Meet the couple behind Norwich-based minimalist children’s clothing brand Nor-Folk
- Credit: Archant
The couple behind clothing brand Nor-Folk launched the business just over a year ago. Now it exports to 20 countries and sells thousands of items a month. SABAH MEDDINGS reports.
It is a brand which is already popular in Japan, about to secure a new stockist in Jordan and considering franchising opportunities in China.
But while becoming a global exporter used to require heavy investment and international agents, clothing firm Nor-Folk has had none of these advantages.
Instead, the Norwich-based company has built its rapid growth by riding the wave of a new type of business model.
Fiona and Bobby Burrage have grown their business by sharing a polished version of their life on social media, and developing a community of followers.
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'It's about us sharing our love of design,' said 32-year-old Mrs Burrage, who has more than 53,000 followers on Instagram.
'And people like the story of us being a business but also me being a working mum.'
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It began in November 2014 when the couple - who also run branding agency The Click Design Consultants - created the Nor-Folk logo for another project which did not go ahead.
Hoping to make some use out of the design, they printed the logo on a collection of tote bags, which they sold on the online site Etsy.
'People were buying them with no website or explanation,' said Mrs Burrage. 'We were selling about five or six a week and I was just popping down to the post office.'
Mrs Burrage had already developed a following of 5,000 on Instagram, as pictures of the couple's home, style and son Stanley became more popular.
But it was while searching for simple clothes for their three-year-old that the brand began to take off. 'There weren't many T-shirts I felt were suitable for a birthday,' she said. 'We shared some photo-shopped visuals to see if stockists would be interested in them.'
Within a couple of weeks eight stockists were on board, and orders of about £8,000 had been secured - enough to start production of their first collection of T-shirts, The Wonder Years.
Now, just over a year on, Nor-Folk sells thousands of items of children's and adults clothing, gifts and homeware each month and turnover is well into six figures.
The couple said they saw growth of more than 30pc for several months in a row.
Distribution has moved from a series of boxes in the living room of their converted-factory apartment to a warehouse in Long Stratton where the picking and shipping is out-sourced.
And in March, the couple commissioned their first exclusive range of clothes from a Nottingham factory. Until then ethically-made clothes were sourced from a British supplier and screen-printed in Norwich.
And, so far, this has happened without outside support or investment, and the couple continue to be based in Dragonfly House, Norwich.
'It all seems quite surreal but I don't feel any pressure,' said Mrs Burrage. 'What we do is (about) us so it is always fun. I am in control and if I wanted to stop it tomorrow I could.
'Part of the appeal is it is small and intimate. Part of the charm is we really let people into our lives. It is a business model as well.'
A large part of growing the business has been about talking to their followers. 'Interaction is key,' said Mrs Burrage. 'Even as we grow we will find ways to continue that interaction.'
In a bid to scale the business to the next level, the couple are now seeking outside support.
Mr Burrage, 35, said: 'We just need to assume things are going to carry on as they are. We are in the early stages of getting more structured help, maybe a non-executive director. It's growing so we want proper advice about how to scale the business.
'A lot of people have no idea Norfolk is even a place when they buy our stuff. We would love to be able to push the county more.'
And their popularity has led to collaborations with other brands - they have teamed up with Japanese business Tokyobike to design a children's bicycle, and Mrs Burrage has been asked to work with women's clothing brand Long Tall Sally.
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