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Our Story

January 1993, Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi. I’m waiting in the Departures lounge for my flight back to London. And I don’t want to go. I’m the oriental buyer for the London department store, Liberty, then the supreme purveyor of all things arty and exotic. I’ve been visiting India every few months - flying visits dashing around the country from factory to factory, artisan to artisan, selecting products and writing out orders. More and more, I am excited and frustrated in equal measure, I see incredible potential to use the skills and crafts of India to make more Western products better suited to our sensibilities. I want to realise some of that potential, but I have no time to develop my ideas with the artisans. I start to dream about being free to spend months in India, collaborating with my amazing suppliers who already treat me like family, sitting on factory floors with the workers and shaping the product in front of my eyes to combine the best of India with my more European 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 then proceed to spend the first morning dismantling the waste disposal, ahh, hello fear! I also learned how to use my first-ever computer, a Dell laptop with a black and white screen and a mouse trackpad with a mind of it’s own, but I have no idea at all about doing accounts, VAT, stock control systems, shipping or …I have yet to realise I am also in charge of the shipping Dept, accounts payable, sales order processor, VAT returns, customer service, . I returned to India and quickly pulled samples together to launch my first collection at Top Drawer, under the inspired brand name of ‘Stephanie Bates”. Among my first suppliers were Waseem and Sajeev. Here I am with Waseem. 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!

From there it is a giddy whirl of mountains to climb and skills to develop and with the first shipments on the water, I have to work out where to store them! My lovely parents step in and their house is slowly taken over, room after room becoming passable only via narrow walkways through columns of boxes as it filled up Bombay Duck products. With the help of many local ladies from their village for pac

Almost thirty years later, not that much has changed. I have 4 children, 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 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 online. 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 ...