29 June 2021|Brand Story, Female Founder Spotlight, Latest Posts
Alice Garrett is the owner and inspiration behind Alice Caroline, a Liberty fabric retail business, based in the Cotswolds. Alice started selling Liberty fabric in 2012 from her home after a life-long love of Liberty fabric prints. As a child, Alice would pore over her grandmother’s stash of quilting fabrics, delighting in the colours and patterns of each new print. Alice has always been a keen designer and is happiest when she is designing beautiful things with Liberty fabrics from stunning quilts and quilt blocks to cushions and bags.
Alice Caroline sells Liberty fabric, sewing kits, haberdashery, patterns and accessories to a worldwide audience through its retail website. In collaboration with the Liberty fabric design team, Alice has designed and launched several successful exclusive Liberty fabric collections which have proved extremely popular, especially in the overseas markets. Alice Caroline also has a separate Trade Sales Office which handles the sale of accessories and Liberty fabrics to the Trade. We caught up with Alice recently to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I have always loved art and science, and after completing a PhD in chemistry I knew it was time to follow my creative side. We sell Liberty fabric, sewing kits, patterns and haberdashery direct to retail customers all over the world. We also sell our designed sewing kits and beautiful Liberty fabric accessories range (ethically made in the UK) B2B to shops and retail outlets. We have grown the company from being a ‘one woman operation’ to being a seven figure business and we now sell over 600 fabrics, patterns, sewing kits and Liberty fabric accessories globally to a huge variety of different markets.
I believe passionately in encouraging people to discover or rediscover their creative side and that is a a fundamental value that drives us. We have kept the business going throughout the pandemic, which has been a lifeline to many people isolating at home.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I had always loved Liberty fabric. My grandmother was an avid quilter and it was so exciting to find piece of Liberty fabric in her stash. It was always so hard to get hold of and I knew there must be other people like me, so I decided to make it more available.
When I was doing my PhD I made and sold bags at student fairs and when I finished my PhD I started Alice Caroline with my sister.
When we both started families, we decided to close the company and sell our excess fabric off through retail rather than to trade customers and it flew out of the door! Through much persistence I eventually got an account with Liberty and then things really took off. We now stock over 25,000 metres of fabric as well as patterns, kits, haberdashery products and a range of ready-made accessories.
How did you achieve awareness?
Through persistence and google! Selling a recognised brand helped us to gain exposure and my amazing Marketing Manager Anna works constantly to achieve awareness. I started out on Etsy, and rapidly became one of the top UK fabric sellers on their platform. We now have our own website. We started before social media and now it plays a fundamental part in reaching new customers, particularly Instagram. We have a great relationship with the sewing press and they are very supportive of us. We have also worked with shopping channels and have a stand at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC where we enjoy meeting customers in person.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We have never taking investment funding. All of our growth has been organic and it was always my intention to retain control and manage growth at pace that I could handle. I had a young family at the time and they needed to be as much of a priority. In the first few years I did have to borrow money at times to help with cash flow but once we got longer payment terms from our suppliers that improved. We have recently received grants from the DTI towards international growth and they have also been a good source of export advice over the last few years.
What are the key successes?
Making our customers happy every day.
Becoming one of the largest retailers of Liberty fabric in the world.
Growing our relationship with Liberty to become their UK distributor for Liberty fabric.
Recently winning the Queen’s award for Enterprise for International Trade.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
I have come to realise that running a business involves problem solving almost every day. Some problems are fun, others are not so fun and it requires an expanded mindset to see problems as a fundamental part of being in business.
One of the biggest challenges was outgrowing the space we started in: my house. We found the perfect business premises in a beautifully converted barn nearby but outgrew that rapidly. Thankfully the barn opposite became available. Another big challenge that continually presents is getting to a point where we need to hire for a new role but can’t quite ‘justify it financially’. I now know that if we don’t take that leap of faith we won’t grow.
If I’d known all of the challenges we would have to overcome at the outset, I think I may have felt overwhelmed! However, the size of the challenges grow as the business grows and you also grow personally, honing your decision making skills for what lies ahead.
What are your plans now/for the future?
To continue growing our range of accessories and sewing patterns and kits. We’ve really enjoyed developing our ‘Block of the Month Quilt’ product range, which is a subscription service, and we’d love to expand this into new markets.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Just start! You don’t have to know all the answers – learn on the job then keep going. Initially you may need to do everything yourself but then learn to let go and delegate.
Get a bookkeeper early on = essential!
Set up as a limited company from the outset so that your personal assets are protected. Having that safety net frees you up to take the bold steps that are necessary for growth.
Align your product or service with your values, you have to really care about what you do in order to keep going through the difficult times. Be passionate – if you speak authentically from the heart people will be interested in what you have to offer.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Work in a way that’s right for you. Research what other successful
entrepreneurs did to become successful and take or leave what works for you.
At the heart of running a successful business is forming and maintaining good relationships, with suppliers, customers and employees. Be nice and respectful at all times.
Be prepared to change your offer – don’t give up because something didn’t work out.
It’s better to analyse why that didn’t work. I had hundreds of ideas
for products and tried many out before finding ’the one’ that worked out.
Trust your gut, always to listen to your ‘knowing’.
Learn to delegate, trust and let go. You cannot grow alone!
For any big decision, get all the facts on what the worst-case scenario might be. Knowing your position or potential is a lot less scary than just fearing some unknown ‘worst’. Then make the leap if you know it is what you need to do in order to grow.
Don’t let people around you with scarcity mindsets hold you back.
Work on yourself; hire a coach or counsellor to uncover and work through your unconscious blocks. The more personal work you engage with the more your business will flourish.
Who are people who inspire you the most?
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“We can do hard things” – Glennon Doyle
“The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes”. Elizabeth Gilbert
“Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.” Tony Robbins
12. What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Instagram: @alicecarolinefabrics Pinterest: @alicecaroline