A Family Business - Part I

June 10, 2010

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Do you have children? Are you completely exhausted working all day, every day?

Oh yes!!? I really agree with you! It IS NOT EASY.

Perhaps this few words about Laura Ashley's life may inspire us.

Laura (Mountney) Ashley was born September 7, 1925, in a terraced house in Dowlais, a village in the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales. She grew up in a civil service family as a devoted Baptist.

Se spent her first years of childhood in Wales till 1932 when she was sent to study to London. She left school and returned to Wales at the age of 16.

She served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during the Second World War, and she worked as a secretary for the National Federation of Women's Institutes in London, since 1945 to 1952.

She met engineer Bernard Ashley in a youth club in Wallington. They got married in 1949, and they went to live in a flat in the Pimlico section of London.

It was there, in that flat, on a kitchen table where the seeds of success were first sawn.

Laura showed a creative natural flair since her first home fashion designs, by designing headscarves, table mats, napkins, tablecloths, aprons, tea-towels and dresses by the silkscreen method, while working as a secretary an raising her first two children.

Bernard had designed a machine in their attic flat to print them on. They had invested in total ?10 in wood for the screen frame, a few yards of linen and dyes. Laura's first batch of creations was immediately sold to the John Lewis Department Store.

Yes!!? It was the beginning, other shops started to take an interest. Bernard decided to give up his day job and he began to manage the flourishing family business.

Their first factory was an old coaching house in Kent where the fabrics were produced under the Ashley Mountney Company.

They decided to move to a country home in Surrey and in the late 1950s Laura Ashley hankered for her native lands and they moved to Carno, Wales. The family settled in the Old Railway House. Nobody could imagine then that this was the building to become the powerhouse of a multi-national business. Laura concentrated on creating the fashion designs and her husband on printing and merchandising them.

Initially many of the clothes were made by women in their homes. Housewives turning collars and cuffs, moving around at home from kitchen table to fireside.

They began to set up factories in the heart of Mid Wales and by the mid 1970s, they were selling dresses from rural Wales across Europe. The company's first shop in Wales was Llanidloes, other stores were also opened in London, Paris, Geneva and Brussels.

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