Sunday, 11 December 2011

My goal for 2012 is to go global - care to join me?


If nothing else the day job has taught me that even micro businesses need to go global if they are to survive in the current economic climate.  I was really delighted when Emma Jones author, entrepreneur and founder of Enterprise Nation invited me to hear some fantastic small business owners speak about their experiences of selling their products overseas at a Global Entrepreneurs Week event back in November.

In my goody bag was a copy of Emma's book "Go Global - how to take your business to the world" so yep I have a date with a notebook and a mince pie to work my way through the advice and plan my own strategies for taking Strange Fruit's vintage inspired greeting cards to the international market-place.  Of course as this is the season for caring and sharing I did get another copy.  Details of how to win it are at the end of this post. 


The day was not just about the book - it was about going global.  Emma had drafted in a panel of well known and well respected business owners who I think everyone in the room was inspired by.  The entrepreneurs shared their business journey with the delegates and it was no surprise to me that no-one had become a successful business person overnight - each had been working on their business for years before they found their perfect business model.  

Rob Law
Take Rob Law founder of Trunkie - he was famously turned down by Dragon's Den, he had his suitcase moulds in-pounded in a Chinese factory and neither the toy or the luggage market thought his product was right for them.  With a lot of hard work and dedication Trunkie products are now sold in 62 countries and the brand is so strong the company never pays for media or advertising.  Which I think is incredibly impressive!  

The upbeat day was so informative and my little notebook is just bursting with great advice but rather than hear it from me each speaker shared a business tip; here are a few of their gems....

Richard Moross speaking and the 
back  of my head!


Richard Moross - founder of Moo 
"The better the relationship with your 
customers the better."

Rob Law - founder of Trunkie
"Add the word 'luxury' to your product information when marketing overseas."

Tony Curtis - founder of Alago
"Just do it - be prepared to learn the hard way because you can't buy that kind of learning."

If you would like the "Go Global" book just send me your name and postal address in an email (mail@ilovestrangefruit.com) with 'Go Global' in the subject line.  The winner will be selected on 1 January 2012 and the book will be sent out by first class post - to anywhere in the world of course.  How simple is that?  

There will be lots more freebies over the coming months so it would be great if you followed the Strange Fruit blog so you get to here about them.  And if you have a tip for going global don't be shy - share.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

On this day in 1955 Rosa Parks sat on a bus

Public transport has unwittingly played a major part in racial equality.  On this day, December 1, in 1955 Rosa Parks sat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. She was arrested.

Parks' well orchestrated action was a critical moment for civil rights.  Many of us think supportive jornalists had been tipped off.  Parks worked for the NAACP and was it a coincidence that people with expensive cameras happened to be there to capture an event?  But that event, where other similar ones had failed,  sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the rest, thank goodness is a history to be proud of.


Fast forward to London, December 1, 2011.  Not one but three people have this week, following their racist rants on public transport (trams are like buses), have either been arrested or are being investigated.  And the media were not called in advance to witness the events, the events were caputured on simple mobile camera phones, uploaded to the internet with a #mytramexpereince hastag for the world to see.  A few hours and a few thousand views later the police came a knocking.

Well today Ms Parks, I am thinking about you and thank you for all that you were a part of that made this difference in my world.

"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in."
Rosa Parks

Sunday, 27 November 2011

My Christmas wish list......

So assuming Santa is real and we even had a chimney what would be waiting for me in stylishly wrapped boxes this Christmas?  We can all dream can't we! 

This would be my top ten! 

1.  A wide format printer!  Yes really.  Printing gift wrap is an expensive process with no low minimums, but I really want to try out some designs - my own wide format printer would mean I could print my own.  Oh I would need a conservatory to put it in obviously!

    2.  An hour mentoring from either Rosie Wolfenden or Harriet Vine - these girls are my business crushes!  I love how they have built Tatty Devine into a global business but are still very much a part of their local community; they are so engaged with their customers and supporters that they are a force to be taken very very seriously. 


    3.  A cleaner - yep - there is no time in the day to clean and I think the whole family would be whole lot happier if we had someone to dust those corners. 

    4.  An extra hour in the day - do I need to explain? 

    5.  Seeing as this is a fantasy list I'll add the ipad - fully loaded with all the apps I need to work with and to turn my short stories into ebooks to share with anyone that wanted to read them. 

    6.  No Christmas gift list  would be complete without a pair of fabulous shoes - did I mention I sold my Jimmy Choo's to pay for my first print run.  But these Gucci's are rather lush don't you think? 

    7.  Homelessness to be irradiated overnight with the re-use of empty buildings. How can we be in a recession, have thousands of empty office blocks across the country, and still have people sleeping on our streets? 

    8.  A decent set of saucepans!  My Habitat saucepans lasted over ten years.  My Tefal ones are less than a year old and well they are battered - so not impressed every time I pick one up I worry a handle will fall off. The sales offer the solution I think!!

    9.  A set of vintage drinking glasses - well I don't have any??

    10.  Everything to be as it should be.  There is nothing I need that I don't have and I am fortunate to be able to work towards those things that I would like to have but don't need.  In the meantime I have donated to Shelter, if you have everything you need to be warm in your own bed tonight I hope you will donate too. 

    Thursday, 17 November 2011

    Secrets and Lies in the Dragons Den

    There is a lot of coverage of Levi Roots this week.  The ‘creator’ of Reggae Reggae sauce is in court defending his ownership of the Reggae Reggae recipe.  Mr Roots, real name Keith Valentine Graham, has admitted, during the trial, that he lied on Dragons' Den about the origins of the recipe, but he has denied stealing it from his former business partner.



    Levi Roots told the Dragon’s that the recipe had been handed down by his grandmother, a story that he now admits he made up.  "When I was trying to market the sauce, I thought of every conceivable way that I was connected with music and the Notting Hill Carnival," he said.

    "I cooked all that in a bag together and tried my best to make a story about it."

    Roots, is being sued for more than £600,000 by Tony Bailey, his former business partner and best friend. Bailey claims Roots stole his recipe for the sauce. A charge Roots denies.

    Now I am no puritan, I buy Reggae Reggae sauce, infact we had it on Tuesday, I also have two of Levi Roots cookery books.  My Granny has even borrowed the books to compare the recipes with her own.  My Granny is a wise woman from Jamaica and I have always listened to everything she has told me including “buy cheap, by twice” (really handy that one in justifying expensive shoes).  And not to “wear white if I couldn’t keep it clean” she did not need to tell me that a lie will always come back and bite you in the butt! 

    This case has thrown some serious business questions out there.  My questions are many…..

    Is it ever right to build a brand or sell your product or service based on a lie? 
    Surely if you have a strong enough product you don’t need to lie about it? 
    If you lie in a business pitch what does this say about the kind of person you are? 

    Now that Levi Roots has been exposed as a liar will this change his relationship with Peter Jones?  And no one wants to be associated with someone un-trustable right? 

    Regardless of the outcome of the trial will this revealed dishonestly cost Levi (The Liar) Roots much more than the cash he is being sued for and in fact cost him his reputation as his word, is not, it appears his bond.

    As a media and marketing professional and as a buyer of his product I am sorely disappointed with Mr Levi Roots - I don't think that marketing should ever be about lying - but what do you think?

    Monday, 7 November 2011

    Not on the high street?



    'Mainstream' according to the dictionary equals 'ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or arts.' 

    A very simple explanation I think.  So my question is; why if black people are part of the fabric of our modern British society are greeting cards reflecting people of colour not on the high street? Or anywhere much else. 

    The UK is one of the biggest consumers of greeting cards in the world.  There are 800, mostly small business, producing glorious greeting cards for all occasions but less than 1% of those companies produce cards that reflect the 9.1 million people of colour that are part of the British population.

    Greeting cards reflecting non white people are considered 'ethnic' or 'specialist' which is why I am confused - I would say over 9 million people shopping on the high street is a mainstream consumer audience - but with so few shops being prepared to sell cards that are not 'mainstream' something is going a bit off base. 

    But, what I would really like to know are your thoughts ....

    Monday, 31 October 2011

    365 days of Strange Fruit


    Today is the last day of my first year running Strange Fruit! And what a year it has been, this time last October to say I knew nothing about the greeting card industry would be an understatement!  But what I did know was I had a lot to learn so I approached year one as my learning year and as much as I have learnt I am no way done.


    When I first started approaching stockists Christmas was a few weeks away so of course retailers were thinking about displaying their festive stock not taking on new ranges!  Lesson one.

    I also learnt that buyers for large retail outlets don't answer emails - ever - when you approach them.  Regardless of how many hours you spent tracking them down they only engage with you when they meet you at a trade show.  Lesson two.
     
    Lesson three.  "We like your cards but we don't think they are right for our customers" is code for  people who don't have the confidence to say they, in their opinion, their customers wouldn't buy greeting cards reflecting people of colour.  I always want to say "how do you know who your customers are friends with, who is in their family and do you not serve black people in your shop?" but of course I don't!  For every stockist that is 'nervous' about selling cards with black people on them there is another who gives them a try and finds out very quickly that people of all ethnic backgrounds buy our cards simply because they like them.  Sometimes they even sell out in a week!

    So 365 days, twelve designer maker markets, two trade shows and one business awards nomination later our number of stockists is growing, I am talking to contacts in the US about licensing my images for the American market and am setting up a trial for a chain store in early 2012.  Which if I say so myself is not to shabby for someone who knew more about the life cycle of a ladybird than she did about the greeting card industry.

    It has been emotional, stressful, rewarding and fun and I am sooo looking forward to putting into action the lessons I have learnt and taking Strange Fruit Greeting Cards into its second year - look out for us as we could be coming to a shop near you sooner than you think.  And yes I will still be learning all the way.

    Denise xx

    Friday, 21 October 2011

    Strange Fruit is coming to South London.....

    We will be at the Papered Parlour Open Studios this Saturday!

     








    7 Prescott Place, London SW4 6BS
    www.thepaperedparlour.co.uk
    020 7627 8703

    Saturday 22 October 2011 - 11am-5pm

    FREE ENTRY

    I haven't taken the cards to an event in South London before so am really looking forward to working with the Papered Parlour girls again and in their own gorgeous creative space!  I hear the cake is to die to for so you know where I'll be!

    At the event you can -

    Meet the Artists - an take a look behind the creative doors and explore a studio packed with milliners, textile designers, photographers, animators and illustrators. 
    Shop at the Designer/Maker Market - meet and buy from local artists at the indoor designer/maker market.
    Eat & Drink at the Pop Up Cafe - yep sample the parlour's famous homebaked cakes courtesy of Clapham's very own CakeSisters washed down with lashings of tea served in vintage china teacups.
    Enjoy Live Music - listen to acoustic sets during the afternoon from the brilliant Sarah Johns Music Party, Milly Blue and Sebastian Fox.  I just know I am going to be so envious of the great space and all the creative people who use it - but I can't think of a nicer way to spend a Saturday!
    Hope to see you there,

    Denise

    Friday, 14 October 2011

    Will flickr change my life?


    The days are getting shorter and my to do list just grows longer - it never seems to get any shorter, not ever! But today I have managed a big tick and set up a flickr photo stream.  Not a huge thing but I really needed a quick way of people being able to access high resolution images. 

    There are two key reason's why this has been nagging me for ages:-

    1)  When I am at the day job I can't access my home computer nor the images on it and making people wait for photographs when they have expressed an interest is just wrong and unprofessional.  Just because Strange Fruit is a start up business is no reason to expect people to wait on me!

    2)  Sending big files is a pain, for me to send and for the recipient to receive - how many times has a PR sent me images that I can't open - yep too many.  So I was really conscious of not doing the same thing I don't like PR companies doing to me at the day job. 

    So some of the the photo's I took this week with my new pop up light box (which is fab) have been posted and the link put in the press release I have just sent out.  We will see if flickr makes my print ready photo sharing easier.  Of course my to do list is longer as I now have lots of images to re shoot, photoshop and post, but I have made a start and that's what counts.

    Will flickr will change my life? I'm don't think so, but I do do hope it will make it much easier!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/strangefruitgreetingcards/

    Monday, 29 August 2011

    Trade Show nerves!!

    This week the lovely BelleNoirBride posted a feature about Strange Fruit cards on her blog!  

     Thanks Nicola, the write up is wonderful and it is so nice when someone just 'gets it'!  

    "Whilst browsing through Twitterville I came across Strange Fruit and their beautiful and unique greeting cards."

    "Husband and wife team Denise and Cory have together created a greeting card publisher which offers cute and quirky cards  which ‘reflect Great Britain’s colourful population’.
    After feeling disappointed at not receiving any multicultural cards for their wedding nuptials, almost overnight the idea for Strange Fruit and this lovely set of greeting cards was born!"  The full feature is here.  Having other people's feedback on the cards has been brilliant this week as I a having a bit of a panic over preparation for the trade show (Top Drawer) which is fast approaching.  I've got less than two weeks and about two months worth of work to squish in.  I am reading everything I can about trade shows and all I can do is get what my head down and crack on with the to do list which is now and on an A3 piece of paper!  

    Strange Fruit will be the only diverse greeting card publishing company exhibiting at the show and I feel an overwhelming responsibility to show that my business is professional and the greeting cards I produce are both lovely and of the highest quality and rightly deserve a place on the shelves of the best stores.

    But before then if anyone has any advice for surviving your first trade show, I'd love to hear it!!

    Denise xx






    Thursday, 25 August 2011

    Liberty open call to meet new designers

    This week I blogged for Noisette Marketing  about the Liberty open call to meet new designers.  Thought I'd share the post here too.  Isa has done a lovely job with the pictures I sent her.  Hope you like them as Sunday I will be posting about  fun day out with Darren a photographer who had me on the pavement!  Holding down cards I should add before anyone makes any smart comments!

    If you read my tweets you may know that I went to the Liberty open call a week early! So excited was I to have the opportunity to show the buyers my range of greeting cards that I went along to Regent Street a whole week early, but better than a week late! Preparing for the pitch was quite difficult, as I had no idea what to expect. The open calls are happening again in 2012 so I hope my little summary of the day will be helpful to anyone thinking of signing up for the next one.

    The first thing to note is you have to sign up to attend the open day so look out for details on the Liberty website or sign up for their tweets.
    On the day.
    I got to Great Marlborough Street around 11.00 am and was surprised not to see the queue spilling out into the street. The queue, it appeared, snaked up the many flights of stairs, each step hosting a designer clutching a very large bag of precious cargo. I got chatting to a couple of ladies as I settled myself in for the wait – one had got up at 4.00 am to take the coach to London to take part with her handmade book of tapestries and another had brought her handmade bowls from Clapham. Everyone in the queue had something that would be perfect for Liberty! The buyer’s task of the day was not going to be easy.


    An unexpected call for stationery and I bade farewell to my companions and went to the waiting area at the top of the store where I was signed in and sat with around 50 other hopefuls to await my turn. Sitting in the exhibition area I kept going over my three-minute pitch and checking my notes so I didn’t forget anything. About an hour later the ladies I’d been chatting to were also sat with me and we all patiently waited to be called into the big room where the meetings were taking place.
    My turn.
    I think I left my nerves at home, or maybe it was all out of my system the week before because I wasn’t at all nervous when it was my turn to meet the buyers. The hall was set with five sets of trestle tables with two buyers meeting each of the designers.
    The pitch.
    The pitch itself was much more informal than I was expecting. But I thought it best to stick to my presentation, showing the cards, explaining how they are designed and sharing the trade prices. We talked though my design process and the buyers really liked them and seemed genuinely disappointed that they weren’t inviting me back for a meeting to talk about an order. They explained that with over 600 lines of stationery the competition is fierce. What they did say is that they would come and see me at the trade show I’m exhibiting at in September.
    Evaluating the experience.
    So even though I got a ‘no’ the whole experience was totally worthwhile. I can deliver my three minute pitch any-time any-where now I’ve had to do it for real. I have a specially designed presentation folder than I can use over and over again. I have got some really good insight into what a buyer of a large store will want to know when I do my first trade show and if you’re wondering if I’ll do it again – definitely – see you there!

    Top 4 tips for attending an open call:

    Be prepared. Make sure you know when and where it will be, what they are looking for and how they want you to apply.

    Research! Make sure you do your research on the store to make sure your products are suitable. You don’t want to waste their time or yours by arriving with products that won’t fit into their look.

    Write and memorise a 3 minute pitch to help you succinctly describe what you do, how you do it and why they should stock your items in their store.

    Make sure you know your margins and wholesale terms inside out. They will want you to know these off the top of your head so make sure you do.

    Sunday, 14 August 2011

    Hello, my names is Denise and I am a notebook / diary addict.


     
    A few weeks ago Sharon at Reinvention Diva kindly asked if she could interview me for her online magazine over a cuppa.  I never turn down the offer of a cup of tea!  Meeting Sharon her business partner was a joy, such interesting ladies both determined to make a positive difference in each of the lives they touch.  

    Sharon is very kind, she says "What is wonderfully inspiring about Denise is that she is a mum, has a full time job and runs her business. She successfully manages her busy life and tells us how she does it."  What Sharon found out very quickly in the interview was that I wanted to marry LL Cool J and that I am a planner.  The business, work or a happy family life wouldn't happen if I didn't write everything down. 

    Reflecting on the interview I can see that I am a goal setter and I try to make each step in working towards that goal SMART.  And that just thinking about the next step I need to achieve makes reaching the overall goal so much easier.  Being a bit emotional having a plan also really helps me stay on track and not get distracted!
    • S - Specific (or Significant).
    • M - Measurable (or Meaningful).
    • A - Attainable (or Action-Oriented).
    • R - Relevant (or Rewarding).
    • T - Time-bound (or Trackable).
    Mind Tools has some great tips and ideas for making planning part of your everyday life. But of you're like me a monthly notebook allowance from Fresh n Funky at Wow Thank You would make my life complete!



    Time for lunch xx

    Denise.

     

    Sunday, 7 August 2011

    Three, two, one... Executive Audit

    I promised to share in this blog the ups and downs of starting my business.  I hope this weeks Sunday Supplement will be helpful to people in the same early stages of running a start-up.  

    I am not ashamed to share that it took me three weeks, two notebooks and one accountant to prepare my Executive Audit as the next part of the Perfect Pitch Business Awards 2011 competition hosted by Tower Hamlets College.  

    Let me start at the beginning.

    A few weeks ago I entered the competition to win £10,000 worth of investment into a business.  I sent off an overview of my business and was delighted to be invited to take part in the next stage of the competition; a day of workshops in July.  40 or so of us gathered to take part in the  Financial Mastery Workshop and the The Art of Pitching.  I will be honest.  I wasn't sure how much I was going to learn at these workshops as I got off the DLR at All Saints station.  My worst job ever was an Accommodation Manager running a government building and having to manage the budgets for it.  I learnt loads in that job and hated every minute of it.  Forecasting electricity spends was not my idea of fun!  As a press officer I pitch features and news stories to editors of newspapers and newsrooms everyday and I do it well.  But I am always open to learning new skills so I sat down in the conference room with an open mind but thinking the workshops would be would be useful but maybe nothing new.  How wrong was I?

    Financial Mastery with Parag Prasad was excellent, we didn't talk about the basics of managing your budget, Parag encouraged the group to share solutions and critically feedback on a real businesses end of year accounts.  One of the best tips Parag gave us was to get someone else to chase your overdue invoices.  That way you as the business owner maintain your good relationships.  Even if your Dad has to make the calls as your 'Finance Manager' it is better than you getting sucked into other people's business problems.


    Rob Hook then talked us through the DISC personality types to better understand the groups people naturally fall into.

    • Dominance – relating to control, power and assertiveness
    • Influence – relating to social situations and communication
    • Steadiness  – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
    • Compliance – relating to structure and organisation

    I would say I am mix of D and I.  And then we moved onto the 3 C's of pitching.....

    Client - the company knows precisely what the client wants.

    Compelling content - the company delivers enough relevant content to win the sales pitch, an no more.

    Confidence with clarity - the company delivers the sales pitch confidentiality and with a degree of clarity so that the client know precisely where the sales pitch is going.

    We spent some time perfecting our own pitches too, I am taking part in the Meet the Designer day at Liberty next week so this opportunity was a gift.  And nothing like what I expected.  I was able to build on the skills I have and get direct feedback from an expert at the top of his game. You can see how the notebook was just getting fuller and fuller! When I got home and thought about the financial planning of my business I decided I needed an accountant.  I can do the basics but if I am serious about growing my business I need a professional on board.  I have since engaged with Starfish Accounting.  Georgina Rollings, who gave me a free hour to help me work out some projections, specialises in working with home based businesses - another gift.

    The next part of the competition was to complete and send in an Executive Audit.  I expected it would take me about two weeks to answer the 12 questions, which each had sub questions.  It took me three weeks.  Three weeks and another notebook full of planning (mostly written on the tube going to and from the day job).  The first question was - 'send us an email to a potential investor that includes your pitch'.  The fifth question was ''talk' us through your 2011 /2012 profit and loss accounts'.  I feel for anyone who wasn't listening and writing down every word of advice that was shared in the workshops!

    The Executive Audit was a time consuming but well worth while exercise - everything has moved on since I wrote the business plan - so this was a chance to really re-evaluate where I'm at and what I have learnt since starting the company in October 2010.  If you want to really face your business reality I have posted the document on the Strange Fruit Facebook page.

    I will hear if I have made it through to the next stage of the competition during w/c 15 August.  Even if I don't get any further in the competition I will get feed back on my document, but more importantly I've had an invaluable experience which will impact on me and my ability to grow my business in most informed way.

    Good luck to everyone that entered and I tip my virtual hat to everyone that finished their Executive Audit!!

    Next week, going to Liberty London!



    Denise xx

    Thanks to Stargazers World for the picture.













    Sunday, 31 July 2011

    The boys have got to go ....

    It's your nephew's birthday, he is going to be seven.  He likes dinosaurs, Transformers and mud.  You have already brought his present and you just need to get him a birthday card before your visit for his birthday party.  Now, do you get him a card with a little girl on the front blowing daisy's or one with a picture of a dragon like this one from Orchard Cards?


    Of course you get him a 'boy' card. One, he is too young to be bothered with girls and two, you get him a card he can identify with.  And that is the simple motivation behind Strange Fruit.  Greeting cards that visually represent people of colour and which can be identified with. 

    I thought about starting a diverse greeting card company for years!  But at our wedding party in October 2009 I was so sad that none of the lovely cards our friends and family had kindly chosen for us actually represented us that I started writing a business plan, in my head, that very night.  It took one year from that day to our first day of trading and in that year I learnt everything takes longer than you think it should.  Even the simplest things like finding a printing company.  It took three months to find a company, based in England who could print quality cards on decent card stock, who were willing to do short print runs at a price that was competitive.  I am starting a business, so no actually I don't want 3000 cards per design.

    And the logo, OMG who would have thought a little logo would be such a big job, it's a logo not a contender for a Turner prize!  I knew what I wanted, I could draw it, but I couldn't design it electronically in the right formats.  I also didn't have any friends who were graphic designers with nothing better to do so I either had to pay the going rate or wait for the universe to bring me a nice person who was willing to help me out.  The 'budget' was limited so I chose to wait for Danny, a friend of a friend who spends his days creating comic book characters, to come into my world and be my little (6ft 4) graphically designed star. 




    Finally, there was the budget (laugh).  The business plan was fine, I was competent and capable but nothing was happening without a start up budget.  We had just got married so the savings account was down to £0.56p and sadly British Gas and HMRC were not as supportive as I would have liked to my entrepreneurial spirit; they still wanted to be paid?  And as I don't believe in debt unless it is absolutely necessary so there was only one thing for it - the boys had to go.

    The boys; Manaolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, lived in my wardrobe.  We'd had some really fun nights out together but I figured if I can't make a sacrifice how serious I am. Anyway, when I'm making oodles of money I can go straight back to Harvey Nichols and buy all the shoes I like.  


    I sold a few other things too to fill my start-up-pot, it's amazing what I had but didn't need or use, and I miss none of them.  And being able to start my business is so much better than knowing some (beautiful) designer shoes are in my wardrobe! The satisfaction of seeing my cards in the shops and the lovely feedback I get from customers who say their Mum loved getting a card with a black woman on it is one of the best feelings there is.

    'til next week, Denise xx

    Sunday, 24 July 2011

    What an awful weekend!

    This week I was going to share my work week but the murder of nearly 100 people in Olso, the death of Amy Winehouse, the worsening situation in Somali and the 32 people killed on the Bullet train crash in China seemed to make what I've been up to all just a bit trivial.

    As many of you know I am a government press officer by day.  My office is on Victoria Street, just by the House's of Parliament; for many of us working in the civil service this, not the lofty halls of the House of Commons, is the real heart of government.  When I left the building on Friday night the security was immense, the bomb shutters were down and and anti ram raid ramps were up.  I've often thought that attacking this main hub of government was the easiest way of causing incredible harm, little did I know in Oslo a right-wing extremist was thinking the same thing.  For me, and I'm sure for many others, the pictures and news coverage coming out of Olso brought back memories of 7/7, but we, the ones with memories I guess are the lucky ones.  The complete and utter loss of life is tragic and I can't imagine the pain of having to bury your child.  What drove a 32 year old to cause such carnage? Maybe Anders Breivik will tell us his motive in court on Monday.  It doesn't seem like the rest of his group are so keen for the attention. 

    Norway is known for being a peaceful and tolerant country, when the shock of Fridays events eventually pass I hope together they resist the urge of becoming a nation paranoid and dominated by fear.

    Lots of views on Amy Winehouse this weekend.  Some people think we as a society have idolised a celebrity who set a bad example and brought all her problems on herself and some people are genuinely sad that such a talent has left the building.

    I lived in Camden since my teens, we only moved east a couple of years ago when we needed a bigger house.  Camden is one of those places were everyone kind of muddles along together and everyone knows everyone.  You could be buying your vegetables at the Inverness Street market one day with Sade and in the queue at M&S with your frozen peas and Sadie Frost the next.  Amy Winehouse was our Camden-ette.  Before she surcumed to her life of addiction she was one of the locals who muddled along with everyone else and who happened to be a bloody amazing singer and for what its worth I think Amy Winehouse will be remembered in history for being a great vocalist.  Yes I did mostly see her buying booze in Sainsburys at three in the morning, but to be fair at the time so was I and everyone else!

    In the late 90's my sister-in-law, who also lived in Camden, became a heroin addict.  No one had any idea until she was hooked, there was no strange behaviour, no change in her routine and to be honest, she looked fantastic.  She was a singer, she had always been a bit crazy, so no change there.  When it did become clear that her addiction was out of control and she just didn't care anymore there wasn't much anyone could do and trust me we tried.  It didn't stop us from both loving her and being terrified of her. Thankfully my sister in law was a fighter and after being turned away by the NHS, no funds were available for treatment, she locked her self in her flat and threw the key out of the window.  We didn't see her for six weeks, we had no idea if she was OK or not.  When she returned to us she had kicked the habit, true cold turkey stylee.  A good few years have passed since then but our Red knows she is always one hit away from returning to the pain and her darkness.  I don't know what demons Amy Winehouse was hiding from, but I do know that addicts are not just selfish idiots who don't care about anyone but themselves, they are escaping from something they either don't understand or can't come to terms with. The UK has over two million people living with some kind of addiction and one of the highest drug and alcholhol addiction rates in Europe but we have the lowest provision of rehabilitation.  Maybe if we all cared a little more and were not so quick to judge?  I truly hope Amy's friends and a family will find peace now her hurt is over.

    Not much news is coming through from China but we do know that at least 32 people have died and more than 100 were hurt after two high-speed trains crashed into each other.  Terrifying, one minute your on your way somewhere and the next you are waiting to be rescued or waiting for news of a loved one.

    I am hoping by Monday morning to hear some good news for Somalia.  When I last checked a spokesman for al-Shabab said the famine was 'propaganda and that things we're not that bad!'  Now I am no political mastermind and I really do need to read more, but I'd say parents having to choose between finding food for their starving children or walking through a civil war zone was as bad as it could get.  Aid agencies are leaving the region as personnel are not safe and many cannot return as they have been banned by the ruling party for being political.  10 million people. 10 million people is more than the entire population of Sweden!  Starving to death in a land that was once the garden of the world, and the world from what I can see, is not doing enough to help them.  Sadly I think that if the entire population of Sweden was dying a solution would be found a little more quickly.

    I think who ever comes up with a workable plan is definitely in line for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Helpful suggestions to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, United Nations, New York City, New York, USA.

    A week of devastation and I hope lots of water under the bridge for families and friends with 'issues' causing conflict.  This horrible weekend is a massive hint to let go of past hurts, after all, we just don't know when our own time will come.  Enjoy what there is to enjoy, suffer what there is to suffer, both are part of life and one cannot exist without the other.

    Denise xx



    Sunday, 17 July 2011

    Strange Fruit Sunday Supplement

    So last week I finally got with 2011 and created my blog, before really getting into Strange Fruit I should share a bit about me, you never know, some of it may be interesting!

    My life.....  I was born in the quaint village of Maidstone, Kent back in 1970 and grew up in Chislehurst. All I can say is I came to London as soon as I was old enough, I am a city girl and need people not piece and quiet.  My favourite place in London is right outside The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank; where else will you find a homeless teenager chatting to a city lawyer about the art exhibition they have both just been to?  For me the Southbank is the melting pot of London.

    I love..... the smell of verbena, just a whiff of the the shower gel from L'Occitane and I'm happy.  I am also just a little bit obsessed with crackers and jam, I eat them every day.  If I had to pick just one flower - peonies would always be my flower of choice.



    My home.....  Our home is best described as eclectic.  I am really proud that we refurbished the house ourselves, fitted the bright shiny blue kitchen and everything.  Now the house is a mix of modern furniture with the odd retro lamp flung in.  One of my favourites is a 1950's black panther lamp.  I covert a "Mad Men" style dining table, but we don't have a dining room so this a dilemma best solved with a retro coffee pot until I convince Cory to build a conservatory!

    My inspiration..... All the Cut it Out cards start as a collage which I turn into digital images with a high resolution scanner.  I start with the vintage photograph and imagine what was going on with the people in it, the rest of the collage comes from there.  Sometimes people inspire a card design.  I used to work with a guy who always wore the best suits; he'd trawl charity shops. e-bay and auctions looking for a perfect vintage suit.  When I found a picture of some dashing young men in rather sharp suits I knew I had to use the image for a card.

     
    This picture uses scraps of an old envelope, two vintage photographs brought in America, a piece of ribbon from a birthday present and some images cut from an old magazine.  The bunting is all cut from the pages of Stylist magazine!

    So, my first Strange Fruit Sunday is out, hope you come back next week when I'll be getting down to business.  

    'Till then, Denise.

    Saturday, 9 July 2011

    Hello!!

    Hello!  After much talk of needing to... I finally joined 2011 and have set up a blog for Strange Fruit!  Here I will record the journey of a start up business which is lovingly compressed between a day job and a family. 

    For those that don't know Strange Fruit create and sell greeting cards reflective of black Britain, all of our cards feature a person of colour.  My personal favourite is still the first card I designed which quotes Eleanor Roosevelt and was created using a sample of wallpaper, a brown envelope, a vintage photograph and some pages out of an old magazine.


    A beauty I think.