‘My decision to start The White Company was quite impulsive – I didn’t think it through in any structured way,’ recalls founder Chrissie Rucker.
‘Growing up, I wasn’t very academic – I was far more interested in horses than school. My first job was with Anneliese Sharpe, the wedding dress designer, but, after three months, she told me that she didn’t think I was cut out for the world of fashion, so I went to work as a receptionist on a magazine, which was the best job in the world, aged 17, because it involved greeting a constant stream of male models.
How the White Company started
I met Nick, my husband, at a friend’s party and found his passion for the shirt business he’d created – Charles Tyrwhitt – inspirational. I decided it would be really great to have my own business, and to have that passion and drive.
Helping Nick furnish his first house gave me the idea for my business. We’d been dating for four years and he was a very slow mover so I was keen to show him what fantastic wife material I was. I went shopping for him, looking for plain white towels and china, bed linen and bathrobes. I found there were two ends of the scale: cheap and cheerful or designer names – but nothing in-between. It was an obvious gap in the market.
One evening, we sat around talking about how great it would be if there was a company that just sold good quality white things at affordable prices. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep. The next day I called up the NEC Business Centre in Birmingham to ask for a directory of past exhibitors at their homes shows. To my joy, I discovered that it was possible to buy great quality white bed linen and towels at low prices. And that’s how I started sourcing suppliers.
I decided I’d give myself a year and if it didn’t work, I’d get another job. The White Company’s 1993 brochure had 12 pages. I shot it in Nick’s house and posted it to 800 friends. I had no money for advertising, but I wrote my own press releases. A journalist did a wonderful piece in the Financial Times, then things started to snowball.
The White Company takes off
For the first six months, it was me, a computer, a fax and two phones. I took two to 15 orders a day and packed the boxes myself. Then my sister came to help me. She had a Mini Metro, which we’d stuff full of packages, and we became a bit of a standing joke at the post office.
Poor Nick put up with murder. I took over his house. First, it was just the top bedroom, but I gradually worked my way down and, after six months, his house was bursting at the seams with stock. At the end of the first year, we got a warehouse. After six years, we were doing 300 orders a day and we got our first MD. As your business grows, the most important thing is to know your limitations.
By 30, Nick and I had married and had two children. I worked up until the day I had Tom, my oldest – because when it’s your own business, it doesn’t feel like work; it’s genuinely a pleasure. I have four children now – and The White Company is my fifth child.’