Meet the Lancashire sisters behind the Hearts and Butterflies and Daisy Maison craft brands

PUBLISHED: 00:02 07 August 2013

Jacqui Whittle, Stephanie Moss, Julie Smith, Alan Barber, Kasia Dawson, Shelley Ellison and Julie Prue

Jacqui Whittle, Stephanie Moss, Julie Smith, Alan Barber, Kasia Dawson, Shelley Ellison and Julie Prue

Archant

They started off making paper decorations on the kitchen table but took off with a contract to supply one of Britain’s top stores. Emma Booth reports

Photography: Kirsty Thompson

When sisters Shelley Ellison and Julie Smith spent an evening making delicate paper hearts and butterflies they had no idea their craft would turn into a business with wings. But now, it has really taken off.

In fact, they have become so successful the department store giant, John Lewis, has awarded them a contract to supply framed works of art – everything from those original origami hearts and butterflies to blossom trees and angel wings.

The company started life as Hearts and Butterflies because that what they made. Now the range has developed, there is a new name, Daisy Maison. The business has progressed from the kitchen table to a unit on the outskirts of Blackpool and, as well as John Lewis, they now supply hundreds of independent retailers across the UK and Ireland. During busy times the sisters and their four employees are making 300 pieces a week.

Shelley said: ‘We stumbled across the idea really, as we started doing bits and pieces for Julie’s eight-year-old daughter, Daisie.’ The sisters took the plunge and went to their first trade fair in 2009 and were stunned to receive a huge response from potential buyers who urged them to take their designs to small high street shops.

Shelley and Julie followed their advice and went to Hidden Jem, a gift shop in Lytham. It has grown from there and they have now had to recruit new staff, including local design students. ‘It was a massive leap of faith for us,’ said Shelley. From then on, Daisy Maison flourished helped by the fact it really is a family affair. Their father, former Preston town planner Alan Barber, is operations director.

Hand-crafted items are increasingly popular adornments to our homes and these are among the best on the market. Using a combination of British paper and Lancashire skills, the simple but beautiful designs are set on white canvas and framed.

Shelley and Julie, who both went to Queen Mary and King Edward School in Lytham, have inherited their mother’s artistic talents. Said Shelley: ‘Our mum is extremely clever making and sewing and she has always encouraged us to be the same. She loves to help our in the studio making the pictures, but she also looks after our two youngest children, Bea and Sebastian, during the week so we can work here.’

Shelley and Julie are so close they and their families live together on nearby Bambers Lane. ‘We decided in 2008 to sell our homes and buy one house together!’ said Shelley. Both are married and between them have six children - Max, Sebastian, George, Daisie, Teddy and Beatrice.

Shelley’s husband Sean is also artistic and loves getting involved with the design process although both Sean and Julie’s husband, Kev, have full-time jobs outside the business. ‘Our husbands are both amazing with the support they give us and extremely proud our success. Our parents are also thrilled that we are working together.’

Daisy Maison’s success is the result of hard work and long hours. ‘We were a bit surprised by the success – at one stage we were making them on our own in the kitchen at 2am,’ said Shelley.

A big boost came when Daisy Maison found a distributor in Manchester that also does all the framing. Their direct sales business is currently primarily through Facebook while their online site is being relaunched with the new name.

However they have received many requests from customers for designs including specific names and numbers which are personal to the client.

‘We can make things that are unique that you can’t get anywhere else and that are personal to the customer,’ added Shelley. They also receive a lot of requests for wedding designs involving names printed on the paper of the origami hearts.

More success was had by Daisy Mason as they were approached by a mail order company in Germany following a show, with requests to stock their products.

They have also sold products to America but the next big push will be a European trade show.

Small designs cost £35 while larger more intricate pieces cost £120 but which are their favourites? Shelley replied: ‘For me, it’s the original white heart, it’s so beautiful and simple. It took hours and hours to make the first one but now we can print and design all our own paper which is much quicker.’ Julie agreed. ‘I also love the white heart, as well as the angel wings of love which are perfect for children.’ Daisy Mason has just launched a children’s range, including patriotic designs of a red telephone box and small figures of Guardsman in their bearskin hats, as well as small angel wings which can be customised with names and dates.

Shelley said: ‘We work tirelessly to build our business, which we quite simply love, and we are incredibly proud to fly the flag for British and hand-made products.’

It’s a firm that’s flying.

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