Never let it be said that tweed is old-fashioned. It’s fun and it’s funky, as one woman is demonstrating on a farm in Buckinghamshire. Adam Clarke finds out more.
Looking out of the kitchen window across a farmyard, there are green fields and a shed full of beef cattle. It’s not, perhaps, the place you would expect to find a young woman building up a fashion empire.
“I came from a rural background, growing up on a smallholding with horses and being involved with pony clubs, hunting and Young Farmers,” says Rosalie Eustace (pictured above), the creative force behind the Timothy Foxx fashion brand.
“I take a lot of inspiration from farm life, particularly the colours, and I love the fact that my business has rural roots.”
Rosalie had a creative side from an early age, enjoying dressmaking throughout her childhood (often, she admits, to the detriment of her mother’s sewing machine).
“I studied product design and technology at Loughborough University, and for a final-year project I designed a barbecue, which I was invited to show at the Ideal Home Show in front of thousands of people, which was really exciting,” she says.
It was moments such as these, along with receiving a sewing machine for her 21st birthday, that provided the inspiration for Rosalie to enter the fashion business.
“I made a teeny-weenie mini skirt when I was at university, out of Dad’s old tweed jacket that was full of holes and hanging on the back for the kitchen door. It was in such a state I didn’t think he would miss it,” she recalls.
“My friends absolutely loved it and were forever asking to borrow it, so I started making things for them, which were all slightly different.”
The seed of an idea had been sown in Rosalie’s head, which grew further while she was travelling around Australia after finishing her degree, although on her return, she was still unsure of what to do next.
“I tried a job in London, and didn’t particularly like it, but all the time I was making things on my sewing machine.
“I returned home to Hertfordshire and had a full-time job managing pubs for a local company while I got the business off the ground, and that job became part-time.
“I am now able to concentrate on Timothy Foxx full-time, as it has really grown and evolved over the last couple of years,” says Rosalie.
The firm registered as a limited company in January 2009 and any profits since its birth have always been reinvested back into the business for stock and new product development.
“Last year we doubled in scale from the previous year, and I just hope I keep getting it right and continue growing and evolving, but there is only so much I can do by myself. I may have to employ somebody with the experience to take the business forward.
“The aim is to keep our products more exclusive, rather than going mainstream, although we are selling to a couple of wholesalers. We don’t want to flood the market and ruin the product,” she explains.
Timothy Foxx now has a wide range of clothing and accessories for both men and women, based mainly on 100% Scottish-produced tweed, and made to patterns designed by Rosalie.
“I wanted to produce something different, as I looked around at country shows and noticed that everybody looked the same.
“I think our designs are funky and we have used some different colours mixed in with the traditional tweed, which has certainly created a talking point. Not everybody likes the products, it’s a ‘love it or hate it’ situation.”
From an early stage, Rosalie’s designs were passed on to a manufacturer to produce, with factories in Wales and the north of England making the majority of products. This ensured consistent quality and sizes.
“Despite that, we still make some of the accessories on our sewing machines, which I enjoy,” adds Rosalie.
Most customers have come from the stands at horse shows, game fairs and racing events, which are predominantly people from country backgrounds. However, Rosalie believes her clothes can also attract town dwellers.
“I have people calling me and asking about our clothes that they have seen on others and saying ‘I’m not country, does that matter?’ but of course it doesn’t.
“My designs can be worn anywhere, from field to farm to town. Tweed is such an old-fashioned fabric, but it can fit in anywhere with a modern twist.
“Tweed has gone massive, and there is nothing stopping you from wearing it with a pair of jeans. As long as you are confident and comfortable in something, then you can carry it off with regards to fashion.”
Attributes for success
Confidence, along with an outgoing and friendly personality, are the attributes that Rosalie describes as key to her success since starting the business.
“I’m also patient and calm which I think is hugely important when problems arise and I never ‘throw the toys out the pram’,” she says.
Rosalie also know exactly where she wants to be and works to make things happen – even if she sometimes finds herself looking out of the window wishing she was outside.
“I’m largely self-motivated, but my fiancée Paul helps out and keeps me encouraged, and my sister Alex keeps me grounded at times.
“Alex is my number two and has to play devil’s advocate and bring me back down to earth sometimes, as she does all my accounting.
“I just wanted to prove to everybody that I could achieve my vision and start my own business. I’m quite modest and created the brand Timothy Foxx, rather than use my own name and become the centre of attention.”
The name for her company was born from a childhood memory of a rocking horse called Timmy that lived in the front room of the family home.
“Alex said ‘Why don’t you call it after Timmy?’ and the idea developed into Timothy, and after experimentation with a few surnames I settled on Foxx, which has country connotations and a ‘foxy lady’ angle,” she explains.
Paul, who helps run his family’s farm near Aylesbury, regularly finds himself providing the muscle for the heavy lifting, or putting his welding skills to the test making clothes rails for show stands. However, he has to show a more delicate side when asked to cut out fabric for designs that are made in-house.
“When I had a hip operation last year, he also drove the trailer all around the country for shows so he is a great help.
“More than anything, I’m excited about becoming a farmer’s wife, which I see as my priority. I absolutely love the lifestyle,” she says.
Support also comes from both Paul’s and her own family, with parents on both sides helping out at shows and with fabrication.
“My parents were sceptical initially and just wanted me to be in a secure job but, despite the scepticism, they have always been behind me 100%.”
Although the business was started in the recent recession, there have been very few lows during its life, with it going from strength to strength despite the economic downturn.
“It can be very hard work sometimes and quite stressful, but we haven’t had any disasters yet, just minor things such as stock coming from the manufacturers in the wrong sizes. We also broke a big mirror travelling to a show, which I hope won’t bring too much bad luck!
“I’m quite a sensible person and don’t take too many risks, so I haven’t set myself up for any huge falls.
“There are highs all the time, especially at shows, which are always fun. The buzz from making sales is great, as it means someone likes something that I have created and made. We sold a jacket to Jodie Kidd at the Olympia horse show which was really exciting.”
The future looks bright, with continued growth and development of products, particularly of the men’s range, and the recent Easter heralded the start of a busy summer schedule.
“We have an exciting show season kicking off and it will give us the chance to test out the new marquee!”
Rosalie’s five tips for business success
• Produce a detailed business plan.
• Do your research, find who the competitors are and make sure there is a market for what you want to produce.
• Identify your unique selling point – what makes you different from your competitors.
• Patience is important, your success won’t happen overnight.
• Be passionate about what you are doing because if you believe in it then it can work.
Young farmers on the catwalk
Rosalie and her partner Paul have always been keen to take part in YFC antics, whether at parties or the many activities that the organisation arranges at both local and national levels.
That involvement has kept them in close contact with Aylesbury Young Farmers club, who now provide Timothy Foxx with willing models for her photo shoots and fashion shows.
“I was a young farmer and Paul was heavily involved, so I found it easy to find people to model. They are local, which is great, especially if I need something done one afternoon and they can be here quickly.
“The branding is very rural and it’s great to use normal, curvy, beautiful girls to maintain that image of everyday, normal life.
“I love YFC and love having them on board. They do some great things, more than I realised before I became involved and they are a brilliant organisation.”