I managed to catch up with Melissa Nicholson virtually to chat with her about how Kettlewell Colours have fared this past 14 months during the pandemic.
Melissa and her husband, John, founded Kettlewell Colours 17 years ago when their youngest of 3 children, Tom, was a baby. In those days Kettlewell Colours sold tee-shirts predominantly and it was John and Melissa doing everything including the picking and packing. So when Covid hit John’s first instinct was to close completely as he felt they were not an ‘essential business’ and it wouldn’t be right to be marketing colourful clothes. John is more of a realist whilst Melissa is an optimist and she felt that people would want to bring some colour into their lives as colour means happiness. We wear black at funerals for good reason. I am pleased to say that Melissa won the argument. Melissa said, “We must keep our customers in colour.” And so Kettlewell continued to operate throughout the pandemic but in a slightly different way.
They had to adapt and adhere to government rulings, so the staff, who have become Melissa and John’s extended family, were furloughed. Once again, John and Melissa had to take over all the work, including back to doing the picking and packing. This time, 17 years on, their three children joined them, and so the Kettlewell team was a bubble of five. I asked if this had been difficult to live and work together, but she admitted that it was an extraordinary time. Having all of their children around was “very special”, Melissa said, as they are now young adults, so normally they are busy with their own lives. Nevertheless, they lived together, worked together, cooked together and can now be proud that they all kept Kettlewell going. It truly is a family business.
Melissa told me that she loved doing the packing as she could then see customer choices of colour combinations. However, she was told by her kids to hurry up as she kept them waiting in the despatch department whilst she was photographing a colour combination that had caught her attention and gave her inspiration.
Colour has an energy
Melissa told me March, traditionally, is one of their busiest months as they started out as a t-shirt brand, and when Lockdown was announced mid-March 2020, sales just stopped. But quickly, it started again as Melissa felt that people needed colour to bring some sunshine and happiness into their life. Melissa said, “In adversity, women shop especially when they are overwhelmed by the news and shopping is a distraction so whether they have had their colours done or not, women are attracted to colour.”
“People have gone bonkers for neon colours”
I asked Melissa if people’s choices had changed. Melissa said that she introduced neon colours to the range as a trial, and it sold out in a week. She thinks people have changed, and “there will be more colour in peoples wardrobes as people seem more willing to try colour.”
“Once you start embracing colour and have tried new colour combinations and received compliments, you will carry on as it has given you self-confidence. It is all about finding your happy colours.”
Kettlewell Colours is a little different to other brands
“It is not high fashion; we are not reinventing the wheel; it is about building your wardrobe, finding that style that suits you and injecting some colour.”
An example of this is their Lulu top, a fitted under layer with a floaty overlayer that is extremely popular as it hides all lumps and bumps and is very feminine. So Melissa keeps the Lulu in the Kettlewell collection, but she will add some new colours each season. I have to admit to owning three Lulu tops for Melissa’s reasons; it suits me, so I add a new colour rather than trying to find a new style. The other wonderful thing about Kettlewell is the cotton jersey that they use is so soft, washes brilliantly, and my 4-year-old Lulu still looks as good as new.
Brexit & the Pandemic
Kettlewell Colours has been a successful online business for some time; however, their customer base is growing. Brexit has had its knock-on effects as shipping goods to Europe is uncertain regarding charges, and Kettlewell wants to give their European customers one set price.
The pandemic has also had a knock-on effect with production as their factories in Portugal are mostly female workers, so when schools closed, the women had to go home to look after their children. Of course, this was the same with the whole supply chain; the dye houses and every part of production crashed. Melissa said, “we had the sales but couldn’t get delivery of the stock. Finally, when our factories did ship, it was compounded by new customs regulations as some boxes came through fairly quickly and other boxes got delayed. So we couldn’t even tell our customers that their order would be with us by a certain date as we didn’t know which sizes and colours would clear customs by what date.”
Over the years, our clothes manufacturing businesses have closed in this country. Their own factory is something that Melissa and John would love to develop, even if just for repeat orders. However, whilst they are always looking to the future, that idea has to be on hold as they have recently expanded into the US, and it has been very popular. Free shipping on orders over $100 has meant that Americans have welcomed the Kettlewell range. Melissa thinks the concept of over 300 colours and marketing via a colour palette, i.e. within your seasonal range, has really appealed to this market.
John and Melissa Nicholson’s next step is to launch a website in Germany as soon as they can offer customers a fixed price to include shipping.
My final wish is that Kettlewell Colours will start producing tops for men as my husband loves beautiful colours in his wardrobe, as do so many of his friends. Just to say Melissa agrees, so watch this space……