Floating a company

Designer Julie Dodsworth's remarkable success story continues and she's using it to drive a Made In Britain campaign. Sharon Dale reports.

Julie on board Calamity Jane, her houseboat, which sparked the idea for her canalware-style designs
Julie on board Calamity Jane, her houseboat, which sparked the idea for her canalware-style designs

There is no doubt that Julie Dodsworth’s colourful bargeware-inspired designs keep manufacturers coming back for more.

They now feature on everything from mugs and candles to crockery and umbrellas. There was even a special Barbour jacket with a Dodsworth lining.

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But there are other ingredients that give Julie an advantage in a market crowded with talented surface pattern designers. She is a super smart, life-enhancing Yorkshirewoman with added sparkle and an extraordinary amount of get up and go.

Julie's mugs are best-sellers and cost £6 each

She modestly puts her success down to “hard work and a little perseverance” although her artistic flair and determination to be hands-on at all times clearly help. When she isn’t painting or helping with the family plant display business, she promotes her brand through social media and asks Facebook fans for advice on designs she is working on.

She prefers face-to-face meetings and likes to do her own PR, so she treks up and down the country to meet magazine editors, factory owners, buyers and retailers in person. More than 2,000 outlets now stock Julie Dodsworth branded goods.

“I do everything from tweeting to painting. I’m working with between 15 and 20 manufacturers at the moment and there are lots of meetings, which is good. I like being busy and fortunately I don’t see the designing and painting side as work. So I’ll do it in the evening and on a Sunday afternoon,” says Julie, who is putting a lot of energy into her Made In Britain campaign.

Most of the manufacturers who are licensed to put her designs on their products are based in the UK. The Julie Dodsworth crockery is made in Stoke-on-Trent by Churchill China, fabrics are made in Manchester, the stationery range is by Scotland’s Bo’Ness and her Wax Lyrical candles are from Cumbria. There is a host of Yorkshire makers too, including Farrahs of Harrogate, Direct curtains and blinds in Huddersfield and Soake of Knaresborough, who make umbrellas.

Julie's latest range of beddingfor Bedeck, Little Maid. Duvet covers start at £35 each

“There are so many advantages to having home-produced goods. Proofing and quality is greatly improved and you can respond a lot faster to trends. The fabric production in Manchester proves this beautifully. We can proof the fabric in an instant and smaller, more cost-effective runs can be made. The 100 per cent natural fabrics outshine the Far East versions. “My mission is to highlight the benefits of UK manufacturing. It makes sense in every way. Shoppers love to support it,” says Julie, who now splits her time between her home near York and her houseboat in Northamptonshire.

It was her narrowboat, Calamity Jane, which inspired a second career that started just five years ago.

She and her husband Simon bought the floating home to be closer to their plant display clients in London.

“Even pokey flats were expensive, so we decided to buy a canal boat instead. It had always been a dream for us and this was our excuse to go for it,” says Julie.

Julie's mugs are best-sellers and cost £6 each

She bought some jugs and the buckby cans, traditionally used for carrying water, and she fancied having a go at decorating them herself. Her own interpretations of folk art using traditional canal-ware motifs including diamonds, roses, daisies, castles and scrolls were so impressive that her daughter Bethany insisted she send the designs to manufacturers. They loved the originality, cheerful colours and the nostalgic element.

She is now up there with other quintessentially English brands such as Emma Bridgewater. “Getting into licensing was a challenge but I think being older with business skills helped and I completely believed in my work. I knew it could be a commercial success. I researched the manufacturers and when I contacted some of them they told me they had 500 commercial artists on their books and they weren’t interested. I didn’t take that personally. I kept going and within 12 months I had secured 12 major licences and it has grown from there,” says Julie, who has just brought out a range of bedding with Bedeck.

She adds: “I never go to trend seminars. I am more influenced by heritage and I paint what I like.”

Julie Dodsworth products are sold in National Trust shops, Debenhams, Lakeland, independent stores and in Julie’s own online shop www.juliedodsworth.com

Julie's latest range of beddingfor Bedeck, Little Maid. Duvet covers start at £35 each