From occupational therapist to fabric seller may not be a conventional career path, but for Cheshire-based Debbie Waterhouse it turned out to be just the move she needed.
“I worked in the public sector as an occupational therapist for many years before going independent,” says Debbie. “While I was still with the NHS, I met fellow occupational therapist Sophie Marks, and we’ve remained great friends. Just over a year ago, Sophie and I decided we were both interested in exploring other career options, seeing what else was out there.
“We’re both keen crafters – Sophie sews, I make paper crafts – but we felt there were already a lot of very talented people selling their wares, and it would be difficult to compete in this marketplace.”
The pair came up with the idea of selling fabrics and haberdashery rather than finished crafts, and embarked on some thorough market research to see if the idea was viable.
“At the beginning of 2013, we went to a textile show in nearby Nantwich aimed at quilters. We found that locally there was a gap in the market for beautiful, quirky, unusual fabrics and haberdashery like ric rac, lace, buttons and ribbons,” says Debbie.
The pair wrote their business plan, then collected many fabric samples to find the prints and range of fabric they wanted to stock.
“We took the samples to local sewing circles to get a feel for the type of fabric people wanted, then looked around for suppliers who could fill our need for retro patterns, vintage-style fabrics and unusual designs.
Finally, Bumbleberry Fabrics was born.
“Sophie came up with the name – it took us ages!” explains Debbie. “We love those deep, rich, autumnal berry colour tones, so to have ‘berry’ in the name seemed appropriate, and we hope our final choice is memorable and evokes our country, quirky image.”
Currently in stock is the beautiful Tilda range by Scandinavian designer, Tone Finnanger, Clarke and Clarke fabric which offers a contemporary, country style and a range of American quirky and floral prints from producers such as Michael Miller and Riley Blake, among others.
“We’ve also got a great range of pretty buttons and some lovely grosgrain ribbons, all chosen to complement our fabrics,” says Debbie. “We’re adding new things to the range all the time, and we sell everything in small quantities to suit crafters.
“We’ve even run our own sewing group, with the help of a sewing teacher from Chester. Our first two six week courses were very popular, and a sewing group has now been formed in Tarvin. We hope to extend these groups to other areas.
Sewing and crafting are more popular now than they have been for decades, and business is booming for this new startup business.
“I think TV programmes like the Great British Sewing Bee and Kirstie’s Homemade Home have really helped to bring crafting into the mainstream,” says Debbie. “If you make something yourself, it’s completely unique and you’ll get the fun of making it. There’s definitely been a shift in attitudes – whereas ‘homemade’ used to be seen as rather naff, it’s now chic and trendy.
“This year, we saw quite a few mums with daughters of about 11 or 12 buying our fabric “easy to sew” kits for Christmas presents, to go with the sewing machines that’d been on Christmas lists. That was really lovely.”
This January, Debbie and Sophie went back to the textile show in Nantwich, but this time as exhibitors.
“We had some lovely feedback, from crafters who’d been attending for years and thought our range was a bit different,” says Debbie. “It was great to hear we’d achieved what we were aiming for!”
For more information or to buy online, please visit www.bumbleberryfabrics.com. You can also visit Bumbleberry Fabrics to view their stock near Chester by appointment only.