FOREWORD by our Head of Design, Amy Fleuriot-Reade
Jayne started working with us in 2015. Our business was growing rapidly and Bee and I were about to crack from sewing until 1am, seven days a week to keep on top of orders. Bee would be ironing and I'd be cutting and sewing, it was a real life sweatshop and with all the other parts of our business to run we knew we couldn't continue making everything in the little studio about our Columbia Road shop.
That April I went to visit my Mum in Lichfield were I had gone to secondary school and by chance bumped into an old schoolfriend who's husband now works in the family business selling hardware for the pet and equestrian trade. Not only did I find a new supplier for all of our buckles but they put me in touch with Jayne. I went back up to meet with her a week later and drop off samples and knew we'd hit gold.
Jayne embodies Hiro + Wolf's values of craftsmanship and supporting British Manufacturing. She was brought up in the pet trade working for her Mum and Dad's thriving pet accessory business before setting up on her own. Now working by herself in a beautiful garden studio she cuts, stamps and stitches all of our luxury collars, leads and harnesses for cats and dogs. Whenever we are working on new designs I travel up to see her, staying with my Mum and spending two or three days working on product development until we get it right. Jayne is an encyclopedia when it comes to production and often sends us messages late at night because she's thought up a more effective way to do things.
For this years Fashion Revolution Week we managed to prise Jayne away from her machine's to let us know a little more about her life and experiences.
Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
You grew up in the pet business, when did you first start learning your Mum and Dad’s trade?
I basically grew up there, there was always stuff around but when I was 13/14 I started helping out during school holidays. I started off just sweeping the floors but even at that level you're aware of what's going on around you. As time went by I picked up more things as I went along, Dad would show me and also get the other girls that worked there to help. I was always interested to learn.
How did your role in their business develop?
As soon as I finished school that was it - I don't think I even had a holiday (!) - I remember Dad saying, ‘ooh I'm going to have a a year off now haha’. Mostly I was in dispatch and quality control but I'd learnt each process during my early years so I could fill in at any point on the production line as needed.
Can you tell us a bit more about their business and life on the (work)shop floor?
There were about 20 people in the workshops at any time and then we used to have 6 or 8 outwork stitchers who I would go and visit with work and wages when I learnt to drive. It was all mainly leather work we did for the pet industry and sometimes we used to make belts. There would be about 5000 cat collars a week going out so it was big production. It was a really happy, friendly place to be, it was basically the same core of people there the whole time, we were a great team. When I was there on school holidays I used to go with Kitty the tea lady to look after her granddaughter, it was all really nice.
Did you learn all of your sewing and manufacturing skills from your upbringing or did you go on any supplementary courses?
No, I was brought up with it and had an excellent teacher in my Mum and Dad. I'm really proud of them.
Did you always have a dog growing up?
We had Dinky the Jack Russell who lived until he was 16. Sometimes he would come to the factory but he'd be tripping people up as he was so little! Other times he'd go out on deliveries with Dad.
Tell us your favourite dog-related memory?
When we got Zac my Dalmatian and Max the black Labrador. It was Winter and we left them an old feather quilt to keep them cosy in the kitchen whilst we went out to do some shopping. When we returned from our trip we came back to a white Labrador! I laughed so hard!! I walked in and he had a great big feather on his nose, they'd been having the time of their life in a sea of feathers all over the floor. We still laugh about it now.
How long did you continue to run and manage your parents workshop for?
Well, my dad decided he was going to retire and so I bought the machinery and down sized to a smaller unit.
What sparked the decision to downsize?
One of the major companies that my parent’s manufactured for decided to go and have things made abroad and this meant a massive restructure. It seemed like the right time for Dad to wind things up and for me to take over the venture.
Why do you think it is important to keep manufacturing in the UK?
In my opinion British is best, I take great pride in what I do and it's good to support your local makers. There's a great heritage of leather work in Staffordshire and there's so much skill here that has been passed down that is in danger of being lost as people move their production overseas. And just look at our current situation - I’m so proud that we’ve been able to maintain our production levels during a global pandemic by keeping things in the same country. I think more people will start to look closer to home after we are on the other side of these difficult times.
What more can be done to ensure that skills like yours continue to thrive in future generations?
I suppose it's apprenticeships but also youngsters need to be encouraged to be proud of what they do and then given the incentive to do it. They need to realise they could get great satisfaction and mental wellbeing from creating things with their hands. People don't realise, they do other jobs and they come home and do crafting when they could be doing something that is as good for the mind and soul during the day as a career!
What do you love most about making Hiro + Wolf’s accessories?
I love that everything is ethical and colourful and I feel like I am part of an enthusiastic and utterly daft team of women. I enjoy solving problems to make our production run more smoothly and thinking of ways to use up waste materials and I like seeing all the new fabrics coming in from different countries.
Do you have a favourite piece?
I like making the Hands Free Leads, because they are nice and wide and you get a long run to really see the patterns.
Which item takes the most skill to make?
The hounds collars take the longest and I have to be really precise when hand punching the holes for the fabric to show through.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to be in that workshop until I am 90! I'm going to extend the little shed down the bottom of the garden to store boxes for packing and fabrics. My Dad is always on hands for these things!
My parent’s are my rocks and I am so proud of them. Since my husband passed away which will be 10 years this ago this May I would have been lost about them. Dad built me the workshop I am in now from scratch, he nailed every panel, lined and insulated it under the watchful eye of my late dog Millie, my other rock who would come to work down the garden with me every day. Mum and Dad are still only a phone call away if I am ever struggling repairing a machine or need extra hands to finish off cutting big orders. It gives them a purpose.
What piece of advice would you give to anyone else wanting to enter your trade?
Don't listen to the radio when you are working "laughs"! Just be prepared to work hard, don't be afraid to try out different things and stick at it! Someone once told me to, “Always be pleasant and polite on the way up because you never know you who you are going to meet on the way down!” and I think that is as sound advice as any.
Thank you Jayne! xx