Riviera People – Emma Curtis and Elizabeth Parnell successfully combine business with family life on the English Riviera

Posted by: on Apr 30, 2015 | No Comments

Emma Curtis and Elizabeth Parnell successfully combine business with family life on the English Riviera as Jane Fitzgerald discovers…

Some wonderfully creative artists and craft makers are housed in the Stable Yard and Sea Change Studios, tucked behind the 17th century manor house at Cockington. The airy studios, which are arranged around a central public courtyard, have been designed specifically for craft workers with wide glass doors, reinforced floors and individual sinks and are heated by a biomass boiler. Here visitors to Cockington can see and take part in all kinds of crafts in action, from gilding to sewing and furniture making to sculpture.

Inside Hamble and Jemima’s studio, Emma is busy at her sewing machine, surrounded by pretty cotton print bags and gorgeous vintage fabrics.

H&J_ElizabethandEmmaThe two busy working Mums, Emma Curtis and Elizabeth Parnell have been based at Sea Change studios since they opened in 2011. The stylish duo produces and sells exquisite sewing kits alongside fabrics, handmade buttons and assorted eye catching accessories.

Emma met Elizabeth, a graphic designer when she was working as marketing project manager for a craft book club in Newton Abbot. “We found we had a lot in common,” says Emma. “We were both born and raised in Torbay then lived away for many years, returning here to have children. We wanted to get the right work-life balance and running our own business helps us to do that.”

In 2010 they founded Hamble and Jemima – a name they describe as a throwback to their childhoods. “We felt it had an English vintage feel and a familiarity about it.” Soon afterwards they designed their first sewing kit. “We wrote and illustrated the instructions ourselves,” says Emma, who claims she is by no means a stitcher.

“We concentrated on creating a product that was heavily branded with distinctive labels and handmade buttons. The instructions were written from a non-sewers point of view, and aimed at adults. We don’t assume any knowledge of sewing.”

It wasn’t long before orders started to come in – first a small one from David and Charles (now F &W Media), then John Lewis took several thousand.

A stint at a trade show led to a further 50 retailers selling the Hamble & Jemima kits, so Emma and Elizabeth found themselves busier than they had ever imagined.

It is no surprise the kits were instantly successful. Elizabeth’s design background and Emma’s knowledge of industry is a winning combination. The kits are deeply desirable objects in themselves, packed carefully in tissue paper and beautifully packaged in the branded bags and packs.

“We always use the best quality fabrics, ribbons and accessories, our packaging looks professional and most importantly, our instructions are easy to follow. Lots of people want to buy a craft project and start work on it straight away, so we provide everything a customer needs in one lovely package.”

Attention is poured into every detail – the label in particular which takes its inspiration from the English Riviera.

“We chose a range of complementary calming blues and creams, with an English rose background flourish.”

Much of Emma and Elizabeth’s time over the past year has been devoted to producing a book of makes, Abbygale Sews, which was first commissioned by a German publisher. This summer Search Press published it in the UK.

“It is so nice to work on your own book. We wrote the words, took the photos, Elizabeth’s husband did the illustrations and we designed it ourselves too. We wanted to produce something inspirational yet practical, and I think we have achieved this.”

The book is a collection of 20 simple sewing projects with all the pattern pieces provided in a fold-out sheet tucked into a pocket on the inside back cover.

“Every project has a story behind it. For instance there’s a bag I made with a handle just the right size for slipping over the back of a pushchair. When you have small children you don’t want to be carrying bags yourself.”

Their own snapshots show Elizabeth and Emma at home and enjoying life on the English Riviera with their families, at Emma’s beach hut in Goodrington and walking the dogs along the beach. “We did have to be careful not to be seeming to gloat in the book.

We are very lucky. Not everyone has glorious beaches on their doorstep and gets to come to work in a country park every day.

“It is a great community here, and I can bring my children along sometimes – my oldest boy plays football in the park. Working from home can be difficult. If you have a family it can be hard to find the headspace to develop new ideas. And here at Cockington with people coming in and out all the time you quickly get a sense of what they like about your products. We have also been able to tap into Torbay Development Agency’s business advice service on occasions.”

What is next for Hamble and Jemima? “We want to get more into the trade side of things and find a distributor. This space fills up quickly when you start to pack up orders in our studio. And Elizabeth is busy creating a new H&J fabric, ribbon and paper range.” Things certainly don’t stand still with H&J.   Drop into Emma and Elizabeth’s studio at Cockington to see for yourselves.