The Story of Jane Hamerton Limited - Personalised Towels and Gifts
Luxurious Personalised Hand-sewn Towels and Gifts from Jane Hamerton
Jane O’Riordan (née Hamerton) was born in Kenya in 1959 – she was the first born of four sisters. jane’s family lived in many countries across the globe (East & West Africa, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, the USA and Belgium to name a few). From a very young age Jane developed a lifelong love of sewing, starting with cross-stitch and embroidery and then developing into making clothes and curtains. Because of her father’s job, the family were never based in one country for long so, to give some stability to her education, Jane was sent to a girls’ convent boarding school in Surrey (Woldingham School) at the age of 9. She loved her time at Woldingham, despite finding some aspects of the academic side fairly daunting – she was always the youngest in the class. As she was a very popular girl, with a large number of friends from many year groups, the nuns recognised certain special qualities and appointed her Head Girl in her final year at the school.
She did not go to university but instead attended Brighton Polytechnic where she completed an HND in Business Studies. From there she went on to work for Marks & Spencer as a trainee – this involved spells in numerous departments, including working in the stores themselves interacting with customers. Her favourite time was probably when she worked in menswear at head office, because it gave her the opportunity when meeting people to say, “Hello, I’m Jane and I’m in men’s trousers!”
Jane’s passion for sewing did not lessen once she started working, indeed it probably strengthened.
Because she was often struggling financially (living in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s and partying most nights was an expensive lifestyle) she still made a lot of her own clothes. Her M & S training, coupled with her own innate good taste, meant that she could put together an outfit which would look stylish and chic, emulating the designers of the day, without costing a fortune! She also made clothes and curtains for lots of her friends and even made her sister’s wedding dress when she got married in the early 1980s.
In 1987 she decided to leave M & S to run the Brussels office of a recruitment consultancy being set up by an old Woldingham girl. She had no ties to the UK, certainly no boyfriend or similar complications, so she decided she was off! In the April of 1987 she met John O’Riordan, who was then running a company producing the artwork for Thomson Holidays brochures, at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend who worked at M & S with Jane and who played golf with John. Nine days after meeting they became engaged! After an engagement lasting 15 months, during which time they actually got to know each other, they were married in the chapel at Woldingham School, bringing Jane back to her earlier roots. She duly left M & S but decided not to go to Brussels and then had a number of different office administration jobs.
Jane & John had their first baby, a daughter named Isabel, in 1991. At the same time many of Jane’s close friends were also starting families and there was a constant need to find interesting and exciting gifts to celebrate the new arrivals. Jane then drew on her sewing expertise and came up with a great idea: she would cut the letters out of a pretty fabric and appliqué the new baby’s name on to a really lovely and soft white towel! This would be really snuggly and perfect for bath time – it could also be placed on a changing mat or had many other uses. Above all it would demonstrate how much thought, love and care had gone into the gift – not just another book or romper suit from the local department store. And it was something that would last much longer than a bunch of flowers!
So, for the past 18 or so years, Jane has been producing towels for friends and acquaintances as a hobby
mixed in with the plethora of other jobs she was juggling: mother; wife; gardener; computer training for the ‘silver surfers’; administrative duties at the Pioneer Sailing Trust (a charity set up to introduce under-privileged children to the pleasures of sailing a beautifully restored 19th century oyster smack).
Her computer training for those not in the first flush of youth unearthed a talent Jane never knew she had – the ability to convey information in an easily absorbed way, in other words she discovered that she had a natural talent as a teacher! Because she is a naturally very patient person, she was able to encourage her ‘pupils’ to go at their own pace, in their own homes. If they just wanted to be able to send e-mails to keep in touch with children and grandchildren, she would soon get them to the right level of competence. She could also get them up top speed if they wanted to download and retouch photographs, write the sequel to ‘War and Peace’ and become a millionaire via e-Bay!
She has also used her patient teaching methods and found a great deal of joy in introducing youngsters (mainly girls it has to be said) to the pleasures of sewing. Jane passionately disapproves of the fact that traditional sewing was for many years removed from the school curriculum and is trying to start a campaign to reintroduce the subject. She appeared on Radio Suffolk in late 2009, saying how difficult it was to find people who had any sewing ability, when she first decided to make a proper business out of her hobby. She knew she would need to build a team of competent seamstresses and was staggered to find how few really good people there were.
Which brings us to the formation of Jane Hamerton Ltd.
After many years listening to her friends saying, “You should think about doing this properly. There are loads of people out there looking for unusual presents and you have the perfect answer. Why don’t you set up a company and do it properly?” When they moved from Essex to Ipswich and Isabel and James became much more independent, Jane finally succumbed and decided that she would.
What perfect timing! Trying to set up a new business just as the country was going into the worst economic conditions in nearly 80 years was never going to be easy. Luckily there were no huge initial set-up costs in terms of machinery (Jane already had a fantastic sewing machine) or premises (Jane had her own workroom in their house in Ipswich). Funds still had to be found, however, for the various elements necessary to start the company.
The first thing to be decided on was a name for the company.
As the product involves a great deal of hand sewing and is very personalised, it was obvious that a generic name (such as ‘towels r us’ would not convey the right impression, Jane reluctantly agreed to have her name as an intrinsic part of the company name. This then threw up another problem – many people find her married name difficult to pronounce and/or spell! Also, the apostrophe in O’Riordan causes problems with websites. So a big family discussion ended with the suggestion that she use her maiden name. Jane quickly saw the merits and also knew that it would be a way of keeping the Hamerton name alive – her parents only had daughters so there was no son to keep the family name.
Once the name was agreed, a corporate identity had to be created. John runs a small design consultancy and was able to get his best designer to come up with the right look and a logo that is perfect for the brand. That same designer was also able to produce the initial layouts for the website which the web designer was then able to translate into the correct format for the internet.
The domain name then had to be acquired, Jane decided to go for ‘.com’ rather than ‘.co.uk’ as she hopes to sell all over the world!
So far the most difficult phase of setting up has been establishing all the aspects necessary for e-commerce. The banks have incredibly strict rules, completely justifiably, to make sure that everything works properly if you are going to be able to take credit card payments on-line.
The next stage was to source the best quality towels. A great deal of time and effort was spent making sure that she had really good quality cotton towels, which were luxurious and soft. As most of the recipients are still likely to be babies, softness was a prime requisite. The final choice of towel is a very high quality ethically sourced 100% Egyptian cotton with a weight of 600 gsm (cheaper towels are often as low as 300 gsm). There are four sizes on offer: face flannel, hand towel, bath towel and bath sheet. Jane decided to limit the numbers of towel colours she would offer to just four (white, cream, red and navy blue) to keep things as simple as possible while still offering alternatives; she also offers a choice of fabrics for the names.
As the website was going to be the main source of business, the website had to be very well designed and, as already mentioned above, Jane had access to very experienced designers. She needed to find a photographer who could turn her vision into a reality. After an initial mistake choosing a photographer who did not really understand the concept of ‘luxury’ and an abortive and expensive first shoot, Jane then found a photographer who was on exactly the same ‘wavelength’. The relationship with a photographer is absolutely critical to the success of a product such as Jane’s and both client and photographer need to be in tune with each other. Fortunately Jane’s new photographer is superb and can create exactly the right image for any particular promotional theme.
If the business took off as hoped, Jane would not be able to produce all the towels herself so she now needed to recruit a team of seamstresses. As we have already noted, there is an alarming shortage of people who can sew accurately and neatly. Every towel Jane had sewn for her friends while she produced them as a hobby was very carefully finished and she wanted to recruit people who would sew with the same fanatical care and attention. After many false starts, she has finally put together a small team that she can trust to mirror her own incredibly high standards. Jane is also prepared to train those who have basic sewing skills but are not quite up to the rigours of such high standards and is looking at ways of enlarging the team as the order levels rise.
The final stage has been to set the prices at a level that reflects the quality of the towel,
the care and attention devoted to the process of putting the name on the towel, and the fact that the finished product is hand made and very labour-intensive. Many hours were spent discussing various pricing levels and looking at similar products before arriving at the final prices. Debate has also been heated on whether to include carriage within the price, with the final decision to have carriage costs as an extra (a flannel will, after all, cost significantly less than a bath sheet to post).
Gift wrapping with a hand written card is also offered as an additional service at extra cost.
Everything is now in place and the company is officially up and running. The website looks great, with stunning photography and is simple to use. Jane will also use direct marketing (both by post and e-mail) to keep her customers aware of new developments and new products which will be unveiled as the company progresses and grows. Social networking sites (especially Twitter and Linkedin) will also feature extensively in her marketing strategies both to spread the word and to improve her SEO ratings for searches on Google and other engines.
Finding an exciting and different present for someone special, whatever their age, is often very difficult; a Jane Hamerton towel fits the bill perfectly because it is so personal and so much care and thought has gone into its production. Jane’s guiding principles of high quality luxurious products and real attention to detail dominate the business.
To learn more about Jane Hamerton Limited please visit the website: http://janehamerton.com/