Established nearly 30 years ago in Newquay by husband and wife founders Nick and Kath Whitworth, Celtic & Co have taken the luxury sheepskin market by storm. With an amazing celebrity following and a phenomenal global customer base, it looks like our friends at Celtic & Co are not slowing down any time soon. From The Original UGG® to receiving Queen’s Award for Enterprise, the story of the Cornish based fashion company is one to be unravelled and we’re going to do exactly that.
How did the label start and what was the aim of the label when it was first established?
Celtic & Co was founded 28 years ago in North Cornwall, a landscape that still provides inspiration for us and our collections. With determination to create a living in their hometown of Newquay, founders Nick and Kath Whitworth decided to try their hand at making footwear from British sheepskin, for the surfers the area so famously attracts. These sheepskin boots keep toes warm and are machine washable to remove tide marks. Twenty-eight years on, Celtic is still handcrafting boots, slippers and flip flops the traditional way, but is also now renowned for a range of clothing and soft furnishings made from only the finest natural fibres, with understated luxury the hallmark of the brand. The Duchess of Cambridge and Angelina Jolie are among many eminent customers.
How were the initial products developed, and what was the response?
Renting a small building in the middle of Newquay and employing just one seamstress to start with, we produced sheepskin boots, known now as the Original Celt Boot. The response was incredible, and we couldn’t make enough of them! One day, a keen customer came in requesting a pair of slippers be made for him, so we tried it, and the customer was thrilled. This was the birth of our best-selling product of all time – the Bootee slipper, still made today.
What challenges were overcome when the company was starting out?
We had to learn everything from scratch, from the sourcing of the sheepskins from British farmers, to the manufacture of the footwear and sales techniques/support needed to sell them. We went from promoting via word of mouth to small adverts in local newspapers and supplying to carefully selected mail order companies, then from small inserts to full on catalogues. And we’ve grown from there.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Our collections are predominantly crafted right here in the UK, but most importantly they are crafted solely from natural fibres and materials. They are crafted to last a lifetime and their price point provides great value too when you compare us with other brands selling sheepskin outerwear for example. Focusing on our sheepskin boots, not only are the skins from British sheep, and a bi-product of the farming industry, being British – with our weather being so bad – their wool is a lot thicker, making the product far superior compared with the thin skins from China and Australia for example. Our sheepskin footwear is specially treated so that they can be thrown in the washing machine, bringing them up like new every time. They are also double-stitched making them robust and they feature a hidden heel support to stop that unsightly slouching sheepskin boots from other brands get. No one likes that look! Again, our boots compared with other brands, sit at a great price point too.
How important is the location and history of the company to its success?
We believe that customers buy into a brand and not just a product. They love the fact we are British, many of our customers from overseas have ties to our little island, and even fond memories of holidays by the sea. That’s where Cornwall is a winner for us too. Also, when your heart is in the right place and you are open and honest with regards to the ethical sourcing of materials, the manufacturing and production of garments in the UK and Europe, it instantly means the quality is better. We do not produce in vast quantities, so we can be trusted and relied upon to only provide products of the highest quality. Customers return year after year and become true dedicated fans of the brand.
How has the product offering changed over the years?
After handcrafting and selling sheepskin footwear for many years, we wanted to branch into other areas as we could see a demand for them, so we started to explore the realms of outerwear and knitwear. Forging strong relationships with suppliers of wool from mills in Ireland, Scotland and the UK for our clothing and accessories, plus sheepskin and leather designers in Britain for our outerwear, we’ve been able to offer our customers so much more.
How often do you launch new lines/What are the current best-selling designs?
We launch a collection every season plus some small lines on a web-only basis. Each year we launch new colourways for classic Celtic styles such as the Supersoft Slouch Jumpers and Dresses, and some customers collect the whole range. Also, we are always expanding our range of British-made sheepskin outerwear – this year there are more colour variations and styles, and many of the coats and jackets are fully reversible, meaning you get two looks for the price of one! But you can’t beat our best-selling product of all time – our Bootee slipper – which sells all year round. Last year (autumn/winter 17) as well as Christmas smashed sales records for us on the day the catalogue landed. It’s fair to say that our factory and warehouse is in full swing right now on the build up to this time again, keeping up with demand.
When was the website launched and how does it support the business?
Launched back in 1996, it propelled us in front of the world and therefore more potential customers, opening up the opportunity to showcase more products and in more detail. Where we’d solely relied on our catalogues taking our brand to customers in the past and being the only sales drive, having a website meant customers could shop where and when they wanted. Having no retail shops, you put all your faith into the photography of each product, and by having a dedicated web page for each, with lifestyle and cut out photography, in depth details and customer reviews, this offers the customer an all-round better experience of shopping with us.
What have been the key milestones in the business?
It would have to be when we registered the ‘UGG’ trademark and became ‘The Original UGG Company’. This proved a good move: Years later we sold the UK rights to the name to Deckers Inc and reinvested in the business, expanding the factory and warehouse. As mentioned before, launching a website was also key and then more recently, introducing an international shopping platform, which means we can now chase winter around the globe. We’ve also just received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise – International Trade of which we are absolutely thrilled about!
How do you view the current market and what trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging over the coming months?
We’ve seen a rising trend in customers caring about provenance: How and where their clothing/footwear is created. People have started to take an interest and ask the right questions, fighting against the mass-made, throw-away fashion industry that’s plaguing retail. People now wish to invest in key looks each season that will last a lifetime and satisfy their consciences. Since Celtic & Co is all about products made from natural, ethically-sourced materials, predominantly manufactured in Britain (reducing our carbon footprint), we can see why our brand is so successful right now and will continue to be for many years to come.
What are your future plans for the business?
Apart from growing the trade side of the business, we are looking into growth as a whole for the brand. Trying out even more avenues to get our products in front of the public, hosting customer events around the country and being present at the Spirit of Christmas Exhibition in London Olympia in November. Production in our factory has increased to match demand and we are in the midst of our biggest and most exciting autumn/winter collection to date, offering yet more styles to our ranges of outerwear, footwear and even homeware.
Celtic & Co.
Treloggan Industrial Estate
Orderline: 0333 400 0044