A young woman who tragically lost her partner as they started out in business together is bouncing back. Kate Byrne reports
Katie Bidston’s dog Lacey Blow leaps excitedly through boxes of merchandise as his owner clears up some space above her shop. A stack of hand-knitted woolly hats take pride of place on the table. They tell the story of a knitwear student turned independent fashion designer and her determination to continue building the Poppy Blow fashion line after the untimely loss of her fiancé and business partner last year.
I should have made grieving my priority over the business
Most people in their 20s are just starting out with their careers, living in rented accommodation and sieving through potential partners. But by the end of Katie’s first year studying at Nottingham Trent University she was already well on the way to having her life figured out.
“When I spoke to the Pretty Green office about designing a knitwear collection it was only meant to be for the summer – but by September when I was ready to go back to university, they said that they needed me to stay.
“I was set on finishing my degree but they offered me a full-time job saying I was the only person who could do it and I couldn’t refuse the offer.”
It was here she met clothing designer Laurence Bidston, her best friend and fiancé to be, who she affectionately refers to as Lol.
“I took the job and it was amazing. Lol was head of design and that’s where we met. He and I got to go on loads of trips and work together and it was only a matter of time before we decided to start up Poppy Blow. To me it was like a fairy tale – I felt so lucky.”
But on April 10 last year Katie’s run came to a sudden halt.
Aged only 49, Laurence unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Katie, who at just 22 had been planning their wedding, was now faced with the unthinkable task of planning his funeral instead. As she talks, Lacey jumps up and rests her front paws on her knee.
“I look back at that time and I don’t know how I managed it, I had no idea how to plan a funeral – It was like I was on autopilot.”
Katie spent the months following Laurence’s death pouring her time and energy into their project. But although the store opened in April, it closed again in July. She sighs with exasperation as she explains how renovating the shop became a coping mechanism and a distraction from the reality of what had happened.
“After all of the commotion and work involved in opening the shop ended, I was suddenly hit with delayed grief – it was time to take a step back and stop being a machine.
Katie nudges Lacey off her lap and ruffles her ears as she explains: “People kept asking why the shop was not open after all the time I had spent working on it. It was then I realised I had done this all the wrong way around – I should have made grieving my priority over the business.”
Over a year on Laurence is far from forgotten. Katie keeps him alive in photos, anecdotes, and through Poppy Blow. Next week their shop will be making what she hopes will be a permanent come back. The artist who was renting the space in the past months has packed away his canvases. Katie and Laurence’s dream is once again starting to resemble reality.
There is already plenty to see. Passers-by slow down, gazing at the two impeccably dressed mannequins who stand in the front window before the stacks of vinyl which adorn the back wall.
Although the Friar Lane shop is not officially open Katie talks about how the public have already registered their interest in her merchandise: “A few days ago, a man knocked on the window asking whether we were open yet – he insisted on buying a bag he had spotted in the window right then and there.”
She hopes her proximity to Nottingham’s main tourist attractions and other crafty establishments will help to draw in more passing customers like this.
David Daniels, who also works on Friar Lane, has high hopes for Poppy Blow’s success. The 43-year-old manager of The Collectorium Cafe says: “Katie is an asset to Friar Lane and everyone here appreciates her – I’m sure the shop will do very well.”
The Collectorium originally started out as a shop and gradually started to sell food and drink. As the run up to Christmas draws ever closer, Katie has some similar tricks stored up her locally-tailored sleeves to attract shoppers away from the call of the high-street. She laughs as she recalls a conversation she had with Laurence.
“Lol said the first thing we should do was buy a coffee machine – I told him it was a ridiculous idea, but now I look at how well The Collectorium is doing and realise that of course, he was right.
“But why stop at coffee?” she now questions.
If people can sit with a drink they can relax – I want to make it fun
Katie is now in the process of trying to obtain an alcohol licence for her shop. This would mean that exhausted Christmas shoppers could park themselves down with a mug of mulled wine and enjoy sifting through records away from the hustle and bustle.
She explains how the licence would also open up the opportunity to stage occasional evening events where Nottingham based fashion designers could exhibit their work.
“I’m all about local work and it would be great to give people the incentive to come and recognise the good quality clothes that are available on their doorstep without shipping everything in from China.
“Shopping at this time of year is like a military operation. If people can sit down with a drink, they can talk and relax – I want to make it fun.”
Lacey jumps up again and barks.
“Sorry,” Katie says as she pats Lacey on the head. “We want to make it fun.”