackle the other subjects I was meant to be concentrating on.

Apart from being an author, you are also an image consultant. What do you like best about both of your jobs?

I love people and helping them to make the best of themselves. It is rewarding to see a client leave my studio confident and smiling. I always try to champion my characters by making the timid grow stronger throughout my stories.

I know that this book has just been published, but have you started to think of ideas for your next novel? Would you stick to the same genre or would you try something different?

My next novel, The Girl With The Red Ribbon will be published in the Spring. It is about lunar gardening and millinery. Quite diverse subjects that are brought together by a common theme. I am now on my third novel.

What sort of book genre do you like reading? Favourite book or authors?

I love historical romance and stories that teach something of the period without being heavy handed. I find it satisfying to learn through an entertaining story. Phillippa Gregory is particularly good at this.

imageObviously living in Devon played a big part in the formation of your novel. If you could visit any place in the world to set your next novel in, which place would you love to venture to?

It would have to be the Norwegian fjords. My imagination could run riot there!

When you’re not writing or running your image consultancy, what hobbies/past times do you enjoy?

I love walking the coastal paths and exploring little villages and bays. A story always seems to pop into my head though, so I don’t really switch off – unless I’m shopping with clients of course. Then it’s clothes, boots, shoes and accessories all the way.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I love separates. Pencil skirts, polos, embellished shirts and shaggy gilets with ankle boots and opaques are this seasons must wears for me.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Wallis, Next, Very are all superb for topping up on seasonal fashions. They are always on trend with reasonable prices that don’t break the bank.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A faux fur jacket and faux leather pencil skirt are on my wish list, along with more ankle boots of course.

Boots or Shoes?

Both! They are my absolute must haves and a girl can never have too many! After all they update an outfit instantly.

Links:

amazon.co.uk/Royal Lacemaker – Linda Finlay

amazon.com/The Royal Lacemaker by Linda Finlay

Thank you very much Linda – I can’t wait to read your next novels.  After reading The Lace Maker,  I was partaking in a quiz when a question came up : “What craft uses bobbins and pillows?”  I was so pleased that I knew the answer (Lacemaking) which I wouldn’t have had a clue a month or so ago. So, there you go, not only a good feel good read but educational too! Check the book out and let me know what you thought of the book too! I’d be interested to know!

Linda x

Photos have been published with kind permission of Linda Finlay

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An Interview With Kevin Garlick – Shoemaker

Talking shoes this week – but not just any shoe –  oh no! I’m chatting to a shoemaker who makes shoes for re-enactors, films, theatres, TV and museums from Madame Thaussauds to Plimoth Plantation USA, amongst others.  His skill, attention to detail and workmanship really is wow – and I bet most of us have seen on screen, at least, a pair of shoes lovingly recreated by Kevin. Without further ado, let’s meet the guy … welcome, Kevin ..image

Hi! My name is Kevin Garlick, I am a shoemaker who specialises in making historic period shoes. My all time favourite period are the shoes from the 1920s – 1940s. The age of sensible footwear.

Have you always wanted to be a shoemaker?

I worked in Engineering as a fabricator for half my working life but as manufacturing in this country declined I realised that it was time to do something else, so that is why I turned what was a hobby into a business.

What do you like best about handmaking shoes for re-enactors, films, theatres & museums?

I suppose there is a certain sense of achievement in knowing that lots of people will see your work.

image

You have a background in re-enacting yourself – what characters have you portrayed? Who was your favourite?

I was once very interested in the Napoleonic period and spent many years as a re-enactor. I was never interested in being an officer and was happy to stay in the ranks as a French infantryman. I also took part in living history events as a shoemaker, teaching and demonstrating to school children different periods of shoemaking.image

You have produced footwear for many famous institutions such as BBC Television, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Madame Taussauds, and Plimoth Plantation USA. What was the hardest or most unusual footwear you have had to make?

I have been involved in many productions for theatre companies, television, operas, and films. I would have to say that the most interesting work was for Shakespeare’s Globe as I was often making ladies shoes in men’s sizes and some of the shoes I was asked to make by the costume designer were often very unusual and not the everyday stuff that the re-enactors were ordering.

imageThe measuring process includes asking for 2 outlines of the client’s foot. What’s the main differences between bespoke footwear and “on the shelf” shoes? What are the most important measurements or details you need when making a shoe?

The outlines and measurements of a customer’s feet are very important as a fit can only be as good as the information you are given. I ask my customers to draw around each foot with an upright pencil but you would be surprised how many of them get this wrong.

imageHave you got a favourite out of all the shoes you’ve designed?

As I have said I love the shoes from the 1920s, I love the colour combinations and the different textures of leather and of course the styles.

You specialise in making pairs of ladies & men’s Swing Jive shoes. What is so special about these shoes?

Shoes for Swing Jive and Lindy Hop are normally higher in the back than normal, also the shoes have to be well balanced for ease of movement and comfort. Particular attention is paid to the pitch and heel height so that the shoe can rock to lift the heel quickly for faster steps.

image

What famous person would you like to see parading around in your designs?

I have made shoes for lots of famous names but I can honestly say that although it’s good these people don’t ever think about the shoes as they are just a prop and not something personal to them. I get a lot more satisfaction making a pair for somebody who loves their shoes and appreciates the work that went into them, you never get this with actors.

imageWere you ever tempted or are you tempted, to introduce “ready made” shoes to your repertoire in future?

It would be nice to produce ready made shoes in stock sizes but then the shoes would all be the same just different sizes. By doing what I am doing I can offer customers a choice of colour and style and produce a shoe that is unique to them.

imagePersonal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Normally I will be found in dirty old work clothes as I seem to be working long hours, but I still wear 1920’s shoes, although in desperate need of repair after five years of continuous wear. When I do get a chance to go out I usually wear 1930’s style clothes as I hate modern styles as everything is cheaply made and looks like a sack.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I plan to make a pair of 1940’s triple wedge sandals in red, white and blue. I have wanted to make these for some time but never had the time. It will happen soon as it has become a bit of an obsession.

Links:

http://www.kgarlick-shoemaker.co.uk

http://www.facebook.com/kevingarlickshoes

image

Thank you Kevin … I adore the shoes and boots!  I find it interesting that some of the shoes from yesteryear are not too dissimilar to the shoes available for general wear today. I have shown photographs of my favourites out of Kevin’s collection – what era of shoe making tickles your fancy? Do drop me a line and let me know!

Linda x

Photo Credits:  All photos have been published with kind permission of Kevin Garlick

 

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An Interview With Spa Sweethearts W.I.

Happy New Year!  At the start of every New Year most people make resolutions – lose weight, stop smoking, join the gym, etc.  The resolutions made, often reflect our need to enhance our lifestyle by becoming slimmer, healthier and ultimately happier. Your resolutions can also include stimulating your mental wellbeing by starting a new hobby or joining a group…such as the Women’s Institute.  The W.I. are celebrating their 100 year birthday in 2015 and despite its “Jam and Jerusalem” image, young ladies whose average age is nearer 30 than 75 are joining groups and having a ball. I’m chatting to a lovely young bunch of ladies from the Spa Sweethearts W.I. this week about why they joined and is it all about Jam and Jerusalem…. Welcome Becky…image

Hi! My name is Becky Warburton, I’m 26 and I’m the president of Spa Sweethearts Women’s Institute in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. In my day job, I’m the Student Activities Manager at the University of York Students’ Union, which basically means I organise extra curricular activities for students while they study.

The Women’s Institute is celebrating its centenary this year. What was your initial incentive to become a member?

I’d just come back from uni in Newcastle and a lot of my old school friends had moved out of Harrogate. I wanted to do something that would help me get to know some new people, so my mum and I went along to a meeting. Within a few months, we’d both joined the committee, and I’ve been president since February 2014.

I imagine a lot of people perceive the WI as being all “Jam & Jerusalem” with an average age of 75 and with the saucy antics of the Calendar Girls. I am sure that there are groups like that in the UK but not everywhere is that the case. Being a group of women in their thirties who are very active members how do people react when you say you’re a member? How did you join – was it via word of mouth, out of interest,etc?

Yes, whenever I say I’m in the WI, people look a bit confused, then they either ask me if I can make jam or they make some reference to stripping off for a calendar. With 100 years of history, it’s a shame that that’s all people can think of! There’s so much more to it than that.
The WI has done a lot of campaigning over the last century and has done an enormous amount of good for society. The jam link actually stems back to the Second World War, when there was a huge drive to preserve fruit and vegetables, so WI members made a lot of jams, pickles and chutneys to help the country get through food shortages. In the 1950s, they launched a drive to reduce littering which was the beginning of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign group that has just celebrated its diamond jubilee. More recently, campaigns have been about things like increasing the number of midwives to make childbirth safer, and supporting local businesses to make sure our high streets survive the recession.
I heard about Spa Sweethearts at the Great Yorkshire Show as I visited the WI ‘tent’ to find out some more information and see if there was a group local to us. One of the advisors mentioned the Sweethearts and I knew immediately that that was the group for me.

So what do enjoy most about being members of the Women’s Institute? Have you a favourite activity that you do as a member of the Women’s Institute?

I really love the sense of community that I get from not only being a member but also from working alongside my amazing committee members. They never fail to make me smile, even after the worst of days at work! But I also enjoy learning something new and different every month and getting to step outside of my comfort zone every so often.

Baking and jam making still are popular pursuits, and joking aside, the Women’s Institute do know how to bake and make jams. Even TV shows like Masterchef call on the Women’s Institute for judging events. Be honest, how’s your baking? Are you expected to have expertise in culinary skills or an interest in that field?

I love baking and I’m not too bad at it, but not all of our members are. A lot of them have other talents, like sewing or knitting. Some aren’t interested in that sort of thing at all, and that’s fine too – we’re a very diverse lot! But we’re all pretty good at eating the cakes even if we can’t make them ourselves.

What benefits do you feel that the Women’s Institute could offer the lady in her 20s,30s,40s,50s?

When Spa Sweethearts was formed, the ladies from the WI who guided us through the process told us “The WI is what you make of it” and we’ve found that to be completely true. If you want to join the WI to learn traditional skills like baking, jam-making and knitting, you can. If you want to find an outlet for your campaigning side, you can do that too. You can be part of your community just by turning up to meetings, or you can use the meetings to invite people from your town or city to tell you about what they do, such as charity workers, police officers or even unusual things like forensic scientists. There’s no limit on what you can do with your meetings. We try to make our programme as varied as possible, so everyone can find something they’re really interested in, but we also encourage our members to come to all the meetings even if they’re not so enthusiastic about the topics. Quite often, people find they have a hidden talent that’s only uncovered by giving something a go for the first time at a WI meeting!
Of course, many people also come along just for the social aspect – to have a chat and a cup of tea, or even something a bit stronger. The great thing about the WI is that there are thousands of branches, so whatever your age and interests there is more than likely one to suit you. And even if not, you can just start your own – you only need three ladies!


What famous lady would you love to see strutting through your doors asking to become a member?

This is a really tricky one! Well the obvious answer is someone like Mary Berry, as I think our members would love a master class with her! But then I would have to say someone like Giovanna Fletcher, who is one of favourite authors (and also married to Tom from McFly!) because she loves so many aspects of the WI like baking and crafting as well as sharing her opinions through her many social media platforms but she also writes about a traditional WI in one of her books, Billy and Me, and so I would love for her to experience a Spa Sweethearts meeting to show how diverse we are as an organisation and the amazing things that we get up to.

Going back to the Calendar Girl reference – that must have been quite a giggle and at the same time it did stir some interest in the Women’s Institute as well as the charitable aspects of it all. Have you had any funny moments that you can tell us about at WI?

Nothing quite as headline-hitting as that! Our committee meetings are always hilarious – we have lots of work to do organising our monthly meetings, but we have such a laugh as well. One of my highlights was actually from the very first meeting I attended, which just so happened to be on jam making! It was led by two members of our federation who have been members for years and years and who were just this incredibly funny double act, telling us all about the organisation and why they love it so much and I just thought to myself, if I’m still involved at their age and enjoying it as much, then I’d be pretty happy.

Any advice to any ladies wishing to join the Women’s Institute? How should she go about joining?

Do it! The easiest thing to do is to go onto the WI website, www.thewi.org.uk, and put in your postcode to get a map of all the WIs near you. Alternatively, search for your nearest federation (regional office) and give them a call – they’ll be able to tell you which WIs are most likely to suit you in your area. Get in touch with one and find out when their next meeting is, then just go along. Most WIs let guests come to their meetings for a small fee, so you can try before you buy! And membership for 2015 is only £36, so if you do sign up for a year it’s really good value.

What outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing at a meeting?

For me, it’s whatever I’ve been to work in as I never have much time in between getting home, grabbing some dinner and getting to the meeting, to think about changing. I’ll usually just be in jeans or something comfy as there is often a fair amount of setting up or cleaning to do before and after meetings – we all get quite stuck in with that.

You must have had many inspirational speakers visit your group – what speaker or topic did you feel was the most inspiring for you personally or inspired the group as a whole?

One of my favourite and more inspiring meetings was when we had Dee Marshall, from Welcome to Yorkshire, come to speak to us about Le Grand Depart in June 2014, about three weeks before it arrived in Harrogate. I’ve become a massive cycling fan since London 2012 and so was incredibly excited about all these world class cyclists racing through the streets of my home town. I’d also signed up to volunteer at the finish in Harrogate and so to hear Dee talk about how they had won the bid and all the preparation that had taken place was really interesting and made me even more excited to volunteer and be part of something that made me so proud to be from Yorkshire.

What’s next on the Women’s Institute event calendar for celebrating the 100 years?

There are loads of events planned to celebrate the centenary. We’ve got a lot of competitions going on for WI choirs, an official centenary fruit cake, heirlooms which can be passed down the generations… And there will be a couple of focal points in the year. Our national AGM is in June at the Royal Albert Hall and there will be lots of celebrations there, plus there’s a three-day WI Centenary Fair in our hometown, Harrogate, from 3rd-6th September, when WI members from around the country will be descending on us to meet up and celebrate.
At Spa Sweethearts WI, we’ll be going along to as many of the events as we can, but we’ve also got our own centenary fair planned for mid-September. We’re hoping to have lots of traditional elements like baking and craft competitions, but of course we’ll be putting our own spin on it as usual. It’s all part of our year-long campaign to get to 100 members of Spa Sweethearts in the WI’s 100th year. We want to prove there’s still plenty of life in the WI, and to get younger women in particular to put aside their preconceptions and come to a meeting with an open mind. It’s our way of making sure the WI will still be around to celebrate its 200th anniversary!
I’ve also launched a Twitter campaign under @WomenoftheWI. Every week, a different WI will take control of the account and tweet about their week – hopefully including live tweeting their meeting. The aim is to show how diverse our membership is, and how many amazing and wonderful things are going on around the country every week. The interest from other WIs in taking part has been really encouraging and I’m so excited about seeing how it all pans out.

Boots Or Shoes? 

Completely depends on the time of year but spring and summer I live in ballet flats as they just go with everything and are so comfy, but then as soon as autumn and winter hit, I live in boots. I’m someone who gets very grumpy if I get wet feet, so I’ve got to keep warm in the winter months.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about your Harrogate group and the Womens Institute in general.

Our details are:
www.spasweetheartswi.co.uk
www.facebook.com/spasweetheartswi
www.twitter.com/spasweethearts
www.twitter.com/womenofthewi
You can also find a lot of other WIs on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the national accounts:
www.twitter.com/womensinstitute
www.facebook.com/theWI

Thank you Becky – I’m sure that you and your fellow WI friends will encourage many other younger ladies to take the plunge and go and find a group to suit them. It sure sounds that you have lots of fun and I wish the whole WI organisation a fabulous centennary year!  

Linda x

All photos published with kind permission of Becky & the ladies of Spa Sweethearts W.I.

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An Interview With Kara, The Fairy Maker

Christmas Time is certainly a magical time… twinkling of fairy lights, Santa & his gang of reindeers, a snowy scene, the majesty of the Christmas story, the nativity plays, the Christmas songs, the parties …. and as this is the last blogpost before Christmas Day, my interview tonight is with somebody who is totally magical – The Fairy Maker!  Welcome Kara…image

Hi! My name is Kara and I live in London with my husband and our three children. I am the owner and creator of The Fairy Maker, we make one of a kind fantasy creations which the customer designs.

Your beautiful unique and bespoke fairies, angels and dragons are certainly very collectable. What made you start up your business? Have you always done that line of work?

I started sculpting many years ago, but gave it up due to family and getting a new job, I only made them for friends and family. It was the guys I worked with who told me I should start up a Facebook page and show off my work, I didn’t think anyone would be interested but after a year of not having the confidence to click publish one night I decided to go for it. I was 4 months away from giving birth, some people move house or get a puppy, I decided to start a business ! I didn’t expect it to be capable of being a full time business, but it has and its great as I get to do something I love so much.

imageThe fairies are bespoke handmade pieces, so each is totally unique. The owner can design their own piece by picking a sculpture – adding hair (can be real) – picking colours,clothes and optional extras. What was the most unique fairy/angel/critter that has been requested?

I have a few customers who are very detailed in their requests, many have spent months designing their FairyJar. It’s nice to be able to make those ideas come to life. I have a lot of requests asking if I am able to add real hair to the fairies, a lot of the time it’s hair from a late loved one or the first lock of their child’s hair, I get so nervous doing those as I know how sentimental it is to the customer and how valuable the hair is to them.

imageI have just finished reading the Eragon series and so I was drawn to the cute Eragon Dragon Critter Jars on your site. What other books have influenced your choice of mini sculptures?

I have a wonderful book called Dragonology, I love how it is written and the illustrations are beautifully done, I like my critters to have that cuteness to them.

Aah… my sons have that book, Dragonology! We love the illustrations in it too…I personally adore the “Small Caitlin” (Collector’s Edition) – so cute! What’s your favourite sculpture?

imageToo many to list !!! but I did have a sculpt which was initially in my bin fairy box (the box rejects for whatever reason end up) I got her out for training purposes to teach how to wig them, but after I added the hair this fairy which I had previously discarded many months before had transformed into such an amazing looking fairy I came very close to keeping her for myself. I love how it’s even a surprise to me how they will look once completed.

Prices for each item includes the jar, decorations, fairy/angel wings, plaque, postage within the UK, and a signed certificate from you, the artist – they look very intricate – how long does it take to produce each fairy?

imageAll depends on the size, some can take a few days others can take a few weeks, there is a lot of drying times between stages too and then there is bad sculpting days when nothing ever seems to work how I want it to, which is normally in the summer, summer is not good weather for sculpting.

Have you any plans to extend your range?

I have a list of LOADS of new ideas, boy fairies are first on my list as I have had so many requests for them. I have been wanting to invent some new critters too. We are also in the middle of getting a book published to compliment the FairyJars, hopefully next year we will be able to have more news on this.

imageCongratulations on being awarded one of the runners up for Mum Entrepreneur of the Year on This Morning TV based on your fairy jars and artwork as well as being a Mumpreneur Magazine 2014 finalist! The accolades are well deserved! Being UK based, do you ship overseas at all or have any plans to sell globally?

Thank you, still can’t believe how lucky I was to get to the finals ! I do ship globally but we would like to expand more on this , the shipping costs can work out a fair bit of money due to the weight and the insurance which is a bit of a pain, we do have other options like baskets instead of jars to help reduce the shipping costs but people seem to prefer the glass displays.

imagePersonal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

The older I got and the more kids I have I tend to choose comfort over fashion, anything which is quick to put on and covers the sins of flabby bits ! Elasticated trousers have become my best friend when it comes to clothes. I still have bags of trendy size 12 clothes in the loft, I really need to come to terms that I will never fit into them and throw them out.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Primarni girl (Primark) if I go out to look for something that’s where I aim to visit first, but I tend to do my online clothes shopping in Next.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A big quilted long winter coat, I heard we may be in for some rough weather this winter so want to be prepared this year ! Every winter I see them and now I want one I don’t seem to find any I like!

Boots or Shoes?

BOOTS ! And the reason why is because the only skinny part of my body is my ankles and my wrists. When I wear boots it evens me up a bit.

imageLinks you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about you and your fairies!
www.thefairymaker.com – web site which has prices and options
www.thefairymaker.co.uk – Facebook, has latest updates and photos

It’s been brilliant chatting to you Kara!  I look forward to seeing more of your work in 2015 as I find the fairies simply adorable! Wishing you all a magical Christmas!

Linda x

All photos have been published with the kind permission of Kara, The Fairy Maker

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An Interview With Hollie Kamel (Wedding Singer)

With less than a fortnight to go before Santa does his rounds over the world’s rooftops, I felt that my guest this week should be someone who is a bit Christmassy yet a bit sazzy …. someone like the dropdead gorgeous Hollie Kamel, with her seasonal name, her angelic voice, and her sazziness!  Hollie is a popular wedding, party and event singer – and I caught up with her recently to chat about music, her wedding business and her passion for fashion too .. welcome Hollie…image

Hi – I am Hollie Kamel and I am a Professional Singer and UKA Salsa Dance Instructor & proud mummy to a gorgeous little 5 year old called Jasmine Lila.

You’re a professional wedding, party & event singer. When did you realise you had a passion for singing?  What made you take the plunge to pursue wedding singing as a career?

I first started singing as a child, as I come from quite a musical family (my brother has had a few top 40 download chart hits!). To begin with I was in the school musicals and then went on to perform on radio and at about 16 started to train classically to give me a strong foundation of technique and skill to perform from. However, my career took a very corporate path, in media, marketing and sales and my singing and dancing was always a part time profession. This all changed once I had my little girl, as part time corporate doesn’t really exist, so I took the leap of faith to launch myself as ‘Hollie your Wedding Singer’, perfect for Weddings, Parties & Corporate Events!! 😉

imageYou offer an excellent range of bespoke entertainment including solo singer, duo, and a mini function band.  What tends to be the most popular package?

I provide Solo Singer, Party Duo & Themed Show packages and to be totally honest, they are all really popular and different in their own right. Where everything I do is bespoke, I always tailor make the package to meet and exceed the client’s needs and depending on their event, the service they choose will reflect this. (I do find that Vintage/American Songbook/Jazz is hugely popular & of course, Party Singer!!).

What do you love most about being a wedding singer?

What I love most about being a wedding singer, is that you are blessed to share and be a huge part of their wedding day and all the love, celebration and emotion that surrounds it.

imageYou have a vast range of songs in your songlist portfolio. What are the most popular songs requested for the wedding ceremony, wedding breakfast/reception, and for the evening do?

Most popular Wedding Ceremony songs include:
• How Long Will I Love You
• At Last

Most popular Breakfast/Champagne Reception songs include:
• Let There Be Love
• All of Me

Most popular Evening Reception songs include:
• The Shoop Shoop Song (in his kiss)
• All about the Bass
• Dance with Me Tonight

imageIs there any song on your list that you really enjoy belting out? Any song on the list that makes you groan?

Songs I love to sing:
• Somewhere over the Rainbow
• At Last
• Rather Be

Songs I could live without singing for a while
• Wind Beneath My Wings
• I Will Survive

What music genre do you enjoy listening to?

Where do I start with the genres I like listening to…..I love SO many kinds of music and it really depends on my mood. I love vocal based music like Eva Cassidy and the Carpenters, James Taylor etc, but I also love R&B and of course Salsa!! I have a HUGE passion for West End Musicals!

imageIf you had the chance to sing a duet with anybody in the world, dead or alive, who would be your partner and what song would you sing?

If I could duet with one singer (dead or alive) in the whole world then I would love to choose to sing with Jessie J (as I think she is vocal Viagra) but her range is SO huge that I wouldn’t be able to – so instead I choose to sing Somewhere over the Rainbow with Eva Cassidy !

Have you had any unusual song requests?

I have had some very strange requests in my time including ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan’ numbers and Copacabana!

Singing all year round at weddings, parties and events must be a strain on your voicebox. How do you try to keep your voice limbered up and ready for performing? How do you avoid the dreaded sore throat/croaky voice etc?

As a Singer it is really important to continually look after your voice, so I always do the following before a performance:
• Warm up
• Avoid dairy
• Take Vocalzone
• Drink lots of water

As a cure for a ‘sad’ voice I do the following:
• Take Singers Throat mix (the most evil tasting liquid in the WORLD)
• Drink Honey and Lemon (Hot)
• Steam
• Hum
• Vocal REST!!

imagePersonal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing on and off stage?

On stage you will find me wearing very glamorous evening dresses or ‘themed’ attire (such as Vintage) with ridiculously high heels and accessories and ALL my hair and make up intact!! Lol!
Off stage you will normally find me in skinny jeans, ugg boots with a skinny rib t-shirt in the summer and a trendy jumper or hoody in the winter!

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

As far as retailers go Amazon is amazing for costumes and accessories. I love QUIZ at Lakeside/Westfields for glamorous party wear and Ali Express for every kind of costume, dress or outfit (but it takes about 8 weeks to arrive but is CRAZY cheap!!)

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wishlist?

My next purchase needs to be another shorter style, sparkly or sequinned party dress for xmas season (more laid back events).

Boots or Shoes?

For me, boots or shoes is hard, because boots at home and shoes at work nearly always!

Links you would like to share eg website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can follow you and your career

https://www.facebook.com/holliekamelsinger
https://twitter.com/holliekamel
https://www.youtube.com/user/holliekamelsinger
http://uk.linkedin.com/in/hollieyourweddingsinger
http://www.pinterest.com/holliekamel/

Many thanks for chatting to us today – I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous, Fun  & Eventful New Year! For those readers in the UK who are looking for some fabulous entertainment then Hollie is your girl – she’s simply divine! My wedding song was Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” – what was yours? Please do tell!

Linda x

All photos were published with kind permission of Hollie Kamel.

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