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The death-defying founder of Scamp & Dude

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Fresh from winning Kidswear Brand of the Year at the Drapers Independents Awards 2018, Scamp & Dude is expanding into new categories and eyeing global markets. 

”When you nearly die, it gives you a new fire in your belly. Nothing will stop you and [setting up Scamp & Dude] helped me get better. I focused on that,” explains Jo Tutchener-Sharp over a cup of English breakfast tea in a quiet corner of a cafe on Highgate High Street in north London.

The mother of two suffered a brain haemorrhage in October 2015 and underwent life-saving surgery the following January. From her hospital bed, she created one of the most talked-about childrenswear brands in recent years, and caught the attention of judges at the Drapers Independents Awards in 2018. Tutchener-Sharp is now setting her sights on growing her product categories and expanding outside the UK for the first time in 2019. 

“Facing death changes everything,” says Tutchener-Sharp. “I thought, ‘Have I done enough good? Have I made a difference?’

Facing death changes everything

“I thought, ‘If I make it through the surgery, the next thing I do is going to be about helping people.’ That was the first glimmer of what was to come.”

Tutchener-Sharp recovered well from her surgery, but she was in intensive care for 10 days afterwards and her sons, Sonny and Jude, were not allowed to visit her. The separation anxiety on both sides sparked the idea for the brand.

“I was lying there thinking, ‘Oh my god, nothing is ever going to be the same. Will I ever get out of the hospital? Am I going to die? The boys were only one and three at the time,” she recalls.

Help from heroes

Scamp & Dude is designed to give a sense of security and confidence to children and adults during difficult times, particularly when they are separated from each other. The unisex collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts, joggers and accessories for children and adults feature uplifting bold prints, bright colours, a lightning bolt logo, and often its signature slogan, “A superhero has my back”.

At the heart of the brand are its “superhero sleep buddies” – pillows shaped as a dinosaur or a bunny, complete with superhero masks. For every sleep buddy or scarf Scamp & Dude sells, it donates another to a sick child or parent, or a child whose parent is ill. The brand also regularly releases special collections and collaborations from which 100% of profits go to charity, including Solving Kid’s Cancer, and others chosen by its collaborators.

“I remember thinking I would have loved to give [Sonny and Jude] a superhero to watch over them, so I came up with the ‘superhero sleep buddy’. I thought I could donate one to a child who had lost a parent or to kids who are ill in hospital, because they might not get to see their parents every day,” explains Tutchener-Sharp.

Coralslogan

“I decided to do clothing as well and came up with the slogan ‘a superhero has my back’. That way kids can have a superhero watching over them at school, nursery, wherever. It is to give them strength and courage.”

Story time

Tutchener-Sharp registered the business in March 2016 – the name is a nod to Sonny and Jude – and the first collection launched online, and in London department store Liberty the following November.

Sarah Coonan, buying director at Liberty, says: “Within about three minutes and without seeing a single sample I knew we’d launch Scamp & Dude at Liberty. Jo’s story and how she used such adversity to do something so worthwhile was really inspiring.

“I have two children, so I could appreciate the potential power of clothing and accessories imbued with superhero power. Story aside, the product was just so lovely. The quality is excellent, and Jo has a real talent for building a community around her brand.”

I get quite close to a lot of our customers. They ask me for advice about illness as I have been through it

Manchester-based kidswear independent Our Kid started stocking Scamp & Dude’s children’s and adult lines in early 2017.

Co-owner Tess Grindle says it has become the retailer’s bestselling brand: “The colours and prints are very fashionable, which means they have great hanger appeal.

“The story behind the brand is very important and means a lot to our customers. We’re finding that shoppers are not investing as much in seasonal purchases, so Scamp & Dude is brilliant as the T-shirts and sweatshirts can be worn all year round. The shelf life is great, and we never have to put it into Sale, which protects our margin.”

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Scamp & Dude autumn 18

Amanda Rabor, founder of children’s trade show Mini Mode, points out that a strong brand story is vital in the current trading climate: “There are so many kids’ brands out there – competition is fierce. An interesting or unique story can help labels distinguish themselves from others and can be a really strong selling point.”

Numbers game

The fashionability of the brand, coupled with its compelling story and charitable ethos, has attracted other high-profile stockists, such as Harrods and Selfridges. Meanwhile, collaborations with bloggers and celebrities have amassed a highly engaged and active Instagram following of 91,500 people.

Sales are on target to hit £1m in 2019 – a 200% jump year on year. Tutchener-Sharp will not give profit figures, but says the business was in the black after just three months of trading.

However, its rising popularity has brought some challenges. Scamp & Dude was forced to bring two high-profile copyright infringement claims against Next and Asda’s George last year in relation to its leopard print and lightning bolt logo, and brand slogan, respectively. Both retailers settled the claims with the brand.

I don’t want the brand to be everywhere – I’m very selective

“I did all I could to protect myself. I registered my trademarks and my prints,” says Tutchener-Sharp. “You think you are covered but you are not. I just don’t know how they think it is OK.

“There needs to be more protection in place for brands. I would advise anyone who finds themselves in that position to stand up for themselves. The more they get away with it the more it will happen.” 

Super-expansion

As Scamp & Dude’s star rises, Tutchener-Sharp, who previously founded her own PR company Beauty Seen PR in 2007, is planning to expand its product categories. The first range of dresses, and a 10-piece beachwear range for children and adults will launch in March. Wholesale prices will range from £12.50 for shorts and £35 for adult dresses for spring 19. 

The brand is also teaming up with London-based members’ club Soho House’s spa chain Cowshed to launch a range of candles and “superpower sprays” for rooms this spring.

In August, Scamp & Dude will collaborate with footwear brand Superga on a range of adult and children’s sneakers, which will be available online and to key wholesale accounts.

 You have to be careful, on your top game, coming up with ideas and delivering

The brand has 14 wholesale stockists, accounting for 10% of sales.

“I’ve purposefully kept [wholesale] very tight,” explains Tutchener-Sharp. “Otherwise it cannibalises your own website and that’s where you make your margin. Also, I don’t want the brand to be everywhere – I’m very selective.”

The rest of the sales come from its website, and Scamp & Dude opened its first bricks-and-mortar shop on 1 December 2018, in London’s Highgate. The 810 sq ft store got off to a strong start, but Tutchener-Sharp says she is taking a “wait and see” approach.

“It wasn’t my plan to have a store,” she laughs. “I needed an office space and [the shop in Highgate] had an office downstairs. It made sense to open the shop, so the sales could cover the rent. Trade in December was unbelievable – we had people coming from all over London to visit us. Let’s see how it goes.”

Global footprint

Tutchener-Sharp says the biggest opportunity is international expansion, but she is in no rush: “I want to launch into other markets properly, taking the time to tell the story, to host talks and events. I need to do that for every market we launch into to make it work.”

The US, Australia and Ireland are key target markets based on current online sales. Tutchener-Sharp intends to launch into one of those markets this year, most likely the US, following the same strategy she has applied in the UK – a strong website and social media presence, along with a handful of key wholesale accounts.

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Scamp & Dude autumn 18

Clearly a driven and astute business woman, Tutchener-Sharp is careful not to expand the company too quickly. Her head office team consists of herself, six freelances who cover merchandising, personal assistant duties and customer service, and two members of store staff, one part time. Tutchener-Sharp designs the collections, which are manufactured in Portugal.

“I wanted to keep overheads low, but as we’re growing, I’ll take some staff in house this year. It is going really well but I’m always touching wood. Anything can change at any time. You have to be careful, on your top game, coming up with ideas and delivering. You can never take it for granted.”

I want our brand to make people smile, feel good and feel protected, like they have been given superpowers to do anything

The humble founder says her success can be attributed to a strong relationship with customers through Instagram, and their emotional affiliation to the brand.

“I get quite close to a lot of our customers. They ask me for advice about illness, as I have been through it and they don’t want to upset their friends and family.

“We are about giving kids courage and strength, and giving them a boost. All parents can relate to the thought of what I went through, so they support us. The fact that we are a purposeful brand that helps so many people means others want to be a part of that – it makes them feel good. That’s why our customers have a bond with us and are fiercely loyal.”

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Scamp & Dude autumn 18

Tutchener-Sharp wants to build on the brand’s momentum to become a household name in the UK and establish a presence around the globe.

“In five years’ time I’d like everyone in the UK to know who we are and how we can help them, if they need us, and I’d like to be doing as well as we are in the UK globally. That would be the dream,” she says.

“I want our brand to make people smile, feel good and feel protected, like they have been given superpowers to do anything.”

 

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