February 1993. The Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi. I’m waiting in the Departures lounge for my flight back to London to be called. And I don’t want to go. See photo (and let’s not discuss my haircut at the time.) I’m a oriental buyer for the London department store, Liberty, then the supreme purveyor of all things arty and exotic. Every few months, I’ve been visiting India - flying visits to dash between factories and choose products. More and more, I’m thinking I’d like to spend more time there, build deeper relationships with suppliers, work with the amazing resourcefulness and talent - not to mention timeless traditions - of Indian craftsmen, develop my own products combining the best of India and Europe, and realise some of the incredible potential to push the boundaries and innovate, to Western sensibilities... But dare I go it alone? There on that plastic seat, without knowing it, I’ve already reached a decision.
Friday March 12th 1993 I leave Liberty.
Monday March 14th 1993. I start my company from my kitchen table in my tiny flat in South Ken overlooking Gledhow Gardens. The world outside my window is bathed in early spring sunshine. I take this to be a good omen and spend the first morning dismantling the waste disposal! I have £26,000 capital and I spend it all in the first six weeks! I have no concept of accounts, VAT or stock control systems. In my first six weeks, I learned how to use my first-ever computer, a Dell with a black and white screen, I visited India again and I started my first range. With the first shipments on the water, I realise I have no warehouse! But I do have my parents’ house and room after room there became impassable to its owners as it fills up with boxes of my products.
My first suppliers were Waseem and Sajeev. Here I am with Waseem. Still let’s not discuss my haircut.
In their factories in Moradabad, I plunge head first into seeing how their craftsmen work. I launch my fledgling products at the trade show Top Drawer and to my delight (and shock) I’m swamped! Queues of people line up; when I come in at eight in the morning to get ready, there they are, waiting; I can’t take orders fast enough. My first homewares product are - oh Lord somewhat wonky! - papier mache painted eggs and purple stationary with gold stars. And here they are….
And here are some of my early cushions…
My first star-product is a classic toast rack with a hint of Art Deco about it which all the magazines pick up …. You can just see it in the background of this photo. Bombay Duck was launched!
Almost thirty years later, not that much has changed. I work with my suppliers’ children now. My own (almost grown-up) children tolerantly don’t mind the fact that often I’m on the computer e-talking to workshops in India and they have to make their own toast. I have classic ranges of products that are almost as old as they are and for which I feel (almost) the same sense of affection and “I did that!” pride. Shops who've bought from Bombay Duck since the days of carbon copy order pads, fax and telex are now buying from us on-line. My products are still about happiness, about colour, about authenticity and being hand-crafted, about my brooding over designs at 5am and testing out prototypes in my own house, about my own personal relationships with the craftsmen who make them and being inspired by their talent and their connection with their materials. Our filing systems may have got more organised. There again