Who is Cath Kidston MBE?
With 200 stores across the UK, Japan and China - meet the entrepreneur behind one of the UK's most recognisable brands
Name: Cath Kidston MBE
Businesses: Kidston founded international retail home furnishing and clothing chain Cath Kidston
Why you should know about her: From a single shop in Holland Park selling tea-towels and renovated furniture, to an international chain of over 200, Cath Kidston’s decidedly English brand is instantly recognisable around the world from its distinctive floral and polka dot prints. Kidston was awarded an MBE for services to business in February 2010.
Businesswoman, fashion designer and author, learn more about the woman behind one of the UK’s most recognisable brands with these seven facts.
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1. Cath Kidston was not her first business
After moving to London at 18, Kidston had a stint working as a window dresser and model for Laura Ashley and as an antique fabric dealer before she landed a job with interior designer and socialite Nicky Haslam.
Having cemented her passion for retail and design, the young entrepreneur co-founded the interior design and “Curtainalia” company McKinney Kidston on New Kings Road with a friend in 1987. Five years later, Kidston had the confidence to go it alone, selling her share in the business and opening her first store with just £15,000.
2. She’s estimated to be worth a staggering £250m
Today, having built a brand that has over 200 stores across a diverse range of countries including Spain, China, Japan, Mexico and Chile, it’s not surprising Kidston has had some financial success. But after selling the majority share in the business to private equity firm TA Associates in 2010, the entrepreneur is reported to be worth an estimated £250m!
3. She’s admitted that not everyone likes her brand
During her appearance on BBC4’s Desert Island Discs, Kidston admitted: “People either love it and want a little bit of it very much, or want to stab us.”
The company’s distinctive floral prints have become synonymous with a kind of aspirational British middle-class lifestyle that’s not to everyone’s tastes. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt this has also been the driving force behind its success both at home and abroad.
Its quaint English-heritage appeal has helped it become popular around the world, including in the Middle East, Asia and South America.
4. She’s a judge for our very own Startups Awards
Kidston first sat on the panel for the prestigious Startups Awards in 2015 alongside the likes of Touker Suleyman, Simon Devonshire and Holly Tucker and will do so again in 2016. She is committed to supporting up and coming start-up talent and offering advice. She told Startups.co.uk:
“The Startups Awards is just the sort of project I like to support and those are some very impressive winners!
“My advice for new businesses starting out is to love what you do, because it’s going to be very hard work. You’ve got to stay focussed: write down your dream and focus on your core values. It’s not just about profit: profit follows a great business.”
5. She’s brought her designs to collaborations with other major global brands
Kidston’s iconic floral prints haven’t just been limited to her own range of products, she’s worked with a surprising number of other major brands.
Kidston is thought to have kick-started the ‘glamping’ trend through her collaboration with Millets on a range of tents, sleeping bags, windbreaks and camping chairs. She also designed phone covers for Nokia in 2006 and even designed shopping bags for Tesco. These were sold to raise almost £500,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care and are estimated to have saved around six million plastic bottles from landfill.
Since then everything from laptops to iPads and smartphones, and even the Sky+ box, have been subjected to a Cath Kidston makeover.
6. The brand was a slow build
Despite its current ubiquity, Kidston didn’t open her second shop for nine years, preferring to manage her growth organically and not take on too much debt – proving that you don’t need to be a big risk taker to make it big in business.
Things snowballed after that and today there are 70 stores in the UK alone and another 130 internationally. In 2006, Cath Kidston launched a franchise business in Japan, which grew to 27 shops and double-digit sales growth before the brand decided to buy it back last year.
Its first Indian stores are due to open this Autumn before it turns its attention to the Latin American market following strong online sales in the region.
7. She’s related to Kirsty Allsopp
It would seem interior design runs in the family. Kidston is related to Kirstie Allsopp, presenter of Channel 4 shows including Location, Location, Location, The Property Chain, Kirstie’s Homemade Home and Kirstie’s Handmade Britain.
You can get the lowdown on other influential entrepreneurs in this series, such as:
- Ann Summers’ Jacqueline Gold
- Lastminute.com co-founder, digital champion and peer Martha Lane Fox
- MyVoucherCodes.co.uk founder Mark Pearson
- Tech City driver Rohan Silva
- And SB.TV founder Jamal Edwards
- Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley
- Serial entrepreneur Sherry Coutu
- Lastminute.com and Made.com founder Brent Hoberman
- And Target Parking founder Emma Sinclair