The Turtle Doves Story
A potted history of Turtle Doves… By Kate Holbrook
Turtle Doves is a British design and manufacturing company, specialising in using post-consumer textile waste to create beautiful new garments & accessories. We passionately believe in paying our employees a healthy wage whilst keeping our prices competitive through clever design and avoiding middlemen.
All our products are recycled… partly because, like most people, we are concerned about how we use the earth’s resources. However, I have also always loved old things; I think that they have more character than new and I find the ‘worn in’ feel of pre-owned fabric irresistible. Although we are not above being given donations (friends do pass on the odd jumper) and we offer a 'free gloves in exchange for your jumper' service, we buy woollens from charity shops & textile merchants (who in turn buy their waste textiles from charity shops) so as a business we know that part of the money we are spending on fabric is going back into the charitable sector.
Turtle Doves was born in December 2009 when I dreamt up the design for some unique wrist warmers which are also fingerless gloves. Having made some for friends, who really liked them, I tested the idea at a local school fair. To my delight the fledgling Turtle Doves flew off the shelf (sorry, couldn’t resist that one). I quickly copyrighted the design and before I knew it I had two regular markets in Shrewsbury and lots of repeat custom.
It was at this point that we realised the product needed a name and my husband Graham suggested ‘Turtle Doves', because it’s Cockney rhyming-slang for gloves.’ Graham fondly recalls that moment as the first time I ever said ‘Yes Graham, good idea..’ without adding a ‘but’ after it…anyway, on with the story...
The next step:
December 2009 gave us the feeling that we had stumbled upon something important and more success for the fingerless gloves followed in 2010, with a high percentage of repeat custom and bulk buying of gifts for birthdays and Christmas. New products such as the patchwork scarf and snood came on stream and we launched a basic website in late 2010 which showed that the Turtle Dove brand had surprising national and international appeal. Bex, Mary and Jackie joined the Turtle Doves crew to help us keep up with the burgeoning demand for the products.
But it was the Christmas of 2011 that took us from thinking of the business as a one-cottage enterprise to something that could get alot bigger. Turnover doubled, helped enormously by the development of the ‘Hug’, a beautiful loop of patchworked jumpers which gave us the confidence to get designing and work on even more lovely recycled goodies. In 2012 we tripled the number of Turtle Doves markets and shows and developed a website that helped us to take on more established companies. In 2013 we launched the trade arm of our business; we are now stocked in over 170 shops in the UK and some overseas too!
In the summer of 2014 we moved the business out of our house in Shrewsbury (we’d forgotten what the carpets looked like!) and into a new studio just down the road, close to where two of our daughters are at school. They often pop in to do their homework amongst the cashmere and machinery. One of the highlights of the year was supplying Friends of the Earth and Amnesty international with their own bespoke Turtle Doves recycled cashmere range (in red & grey) and we have also been delighted to collaborate with Belinda Robertson Cashmere Ltd. in our first closed-loop recycling project. English Heritage became busy customers too. Christmas 2014 was amazing and demand for our increasing number of products (now including recycled silk saris) continued throughout 2015 meaning that for the first time we could keep our seamstresses fully employed during the warmer months.
We reinvest a lot of our profits in keeping up with technology, particularly digital technology and generate an increasing proportion of our revenue through this website.
We now employ over 20 people including an increasing number of ex-Laura Ashley seamstresses whose jobs disappeared in the 1990’s when production was moved to the Far East. We passionately belief in retaining British craftsmanship where it was learnt and will always design and make our products in Britain.
At the start of October 2015 Graham joined the business full-time and is very much looking forward to reclaiming his soul after working away from home in ‘Corporation-land’ for most of the last 10 years.
And then, almost out of nowhere, we were awarded a Gold Medal in the Green Apple Awards 2015. The awards ceremony took place at The Houses of Parliament and when we got home we found out that last years winners were M&S!
Our little business has grown fast through word of mouth and it’s been a wonderful journey so far; we feel very lucky to have made friends along the way and love seeing customers return to browse & enjoy our latest creations.
We’d love you to stay in touch with us on our journey so do click here to register for our newsletter if you’d like us to send you occasional updates and offers (we won’t share your details with anyone, we promise).
Thanks for reading and if you‘d like to contact us, or you have any comments please click here to go to our contact page. Warm wishes, Kate & the Turtle Doves team
Autumn 2016 Update:
We are in the grips of Autumn-fever here at the Turtle Doves studio! Once August arrives so does the first serious batch of orders from our stockists who want to pack their shelves with great products for customers looking to wrap up for the cooler evenings or maybe even a (very) early present purchase.
We’ve also been blown away with the performance of our latest website…it’s so much easier for customers to use than our previous ones and the orders have been coming in thick and fast, for both the silk and cashmere products. Our cashmere products are obviously popular even in the summer months. This big increase in orders has allowed us to bring forward our plans to expand the product range by testing other recycled or redundant fabrics such as velvet and linen.
Spring 2017 update
Well, Winter 2016/17 was frankly awesome! Our little company isn’t so little anymore. Somehow, our pick, pack & despatch team managed to post more than a hundred parcels a day building up to Christmas and our January sale smashed all previous records with nearly 500 orders in one day. We were so pleased with the customer reviews about our products and speed of delivery.
But we now had a problem….our first studio was too small for our growing business. One of the features of Turtle Doves’ history is the role that Lady Luck has played and she certainly didn’t let us down this time. We looked at a few properties around Shrewsbury but for one reason of other we could not see ourselves operating in any of them (too dark, too small, uneven floors for the sewing machines, too expensive, not enough parking for our team.) Then, after another fruitless search we noticed an old gym had just been put on the market. It was perfect. Light, enormous, on a main road, lots of parking, but needed lots of work. The landlord was brilliant and offered to pay for some of our requirements. A few weeks later we moved everything from the old studio to our new one, all in one removal lorry, and as we expand into our new home we can’t believe our luck! We opened a busy factory shop in June and launched our bag and infinity scarf collections a week later, which have proved very popular.
Best of all, we now have 2 toilets rather than just the one, and wall space for planning our best Winter yet.
December 2017 Update
Well, Christmas has truly started and we think we’re ready for our busiest season yet! Shrewsbury’s Mayor opened our new factory shop last week and the local newspaper sent a photographer to record the event. We felt very special as she enjoyed the tour of our factory and watched as our clever seamstresses look swatches from jumpers and turned them into multi-coloured wraps. Here’s a photo of the mayor opening the shop.
Talking of tours, we recently entertained a coach-full of lovely people from the Fine Arts Society in Ipswich. They asked to visit our shop after checking out Ironbridge Gorge Museum and St. Mary’s church here in Shrewsbury. Many of the ladies went home with presents for Christmas.
Yesterday was Black Friday and we saw our daily sales total beaten by some margin which hopefully points towards a successful Christmas for us. We are certainly starting to believe that our decision in the Spring to stop doing wholesale to focus just on online sales was the correct one.
Our Customers Matter
At the heart of everything we do at Turtle Doves is making sure that we delight our customers whenever possible. We keep track of how we're doing by using an independent review site - below are some of the latest things our customers have had to say about us:
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