Eleanor Charles: Meet the Yorkshire couple who have launched their own children's country clothing brand

Children’s clothes or churning butter were two of the ideas considered by a farmer’s daughter and now farmer’s son’s wife in North Yorkshire, which led to the launch of a new brand at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show.

Young married couple Katie and Tom Heptonstall, of Burton Leonard near Harrogate, ended up choosing clothing over churning and the Eleanor Charles brand, comprising their two children’s names, made its debut two weeks ago to rave reviews and vindication of what had sparked Katie’s initial design.

Katie said it had been a handed down cape worn by their daughter that had proved the catalyst.

“We’d discussed making butter and we’d had some useful advice on setting up and supplying chefs as a niche market brand. The children’s clothing idea had started through us joking how much I like to buy clothes for our two.

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    Tom and Katie Heptonstall with children Charlie and Elle wearing Eleanor Charles designs

    “I’d found that there were things I wanted to buy for them but couldn’t. One was a cape. Eleanor had had a really good cape that had been handed down. She had grown out of it and because she’d looked really good in it I wanted to find another but couldn’t, or at least not one at what I considered a sensible price.

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    “The capes are made in tweed and you couldn’t get anything without paying what I considered exorbitant especially as the cape is only likely to last a maximum of six months. I thought it was crazy and so I began designing my own to be able to sell at a far more reasonable price."

    Two weeks ago the cape was the best seller on the Eleanor Charles stand at the Great Yorkshire Show. Katie said the whole experience from initial concept of the cape to launching a brand has taken her completely out of her comfort zone.

    Katie with Eleanor Charles sample pieces

    “I’m designing all of the country clothes and liaising with those who are making them up for me. I know what I like and as well as providing illustrations and drawings I can articulate what I’m trying to achieve to those who are making my visions into the Eleanor Charles range.

    “We had a great response at Harrogate, better than I thought we would have. I didn’t expect us to start off so well, as we are new and I thought people might just generally stick to what they are familiar with and might not commit to us immediately, but they did over all four days and the cape proved an instant hit, which was lovely because that’s how this all started.

    “We also found another first day winner when we sold out of the tweed rompers we had taken, but we had enough back at home to re-stock for the next day; and our colourful corduroy trousers that I designed to allow your child to be relaxed. They have an elasticated waist and are a cool trouser with a comfy fit. They can be rolled up in the leg to give a flash of colour, until the legs grow, and are real value for money, extending the wear time of the trouser.

    “We have purposely given our lines, both the tweed country wear and the organic cotton range, a price point that puts us into a mid to higher purchase, which also makes us competitive."

    Tom is a surveyor and Katie a solicitor

    Katie said she has purposely not just gone for the countryside market, but more the market where her customers get that special feeling about what their children are wearing.

    “The main line I have made designs for has been the countrywear in tweed. We are country people and we know the market, but having the organic cotton range broadens our appeal.

    “I want to create children’s clothing and babywear that makes parents and their children feel good. Eleanor Charles is about promoting a luxury brand.

    “When people take away their purchase from a show or receive it from an online purchase we want them to have been happy with the whole experience and when they get home or have it delivered they can enjoy that moment of taking their fresh clothing out of tissue paper wrapping and a branded bag, in much the same way that you might have purchased something from Jo Malone or The White Company.

    “It’s about bringing that kind of adult purchase quality to children’s and babywear.

    “While we were really pleased with the sales we made at the show, we were more pleased with meeting prospective customers and getting to know them - and that includes the children themselves. If we understand them we can understand better what new lines will work in future."

    Tom has always helped out on his father Richard’s mixed farming enterprise at Hill Top Farm in Brearton alongside his brother and sister, while also holding down a position as a surveyor.

    The farm has arable land and livestock including cattle and sheep. Tom said that looking to further sources of income wasn’t just about Katie having her own business since having a break from her role as a solicitor when their children came along.

    “Diversifying your interests and looking at new ideas is always invigorating and in launching this new enterprise you never know where it will lead. We would love retail premises. too. I’m a surveyor in retail property and as such I know the costs associated with having a shop, but that would be our goal with Eleanor Charles in maybe five years.

    “I thought the butter idea was limiting as we would have wanted everything to be home-made rather than outsourcing and by only selling what you can make yourself there is always that limit you reach where you can’t go further."

    Katie said she’s also hoping to bring in a secondhand service too, offering customers sustainability based on her initial feeling of how purchases might only be useful for a few months.

    “Children grow quickly and I’m going to set up a system whereby the tweed clothing can be returned and a credit note will be issued against the next purchase.