One of Columbia Road’s most colourful businesses celebrates 15 years of trading this year.
Dandy Star has had a remarkable journey. It started life as a small T-shirt printing business set up by two artistic mums, had a spell supplying some of the Capital’s leading department stores and is now a beautiful shop and wholesale business.
The Local Buyers Club met with one its founders Charlotte Day, who originally started the business with her friend Rose and now runs it alone.
She said: “Rose and I were friends in a similar situation with young kids - both artists who wanted to be around for our children but weren’t feeling fulfilled creatively. Dandy Star was a parent project. It started with just a child’s t-shirt -simple but with bold colours. We went all through the alphabet to try to decide on a word to print on it and came up with LOVE. We did a whole sweetshop array of colour combinations, dyed them in the washing machine and printed them ourselves.
“We’d found a t-shirt supplier in the East End who sold us a batch of a few hundred not terribly fashioned thin cotton t-shirts. The idea was that for children we didn’t want to make anything too fashioned – a t-shirt and jeans are such staples. Our mission was to add colour and a message that was playful and positive for kids.”
They invested in a Carousel printing machine, which they kept in Rose’s garden shed in Boscastle, Cornwall. Once a month Charlotte and her young baby would head from East London to Cornwall and a local woman would look after the kids while they printed mass numbers of t-shirts.
Then Charlotte would drive the stock back to London and sell it to independent shops – they had a good early breakthrough when they sold to The Cross, a boutique shop in Notting Hill, which was seen as a leader. It opened doors to sell into other shops.
Eventually the business went on to supply Fenwicks and Selfridges. They were put in touch with a factory in Portugal, enabling them to fulfil much larger orders and freeing up their time to focus on other products such as art prints and adult t-shirts.
(Charlotte Day of Dandy Star)
Over the years the business has expanded to include more homeware, mugs, cards and cushions. Rose left the business six years ago and just over three years ago Charlotte opened the shop after her friend (paper cutting artist Rob Ryan) got in touch to say he was closing his store to focus on his art.
She said: “I hadn’t planned to get a shop – it was completely unplanned, and I had no budget for it but when Rob called me to ask if I wanted his shop, it was too good an offer to pass up. We made it work and three months later I picked up the keys!
“I describe Dandy Star as a kids shop and a big kids shop! I think of it as a family life store.” Local Buyers Club members save 10% at Dandy Star. (Info here)
Charlotte, who studied Art at the Royal College and previously worked advising architects on the use of colour, still designs most of the products herself from her kitchen table in Clapton. She said: “the light is brilliant in there and, when everyone is out at school or at work, I can spread myself out and make a huge mess!”
She also buys some products in. Her children Dorian and Gracie are teenagers now and they often help in the shop. Her husband Ben Day is a jeweller and also runs a shop on Columbia Road.
She added: “Columbia Road has a real village vibe – it’s incredibly friendly. Everyone knows everyone and, though there are tensions at times, it’s a great interesting group of shops. The area has changed a lot. It’s busiest on Sundays and quiet midweek, but with more people moving in and an emphasis on flexible working, I hope the shops will become busier in the week.”
Dandy Star supplies shops in the UK, Hong Kong, Malibu, Switzerland and Germany – all small independent retailers.
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