- Julia Gash
Ten years ago tomorrow I sat outside my lingerie shop in the April sunshine and felt the first warmth of summer on my face. I wasn’t looking for a tan however but for inspiration. I wanted to change my life and move on from my lingerie business that I had ran for 8 years but didn’t know what to do. A customer came in and bought some knickers but was actually more interested in the natural cotton tote bag printed with our shop logo in bright purple. She loved it and bought another bag. When I saw her walking down the street with her cotton tote bag swinging from her shoulder I knew in a heartbeat that this is what I needed to do: Make customized cotton tote bags for businesses to promote their brands in a creative and sustainable way.
As a retailer I was keenly aware of the excessive use of promotional packaging and the need for an alternative, environmentally friendly solution. A cotton tote bag provided the answer and having been brought up in a print factory, studied printmaking and ran a print-led fashion brand for ten years then I knew that I was the person to do it! Within two months I had set up Bag It Don't Bin It as an eco-bag manufacturing company.
The first 6 months were spent on research and development (aka trial and error) as Bag It Don't Bin It’s philosophy and business model took shape. The warehouse at the back of the lingerie shop was converted into a print room and cramped and airless that it was, I dragged in friends and my partner to help print bags for orders that were dropping in from our new website each day. Fitting bras and printing bags wasn’t the best combination and some unlucky ladies undoubtedly went home with red or green streaks of ink down their back!
My first employees, enthusiastic but inexperienced printers, were interviewed in the lingerie shop in its final month as we then moved to our first dedicated print factory in Attercliffe, Sheffield.
In the first couple of years I was the printer, the sales person, the bookkeeper and marketeer as I grew the business from scratch and a handful of people. It was tough, working nights and weekends when needs must but Bag It Don't Bin It was an instant success. In 2008 the recession kicked in and knocked us down. Sales dried up overnight and for a few months it was touch and go as to whether we would make it through. After knocking on as many doors as I could I found a Business Angel on Christmas Eve who saved our skin and helped to get us back on our feet. We haven’t looked back since and now employ almost 30 people at our eco-print factory in Sheffield as well as leading to 3 more spin off companies.
Running a manufacturing company with a creative and ethical philosophy has been an incredible experience and challenge. We have made bags for some of the most prestigious brands in the world, as well as start up enterprises and grass roots organisations, helping them to all grow and promote their businesses in a sustainable and stylish way. My proudest achievement has undoubtedly been in employing so many people, many of which have been with me many years including my first employee, who is still with us!
One of the philosophies of BIDBI has been to provide skilled work for local young people. As such we have taken many young men under our wing and trained them into becoming skilled artisans who make products for blue chip brands around the world. Not all have been able to continue the journey but I am still incredibly grateful to all and humbled by the hard work and dedication that they have given BIDBI over the years.
Fond memories include the monthly “Cook-Ins” that we used to run, taking it in turns to cook a hearty dinner for the team and in doing so teaching the young printers how to cook. I remember one winter when a blizzard hit, paralyzing the country for days. Sheffield ground to a halt but the BIDBI print team came to work and stayed for 3 days, crashing out at the nearest Travelodge, working around the clock to ensure our orders got printed and hand carried the boxes of bags in the snow to the UPS depot half a mile away. Our bags got out to customers who needed them for events and who were amazed that we had done it against all odds.
In response to a larger retailer’s need for a designer tote bag range, our own brand label: Talented emerged.
Two years later I took Talented into its own entity as a brand that creates customizable and stylish souvenirs. My time is now very much focused on illustration which I why I have to move on from BIDBI and Sheffield with a new life in Devon. But the Cityscapes I design are printed by the BIDBI team onto natural and denim cotton bags and zip purses and therefore the connection carries on and a part of BIDBI will therefore always be with me.
What does this mean for our customers?
It will be business as usual for BIDBI's customers, as we are keeping all team members on board to ensure that we are delivering the same quality that keeps our clients coming back time and time again. Looking forward the change of hands means new ideas and investment for BIDBI, so watch this space for new products and printing techniques.
New owners, Daya Ram Singh and Marc Hoj Larsen, have been managing the day to day running of BIDBI for some time as Julia moved her focus to her spin off company Made by Talented. Daya and Marc both are excited about their great plans to move BIDBI forward.
Daya, who has worked at BIDBI for four years, joined as an International Operations Manager and progressed to General Manager Designate, has extensive experience within the textiles industry. He grew up watching his Uncle's textile factory in Birmingham become the biggest garment supplier to the UK's high street, which inspired him to stay within the textiles trade before going on to study a BA in Clothing and Textiles at Nottingham Trent University.
"I never thought that in joining BIDBI I would end up owning it after four years! I love the cut and thrust of operational management and working within an ethical business is important for me. BIDBI is thriving due to the continued demand for sustainable solutions and quality craftsmanship. I am aware that it’s a huge responsibility but it is also a massive opportunity and I would thank Julia for entrusting Marc and myself with taking BIDBI forward." Says Daya Ram Singh.
Marc’s focus is in the financial management of BIDBI. Originally from Denmark, Marc moved to the UK in 2005 to study; firstly, a BSc in Economics and international relations, then an MSc in Finance Accounting and Management. Marc joined BIDBI in early 2016 as Finance Manager, having previously worked for many blue-chip companies in the region.
"BIDBI is at a very interesting part within its development and I am very happy to be steering the growth forward over the coming years. BIDBI’s strength is its employees, all of whom are committed to the eco-ethical principles that Julia established ten years ago. Over the past ten years the company has a history of giving young people skilled employment and most have stayed and helped develop it into the success that it is today." Adds Marc Hoj Larsen.