5 December 1997

Kit to keep out mud & rain

Dynamic is a good word to describe Jane Murray. This go-

getting young farmers wife is making her mark in the world

of weatherproof clothing and scooping business awards.

Ann Rogers reports

Within a year of starting her outdoor clothing enterprise Northumbrian farmers wife Jane Murray had won two business awards and had exports on her mind.

She was fresh back from a sales trip to the Republic of Ireland with orders for winter 98 when Farmlife called at Dissington Red House, Dalton, Newcastle upon Tyne, to discover more about Kit for Clarts.

Clarts is a local word for mud, explains Jane, and Kit for Clarts is the name under which she sells washable, water- and wind-proof clothing. Her range currently comprises dungarees and jackets for children, all-in-one garments for toddlers up to two years old, and fleece jackets for adults. She doesnt make them herself. Production is something she leaves to the professionals.

Janes experience is in retailing and nursing. She holds a diploma in retailing and worked in the jewellery trade for a number of years, but then turned to psychiatric nursing, becoming a registered mental nurse. A town girl from Newcastle but an enthusiastic horsewoman, she joined YFC while living and working in a hospital in order to get a breath of outdoor life.

She met farmer Stuart Murray at a YFC St Valentine ball. They were married within the year, had son Thomas within the next year and daughter Kate within the following one. The children are already experienced models, used to donning their waterproof gear for the camera, having appeared both in the Kit for Clarts brochure and in press photographs as a result of Janes success in local business contests.

When Farmlife called two-year-old Kate had the scene to herself, relieved that Thomas was away at playschool as he usually gets to display the garments waterproof quality by aiming the hosepipe at her.

Stuart was roped in to pose for Farmlife in his soft-to-the-touch, washable, weatherproof fleece jacket, but it is Jack Charlton of football fame who appears on Janes brochure. He has a property nearby, explains Jane. He also shoots over the Murrays 182ha (450-acre) farm where Stuart runs sheep and beef cattle, including a pedigree Limousin herd, and has (350 acres) down to arable crops.

Jane enjoys working with Stuart but they found taking the babies along with her to be a dangerous practice. Instead she turned her attention to running a sideline of her own, beginning by selling other peoples clothing products party-plan-style which meant she was out and about in the evenings when Stuart could babysit.

In autumn 1996 she decided to produce her own range of garments which was launched in January this year. She began by looking outside for support. The bank put her in touch with Business Link to see if there were any grants available. She got a £500 start-up grant and the organisations support and advice has proved very useful. The Regional Supply Office put her in touch with a source of materials and a company that took on the work of cutting and grading patterns and producing the garments to her specification.

Jane, who visits the factory at Alnwick at least once a week, takes care of the marketing herself and, besides selling by mail order, supplies a growing number of retail outlets. She currently has 30 shops on her books from the Borders to Humberside, both regular clothes shops and farm stores. These she gained through a programme of mail-shots, phone calls and personal visits.

As well as supplying the fleece jackets to the farming community she is pushing them towards the outdoor sports market, especially the hill walking, riding, golfing, shooting and skiing scenes. "There are so many of these new, advanced fabrics that there is no longer any need to be clammy or cold," she says.

Quick to take advantage of every opportunity she entered the SWAN (Successful Woman Achiever in the North) contest, for which she had to answer half a dozen questions. She won the business start-up category and went on to become the overall winner. Her prizes were swan-shaped crystal trophies and lots of useful publicity.

More publicity came when her entry, supported by a three-year business plan, won the Journal Kick Start Challenge and with it £30,000-worth of business support in the form of £10,000-worth of rented premises, and £5000-worth each of accountancy, legal, public relations and marketing, and banking services. Keen to keep her custom, her bank matched the HSBC award so she is keeping her account with Barclays.

Now her sights are set on Europe and the Livewire Export Challenge which offers export training and support from an export counsellor, with a view to getting her products sold on the Continent, possibly in Scandinavia.

"All these things basically focus upon jobs created," says Jane who is taking on a young, full-time sales and administration assistant to ease her load: The phone always seems busiest at lunch time, she says, imagining farmers and other outdoor people using their lunch breaks to get to the phone.

But she is quite happy about that and quite determined that while she consolidates the manufacturing, and explores other lines – bespoke jackets, for example – new fabrics and fresh outlets, her business stays firmly rooted on the farm and in the midst of her family.

ÑInquiries (01661-886236/fax 01661-886816)

Two-year-old Kate stole the scene in her Kit for Clarts waterproofs but mother Jane and father Stuart joined her to show off the soft but weatherproof fleece jackets.