What happens when your heart says “rock chick” but your head says “something nice and comfy, that flatters my best bits and kindly disguises the rest”?
Received wisdom has it that when some women, many women, get to what is euphemistically referred to as “a certain age”, they lose their way regarding fashion and personal style.
Step forward Kit and Kaboodal, a North Yorkshire fashion brand offering clothes that are striking and edgy, with oodles of attitude, yet easy, comfortable and flattering – ideal for those who refuse to step into the shadows of sartorial style, just because they are no longer as young or as narrow as they once were.
Kit and Kaboodal predominantly sells the Made in Italy brand. “Some items are made exclusively for us by Made in Italy to my design and template,” says Helen Marsden, founder and co-director, along with her husband, John Marsden, and daughters Laura Hogarth and Naomi Baines.
“We also manufacture some of our own items such as the best-selling Windsor net petticoat.” Helen herself shows how to style this on the Kit and Kaboodal website, wearing it under a swingy loose-fitting tunic dress, adding leggings and laced retro trainers for good measure.
She and customer services manager Angela Spencer, both 50-somethings, model all the clothes on the website, although professional models are employed for the lifestyle shoots also seen here.
Kit and Kaboodal is based in two buildings – one a warehouse, one an office and studio – in Roecliffe, near Boroughbridge, but the company is expanding all the time.
The brand began life 10 years ago, first with a number of high street shops, until the family decided there might be a better way of reaching more customers, by having stands at country and lifestyle shows across the UK, including the Great Yorkshire Show and Countryfile Live.
“If you have got a shop, people have to come to you so we decided to take the shop to them,” says Helen. “John and I went on the road and sometimes we were away for seven weeks at a time.”
But it was not long before the website, launched eight years ago, had become huge. Helen says: “It soon became very clear that the earning potential of the website was potentially far greater than that of the overhead-heavy stores, and before long the shows too were abandoned in order to concentrate on web sales. Turnover topped £1.4m in the first four years and is now £4m.
“The thing I am grateful to the shows for is that’s where our customer base started from. The ladies then followed us online once they had seen us, because they really liked what we did.”
Helen was educated at Lady Lumley’s in Pickering, trained as a nurse and has also worked in hotel management, financial and insurance services and in estate agency. “I’ve been self-employed most of my working life because I like living off my own wits, working with people and selling, selling, selling,” she says. “My parents were booksellers and had the Pickering bookshop.”
When she was approaching her 50th birthday, she found herself looking for a new challenge and hit upon the idea of combining her lifelong love of great clothes with shopping online.
Designer Kelly Ewing also helps make prototype designs to send over to Made in Italy. Inclusivity is the ethos of the brand, with clothing affordable, versatile and designed to flatter all shapes and sizes, creating easy-to-wear outfits for all seasons.
“Most of our items are one size, so they are perfect for online shopping, and have the kind of edgy details you don’t find on the high street,” adds Helen. “Lots of our customers say our clothes have given them a new lease of life because they are not as young and slim as they used to be, but they still don’t want to dress safe and mumsy. Our clothes give them comfort and attitude.
“Our linen dresses are second-to-none – and I particularly love the Lanton linen dress which we have carried for years and is always a summer sellout.”
Customers are, in the main, aged 35 to 80, and from across the UK, as well as France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and the US.
Part of the continuing success is down to the Kit & Kaboodal community via the Facebook members’ club, which has 1,600 participants, many posting pictures of themselves wearing the clothes in their own way. “In our Facebook Live videos, we interact every week with our customers,” adds Helen.
Daughters Laura and Naomi initially joined the family firm to help with the website. “It’s very much a four-way company. We all have our different parts to play,” says Helen. Including the directors, there are 10 staff in Boroughbridge, plus the backing of an add-on technical team. Earlier this year retail veteran Richard Jackson, Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and formerly of Centaur Clothes and Nidd Vale Motors, joined as chairman.
Helen says: “Having continued to grow year on year, even through lockdown, our next step will be to larger premises combining our two existing warehouses and creating a state-of-the art video and photography studio.”
Lockdown, it seems, has not proved to be a hindrance to growth. Helen says: “When it first struck, like everybody, we thought, well, that’s it, we’re going to lose the business. But then we started to realise, if you think about it, if everybody is going to be at home, they are going to need loungewear and comfortable clothes.”
Click link to see more from www.kitandkaboodal.co.uk
SHOOT CREDITS: Photographer – Paul Jones, of Paul Jones Photography; make-up – Julian West Studio, Boroughbridge; models – Julie and Anna; location – Ferrensby; all clothes and shoes by Kit and Kaboodal.