Gemma Bennett explains how she went from hand sewing designs at her kitchen table to founding and growing custom-made childrenswear specialist Rocket & Rose
It all started with an Instagram post. Unable to find Christmas outfits for her tiny newborn twins, Gemma Bennett decided to sew her own and posted the result online. Eight years later, she heads rapidly growing business Rocket & Rose, specialising in custom-made clothes for children – and their parents too. The turning point for Gemma came in 2011, after she gave birth to twins Daisy and Ruby. She and husband Dan had been trying for children for a while and, when the time came for Gemma to return to her job as a marketing and events manager at a Brighton venue, she didn’t want to leave her children.
“I went into ‘mama bear’ mode. I didn’t want anyone else to look after them. I loved my job but the hours were long and, with Dan working, I couldn’t see how I could do it without shipping the girls off.” The answer lay in the twins’ Christmas tutus. Friends loved the hand-sewn items and wanted them for their own children. “I had an art and design background and went to London College of Fashion so I was determined to do something creative,” Gemma explains.
Gemma Bennett, director of Rocket & Rose
It didn’t take long for Gemma’s business to take off. “It was literally just friends of friends and word of mouth. I was working every single hour I could while the girls were asleep.” To meet demand, she needed an embroidery machine — but the cost seemed prohibitive. Luckily, the owner of a Sussex embroiderer was so impressed with what Gemma was doing that he sold her a Brother PR650 for £500 in 10 instalments. “The fact that somebody in business helped me to get started, I will never forget. It was amazing for me, and my family, as it catapulted us to the next stage. I worked my absolute behind off to pay this money every single month. We’ve still got the machine now. She’s still going strong.”
Rocket & Rose now has six embroidery machines, all Brother PR series. “They are domestic hobby machines but they work for us.” It also has four printing stations, using Silhouette Cameo machines and a Graphtec vinyl cutter. Whether working with glitter, foil or plain varieties, all their garment films are sourced from Dae Ha UK. “We never order from anyone else. Childrenswear is washed day in, day out: the last thing you want is anything shrinking or something falling off. The glitter stays bright all the time. We test everything in a tumble dryer. We know the quality is good, both the print and the garments.”
Gemma no longer works on the kitchen table, nor is she based in Sussex. With the business growing and their son Frankie arriving in 2014, Dan gave up his job in security to support Gemma at home and at work. The couple moved their family from Crawley to Devon, ending up in the village of Winkleigh. “We realised we could take the business anywhere in the UK,” Gemma says. “We decided to stick a pin on a map and move somewhere prettier.” The business expanded into Gemma and Dan’s new garage, and they then took on their first member of staff. “It’s scary employing people,” Gemma admits.
“You get so passionate about things that it is hard to hand over to someone else. You are giving them a little bit of your heart. But we were lucky as she was wonderful.” The couple now have four other people working with them, although Gemma adds: “I never wanted to be the boss person; I wanted everyone to work with me.” The business has since moved to an old building converted into a shop with a workshop, sewing room and office where orders are processed and fulfilled.
Rocket & Rose supplies custom-made garments for children up to the age of 11
The company uses Dae Ha UK garment films exclusively
Rocket & Rose supplies all kinds of custom-made garments for babies to 11-year-olds, from T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies to dresses and skirts as well as accessories such as bags and hats. There are also ‘Matchy Matchy’ sets so mums and dads can sport the same designs as their children – think matching T-shirts with the slogans “Daddysaurus” and “Jamesosaurus”. The key to their success is providing personalised designs for orders as small as one at an affordable price. “We let our customers choose what print colours and finishes they want. You can choose a white T-shirt but have any colour of dinosaur on there. I want them to feel they are the designer as well, even though it is pre-designed by me. It makes people feel extra special.”
One of their most popular lines is pregnancy announcement garments, such as a T-shirt for a couple’s first child to wear at a family party. “They are telling us before they tell their families which is just crazy,” says Gemma. “Just being allowed in on that secret is wonderful.” Gemma is always coming up with new designs. “I take inspiration mostly from what my kids are into. It’s all about unicorns and dinosaurs. I don’t think that will ever get boring. If there are slogans that the kids come home with, it’s something I work on straightaway. It’s very much what I loved as a kid. I have just turned 40 but to be able to design T-shirts with sparkly unicorns or a T-rex, I love it. The glitter is so magical.” Although the company name was inspired by two images that represent what boys and girls are into, as many of the slogans testify, the choices are up to parents and children. “We are very much gender-neutral: girls like dinosaurs and boys like unicorns too.”
Rocket & Rose sells via online sites NotOnTheHighStreet.com and Etsy, as well as its own website, reaching customers through Facebook and Instagram where it has 24,500 and 12,600 followers, respectively. But the business is about to take another big step: it is working on a range of organic children’s T-shirts for wholesale, aimed at boutiques and larger retailers. Due to launch in February 2020 at the INDX Kidswear show in Birmingham, it’s a ‘keepsake’ range of garments to celebrate events such as birthdays, featuring designs not found in the rest of the range. The T-shirts are made with organic cotton from traceable sources, and a percentage of sales will be donated to a local hospital. The new range is in line with the company’s environmental credentials: it doesn’t use plastic, all packaging is recycled and bags are fully biodegradable. Its garment supplier is PenCarrie, which is also based in Devon. “It’s all about keeping it as local as possible and trying to be as environmentally friendly as we can,” says Gemma.
Despite the growth of Rocket & Rose, Gemma and Dan still manage to balance business with family life. “The whole point of this was that we wanted to be mum and dad to our kids together,” says Gemma. “It’s very important to us that we finish when the kids finish school. We all go home together and all have dinner together. I still do admin in the evening, but I’m there with them until they go to bed.” Gemma suspects that other women may be deterred from following a similar path to her because they are unsure whether they can juggle running a successful business with having children and because of the lack of support for budding female entrepreneurs. “Unless you study business, there’s no help out there telling you what to do. If you’re busy raising a family, or even not raising a family, there are no resources to really help you unless you pay through the nose for it.
”I know there are tons of mums out there running little craft businesses from their kitchen table, which is exactly where I started. I think maybe they don’t have the confidence to move forward or they don’t have the support from their family as I did. But I’m testament you can do it.” She adds that, in her case, being a mum is actually a big advantage from a business perspective. “Our target market is basically me. I have three young children who love wearing sparkly and slogan T-shirts!”