Journalism, jumpsuits and an enthusiasm for faff-free dressing, Daisy Bridgewater the founder of Spry Workwear and former Saturday Telegraph Magazine columnist, and I, have a lot in common. After 20 years ‘peering into other people’s domestic lives’, Daisy set up her own company in order to simplify her own – and sort out certain sartorial issues. In a rather lopsided trade-off, I swapped Daisy a signed copy of Know Your Style for a Spry Workwear jumpsuit. Much neater and a lot less slouchy than most of my other all-in-ones (I have a long body and often have ‘up-yer-bum’ issues), the Spry Workwear classic boiler suit fits like a dream and has received loads of lovely compliments. I had a chat with Daisy about moving to the country, starting a business and the joy of the jumpsuit:
TNMA: How did you go from journalism to workwear?
DB: I had long harboured a desire to run my own business, having spent a decade writing about other people’s creative and business endeavours. I wanted to start my own story, and to build something up gradually, rather than flitting from one story to the next. Having freelanced for years, and living progressively further from the office, the temptation not to get dressed in the mornings started to loom large. I wanted faff-free clothes that would make me feel pulled together, yet take me through the day however varied the tasks at hand might be. So many women work from home, juggling professional, creative, manual and domestic work. When I moved to deepest Suffolk five years ago the idea for a uniform for life started to take hold. As well as writing, I have a small holder’s licence, so what was going to take me from my desk in my studio in the garden to my editor’s office, via feeding the pigs and checking the cows’ water? What could I throw on in the morning and never have to think about again, bar the odd change of shoe?
TNMA: Tell me a bit about the design process – getting the fit right -and about manufacturing in the UK.
DB: The process from idea to product was painfully slow and I often nearly lost heart. I learnt quickly though that ideas are easy- it is the following them through that takes grit and determination. I knew I wanted to design a boiler suit, in retrospect, possibly the most complicated thing to start with (but ignorance at that stage was rather useful). My mother always used to wear one when I was a child in the seventies, and always looked super stylish. Big hair, green boiler suit, red clogs. Eventually I found a vintage mechanic’s overall on Etsy which had various elements that I loved. I took it to a pattern cutter and got him to alter it to fit a female form. I lengthened the legs, cinched-in the waist, and added detailing to the cuffs. Eventually, after various versions, I hit on the shape that I now use for both the classic and denim boiler suits.
TNMA: Has it been a sharp learning curve? Did you have any expert advice on running a business?
DB: Going from pattern-making, to sampling through to production was the steepest learning curve. Everything that could have gone wrong seemed to happen to me, and I realised that it was almost always down to my complete lack of experience. The experience has been both hugely rewarding and humbling. I am learning as I go. I have had snippets of advice along the way, particularly from the CEO of Fashion Enter, a London factory and social enterprise. Next year I am determined to find a mentor.
TNMA: Are you going to stick to jumpsuits or expand the range – I know you also have a utilitarian dress – is there room for some more Spry Workwear?
DB: I am going to stick with boiler suits as they are proving so popular, but am looking to expand the colours and fabrics available. I am also reworking the Chore Dress, which is currently out of stock, as this is also very popular as a throw-on, faff-free multi-functional one-piece. I also want to do dungarees, and a good sturdy skirt. But as I have learnt, these things take time.
TNMA: Lots of women in their 50s/midlife are starting their own businesses- why do you think that is? And what advice would you give to someone considering a second career?
DB: I think mid-life gives you the confidence and perspective to try something new. I also think the internet is a huge enabler. My advise would be to lower your guard, and learn to listen to advice wherever it might be offered (although whether you take it is a different matter). Understand that you will have a lot to learn. Be humble, and be true to your own ideas, rather than swayed by other people’s. Also, remember that whatever you learnt in your previous career will be of great value to you at some point.
TNMA: What’s the best way to wear a jumpsuit?!
DB: I wear mine with a grey marl t-shirt in summer, and a thin long-sleeved cashmere jumper in winter, with trainers in winter, or canvas Victoria pumps and no socks in summer. I also like to wear a few simple chain necklaces to add a bit of subtle sparkle.
Now all I need is a dog. More jumpsuit joy: