Client profile: Turtle Doves (Not Just Gloves)

A nice pair of turtles!

As any self-respecting Cockney should know, “Turtle Doves” is rhyming slang for gloves. But, for husband and wife team Kate and Graham Holbrook, it is also the name of a business which is establishing itself as the ethical face of fabric recycling. As well as now handling more than a tonne of recycled cashmere a year, it is a featured supplier with the likes of Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International. Much of that success is thanks to the boost provided by pension-led funding.

After breaking her leg in 2009, Kate was forced from life as a full-time administrator and busy mother of three, to a magazine-reading couch-potato. But, as with every accidental cloud, there was a silver lining – in the form of an image of actress Helen Mirren wearing a pair of fashionable cashmere, fingerless mittens.

“I’ve always been careful with money,” Kate confesses. “The gloves came with a price-tag of £80 and I would struggle to spend that much on a pair of winter boots! So I decided to make some myself”. Having previously worked for a fabric recycling business near her home in Shrewsbury, Kate had picked up plenty of sewing and clothes-making skills.

After a summer of prototypes and an autumn school fair later, Kate knew she was on to a winner with her cashmere glove/wristwarmer combo made from recycled fabric. Her husband, accountant and business risk specialist Graham, suggested she gave her product a name. “As well as being rhyming slang for gloves, Turtle Dove(s) is also slang for ‘love’ I thought this worked nicely, because I loved what I was doing.”

By the end of 2013, the business had grown from local B2C trader to B2B supplier with more than 100 UK retailers stocking Turtle Doves’ products. It also meant running the business it from home was no longer an option.

“The house was full of stuff because we were receiving so much material for recycling. We needed to find proper premises, but that required money.” Kate and Graham put together a business plan and decided to seek alternatives to traditional funding sources. “We didn’t go to the bank for a number of reasons“, Kate explains. “The interest rates for one thing and we wanted to be more in control of our borrowing. Also, corporate lenders tend to have a “yes/no”, “black/white” approach, where most SME’s needs are more nuanced.”

Their first funding source was, like so many small business owners, family and friends. Confidence was clearly high and they raised £50,000 in return for preference shares. However, it was not enough to support the Holbrooks’ ambitions. “We actually needed around £100,000 and, just at that point, Graham read about pension-led funding and Clifton Asset Management”. With a pension pot of £500k available, Kate and Graham worked with Clifton to create a single, director-owned SSAS. The intellectual property of Turtle Doves (Not Just Gloves) Ltd was independently valued.

“They looked at everything – copyrighted designs, company name, the value of our database, even our social media presence. Because the communication with Clifton was so good throughout the process and we were kept informed in a measured way, the outcome was the valuation we all felt it should be. We were delighted.”

Most importantly, Kate appreciated the incentive pension-led funding offered: “We were backing our own business, we still had a fall-back because we weren’t using our entire pension fund and we know the better the business works, the better it is for us and our pension.”

With funding of £80,000 from their pension scheme, Turtle Doves was able to build a new, state-of-the-art website, fully-equip its studio with extra machinery, build its stocks of re-cycled cashmere and run a national advertising campaign. More importantly, by the end of 2014, the team had expanded from eight to 14 due to online and trade demand. “It means we’re putting more back into the economy, while giving ourselves a better platform for growth,” Kate adds. “It also means we are able to make our pension work for us, while putting money back into it at a 12 per cent return. We win every way.”

Turtle Doves had also drawn the attention of some very big ethical organisations. “New Internationalist approached us as buyers for Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International. Now we’re in the catalogues and websites of both these organisations.” The company is also becoming more involved with ‘closed-loop’ recycling, where cashmere clothing manufacturers send Turtle Doves seconds, customer returns and off-cuts to be made into new items and delivered back to the manufacturer for resale.

Turtle Doves has a clearly stated vision: to become the UK’s most respected designer, manufacturer and purveyor of recycled clothes and accessories. Or put another way, according to Kate: “we want to become the home for sad and lonely cashmere jumpers to live a new life.” However it’s expressed, she is clear about one thing: “We could not have achieved any of this without pension-led funding and the professionalism of Clifton.”

Now there’s a warming thought if you’re sitting reading this with a cup of Rosie Lee.

Business

In 2009 Kate Holbrook was laid low with a broken leg. During her convalescence she came up with a design for a glove that could be both fingerless mittens and wrist warmers. The gloves were a huge hit at local markets and Kate soon added more products as demand grew. Initially Kate relied on non-cashmere charity shop jumpers and donations for her designs, but as the quantities grew she managed to find a limitless source of used cashmere jumpers and now 90% of Turtle Doves’ turnover comes from UK cashmere products that would otherwise may have gone to landfill.

Funding needs

With orders flooding in from markets, retailers and online, Kate and Graham realised Turtle Doves had reached a tipping point. If the company was to expand it needed to invest more money. Graham, an accountant, who has worked for major UK retailers including Laura Ashley, Asda and M&S, was well aware of the different forms of funding, but was especially interested in using his pension and retaining control of the company. He read an article in The Times about the launch of the alternativebusinessfunding.co.uk portal and one of its founder members pensionledfunding.com, and got in touch.

Result

With an independent intellectual property (IP) valuation of Turtle Doves’ trademark and domain name in place, pensionledfunding.com was able to transfer Graham’s existing pension into a single, director-owned SSAS with a loanback to the company, secured by the IP and general debenture. Kate and Graham have also raised £50,000 from friends and family to invest in the business.

Going Forward

Turtle Doves is expanding rapidly. A key member of the team, another former Laura Ashley employee, is training three additional seamstresses up to the designer’s exacting standard. The Turtle Doves range now includes cashmere fingerless mittens, hats and scarves, snoods, earwarmers, blankets, cashmere baby clothes and a new range of clothes made from recycled sarees. Turnover and profit has virtually doubled every year since 2009 and 150 independent stockists including Friends of the Earth are helping grow success. The EU’s Development Fund recently awarded Turtle Doves 50% matched funding to further grow the business. For Kate and Graham it is hugely important that they are now both able to work near their Shrewsbury home and are taking a local product national – and with enquires coming in from Europe, the US and the Southern Hemisphere, it could soon be worldwide!

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