Jan Constantine on why Brexit is bad news for business
PUBLISHED: 09:09 12 March 2019
Betley textile designer Jan Constantine loves Britain, but when it comes to Brexit that's a different matter...
She’s the design queen who has spawned dozens of imitators, thanks to her embroidered Union Jack creations, but while Jan Constantine says she loves Britain her patriotism doesn’t stretch as far as Brexit.
The Betley businesswoman admits that leaving the European Union has created uncertainty and that’s not something she welcomed when the outcome of the referendum was announced and all the prices of her supplies were increased.
‘For business it is just not great,’ says Jan, whose ranges of beautiful hand-embroidered textiles are created in a factory just outside Delhi in India.
‘For the future in the long-term I am sure it will all come back to normal but it’s such an uncertain phase that we’re going through business-wise. It’s really quite difficult, because prices, customs and duty is all going to be slapped on everything.’
‘It is going to make it much more difficult to work with Europe now for us and we do sell quite a bit to Europe.
‘I don’t know how long it will take for things to recover, but I will just have to keep looking on the bright side. We are a great country - perhaps not as much as when we had an empire but we are supposed to be Great Britain.’
Like everyone who is successful Jan thrives on challenges from setting up her company at her kitchen table back in 2002 to dealing with those imitators who have discovered customers can’t get enough of cushions and soft furnishings which look like heirlooms created by a very talented granny.
‘Sadly, I have been knocked off in all different areas by all different companies all over the place,’ reveals Jan.
‘How do you fight the high street giants? You can’t can you? By the time they do it they’ve already got it on the shopfloor and have made their money. Once they do it and are successful with it they watch you. If you can’t beat them you’ve got to join them so when somebody comes to me and says “Are you interested on working on a licence?” I say, oh yes I am! Because they’re going to rip you off anyway and they might as well do it with your consent and give you some money for it.’
Jan was one of five children who grew up in Bury, Lancashire. It was the matriarchs of the family, her mother Nora and grandmother Mary, who inspired her to take up sewing.
‘Both of them were really stylish and talented women,’ she says.
‘Granny was a milliner and a dressmaker and my mother was a tailoress. That’s where it came from really, it came through the female line. My mum was also responsible for my writing. When I was at school we just did writing and joined it up but my mum said you need to do it properly so I then started to do it like she did in the old fashioned way and people used to say to me, ‘Oh you’ve got really old fashioned handwriting!’ But it’s a really good thing now. All my handwriting is different from everyone else’s. Granny got me into knitting and crochet and I used to make all my dolls’ clothes. Then when I got to the age of nine or 10 I started to make clothes for myself. I was really into it.
‘I started to cut out velvet hearts and appliqué them, things like that. Then I really wanted to be a fashion designer and that’s what I did. From school I trained to be a fashion designer and when I graduated I got my first job in Manchester. I worked for a small fashion company but I learned so much from it.’
Aged just 21, Jan went to work for Shubette in London and after only a few years became a design director. It was while she was there that she fell in love with interior design.
‘I had my home and I just got really, really interested in decorating it. It became a massive passion,’ she says.
‘While I was doing fashion I was going to classes and learning about interior design so when I eventually moved away from London and came to Cheshire that’s what I wanted to do.’
The move to Cheshire was almost accidental as she and her husband, David, had been contemplating a move from London and had explored the possibility of relocating to Kent.
‘We were looking to move out from London in the countryside because I really, really wanted a country house,’ she explains.
‘I had had enough of commuting in every day on the Tube. I felt like I needed it. We came up north for my husband’s mother’s birthday party and stayed on my sister’s farm in Chaddington and saw a picture of this house for sale in the local newspaper. I thought ‘Ooh that looks nice’. So we saw the house, really loved it and we had to come back a week later for the viewing. It was in a pretty rough state as it had been tenanted for a long time and empty for a few years, but we decided we’d go to the auction and buy it.
‘We were naive really. We didn’t realise how serious it was to buy a property at auction. We hadn’t put our place on the market in London, then they said we’d got to have the rest of the money in four weeks’ time but for some reason it didn’t faze us. We put the house on the market that weekend and actually got a cash buyer straight away, so it all went through.’
Jan spent 18 months commuting to London for her job and then ran an interiors design business as well as bringing up two daughters Camille and Mary Flora before setting up Jan Constantine Ltd.
Since making appliqué hearts at her kitchen table, her company has produced some iconic collections, including designs to commemorate the London Olympics and for the wedding of Kate and William.
Her latest collection is called Pop Art and is a re-working of a collection of the same name.
‘Years ago around 2006 and 2007, I did a collection called Pop Art which incorporated the Union Jack and the word “Love” which I’ve always done in my collections,’ she says.
‘So they’re in there a lot and the colours are quite bright because I think people are starting to get more interested in colour.
‘My favourite store, Liberty, has given us quite a good order for it so I am really pleased about that’.