5 minutes with Maria Hopwood, Founder, The Stripes Company

The Stripes Company founder Maria Hopwood has never shied away from colour when it comes to interiors. She spotted a gap in the market for brightly covered deckchair canvas while working as a garden specialist antiques dealer, and her art teaching degree combined with a background working in promotions led to an idea.

Maria Hopwood, Founder, The Stripes Company profile Q&A

Tell me a bit about The Stripes Company story.

We launched back in 2006, originally named Deckchairstripes. We began as a tribute to the deckchair and our business now reflects everything they represent – homeware, garden and leisure products that revive stripes in all their brilliance.

Why was it launched?

I was working as a garden antique dealer and I saw so many disused deckchairs gathering dust in garden sheds, so I knew there was demand out there for brightly covered deckchair canvas that no one seemed to be taking advantage of. I also have an art teaching degree combined with a background working in promotions, so the combination of it all led to an idea and soon after that I set up the business.

Why choose to specifically only sell items with stripes?

When people see the products it makes perfect sense – no two stripe patterns are the same. We have hundreds of fabrics in different styles and colours. Some of them are slightly more traditional and others can be really out there. It’s not just for maximalist taste either, a lot of people would be surprised what a pop of colour can do in the home or garden. I’d say a lot of our products tend to be real talking points.

“Being an independent online retailer, we’ve managed to stay connected to our customers”

What gap in the UK retail market does The Stripes Company strive to address?

We’re unique in the fact that we are stripes fabric specialists. We understand the connection of maximising colour, seeing between the lines and how stripes work in the home, on the beach and in the garden. We’re also constantly introducing new and exciting ranges, so you’ll rarely see products like ours in high street stores.

How is The Stripes Company’s business model different from other interior design retailers?

Being an independent online retailer, we’ve managed to stay connected to our customers, whether they are existing ones or new to the brand, so we get a better understanding of what they want and what they’re buying. All our fabrics are exclusive to us and aren’t stocked in any major retailers which often allows us more creative freedom over our design and products.

How did The Stripes Company handle the lockdown period and how is it coping with the ongoing pandemic?

As with any small retailer, we were taken aback by coronavirus and the impact it’s had on not only our business but our day-to-day lives. While many are still suffering, we are one of the fortunate few who have benefitted as a result – something we’re truly humbled by. What’s more, we’ve been able to keep up with demand as all orders are prepared in-house, using stock we have. Thankfully we source materials for the upcoming season in advance, so had everything we needed to hand.

“We’ve been able to keep up with demand as all orders are prepared in-house, using stock we have”

What’s in store for The Stripes Company in 2021?

Like many retailers, we’re already trying to adapt to a new normal. We’ve started to produce luxury face masks in velvet and stripes as these will no doubt be something that we’ll be wearing into the new year. It’s nice to offer something a little chicer and more sustainable than disposable masks.

How is The Stripes Company addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

I think we’re fortunate enough to be adaptable – all our products are made in-house so we can make bespoke products on demand when needed plus, we don’t have to spend more on outsourcing manufacturers. Our products themselves are also versatile and we don’t rely on one sole industry such as weddings and events for our business to survive.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

It would be difficult to pinpoint one thing as there are so many factors that, unfortunately, seem to be massively affecting this sector. People’s buying habits have completely changed as a result of Covid-19 and we’re even seeing some of the biggest retailers in the game struggling to make ends meet.

“Being the owner of a small retailer, everyone pitches in with everything”

Describe your role and responsibilities at The Stripes Company

Being the owner of a small retailer, everyone pitches in with everything. Each day is different to the next, but I do everything from making orders and sorting finances to answering the phone and making tea for everyone.

What got you into retail in the first place?

Before I started the business, I felt I was pretty much unemployable in a conventional role since I was raising six children at the time – I had to ‘plough my own furrow’ as far as a career was concerned. Luckily, having sold all manner of products, I found that teaching is akin to selling.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Like any retailer, we have our ups and downs. Things have changed a lot since we first set up in 2006 – getting to grips with new technology and keeping up with instant demand and an Instagram generation are all things we’ve had to learn as we go.

And the most rewarding?

The variety – we sell fabric and products to interior designers, upholsterers, crafters, theatrical productions, museums, hotels, the licensed trade and the general public. We get some pretty wacky enquiries and have some loyal repeat customers who love our products. What we create is a seasonal niche product which is exclusive to us – we’re proof that stripes never go out of style.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in retail?

Make sure you’re offering something that no one else can. Be prepared and make sure it’s something you love to do.

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