Roz Whistance meets the tiny dynamo that is Tori Trimming, who was inspired by her toddler to start a business – and who is hatching ideas to benefit the people of the Island.
Tori Trimming puts you in mind of a box of matches. Small but once ignited packs quite an incendiary punch. You can’t meet her without feeling that the Island is going in some way to benefit from the fact that she and her family have left London to settle here permanently.
Tori is the founder of Raggy-Tag, an idea she stumbled across and developed while working in a very different role in the City. Now, just 18 months after settling herself, her children and her still-commuting husband Steve here, she is investigating the possibility of employing Islanders to deal with certain aspects of her business. She doesn’t let the grass grow. The product went from being an off-the-wall idea to selling internationally in four years.
“Have you heard that expression: ‘What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?’” asks Tori, as we chat in her flawlessly stylish home in Porchfield. She is a tiny woman (“The eldest and the smallest of my family”), impeccably dressed to match her impeccable home, but warm and humorous in a way you might not expect of a dynamic business woman.
She loves the Island, which is perfect for her family: and she stresses she wouldn’t want it to be a mini-London. But she has ideas for the Isle of Wight. Not big or earth-shattering in themselves but ideas about getting people together, ideas that would gently empower people – like a coffee bar. “It’s crying out for a Starbucks-like place. I like the fact Starbucks is a social environment, that you can bring your family there, there’s a library corner, there’s a carpeted area, that it’s got sofas, it’s welcoming, not extortionately expensive, you can have coffee, stay as long as you like, go in and have lunch and desert or just a cake. But you’re not pressured to spend lots of money.”
Quite a tirade, and an understandable sentiment to all those ex-mainlanders who miss the coffee-bar culture. “It needs to be welcoming for everybody – whether you pop out your laptop or meet friends. I don’t see a lot of groups networking here.” It’s about more than frothy coffee with a vanilla shot, of course. What Tori Trimming seeks for Islanders is the means to make contact with one another, to chat about “the little challenges they face in working life.”
Tori herself seems, on the face of it, to have conquered most challenges that come along. She left university with the intension of being an occupational psychologist but unlike most wet-behind-the-ears ex-students, realised that her diminutive height and youthful looks would make her advice to the established workforce a little hard to take.
“I am very small and looked very young at the time, and I thought no-one’s going to take me seriously: I’m shorter than everyone else and I look like I haven’t got any experience at all.”
So she went into banking recruitment for Andersons in the City and did well. Two babies later she was still there part time, working largely from home so that she could be a hands-on mum. And it was while out at a toddler group with her daughter Grace that she got the inspiration which lit her imaginative match – and led to an internationally successful business.
Grace, rather than playing with the toy she’d been bought, sat there fingering its satin labels. Her friend, with an identical toy, was doing the same. Suddenly it was obvious that there was something about the size and texture of the washing instruction tag on a toy that appealed to babies. Asking around, she found other mothers had noticed the same. It’s just that while most would carry on buying the expensive all-action, sensory stimulating toy, Tori decided that the toy was just a bulky distraction from the label.
“I talked to Steve about it and he said I should make something,” she laughed. “I reminded him I was barely capable of sewing on his shirt buttons.”
So she approached the most stunningly stylish mum at Grace’s school with her notion, who turned out to be a brilliant seamstress. It was the start of Raggy-Tag, the acceptable face of a comfort blanket. Tori and stylish Rachel experimented with fabrics and shapes, interested a baby shop in the idea, and went into production.
“This process, just researching how to go about making a children’s toy took ages,” says Tori. “It’s all about the dye, how strong the stitching needs to be, the types of fabrics, the safety aspect. It was huge. But once started we just had to go with it.”
Giving the product a name seemed finally to legitimise it. By now it was a square, made of soft cotton lawn and cuddly velvet, edged with a variety of ribbony tags. Raggy-Tag was born. But this isn’t so much the story of Tori’s business as what it reveals about her. Having started it she wasn’t about to be daunted by the tests required for European safety standards, and the even more stringent Japanese safety standards. Yes, Japanese! Raggy-Tag is truly global.
The interesting thing, and surely one of the keys to its success is that the process of going from yummy mummy with a child-indulgent idea to proprietor of an internationally successful business, is that she nurtures it in the same way as she does her children. She has been at pains to foster happy relations with the factory in the Midlands, making frequent trips there to chat with the sewing ladies about their favourite Raggy-Tag designs. The result is she can call on last-minute favours: “So if I suddenly need a sample sent off to Japan I can ring up, ask for the Japanese swing ticket and the extra Japanese packaging, they’ll do it and are interested to know where they are going.”
It’s an approach from which many business people could learn: the difference human contact makes. It requires, of course, a certain self-confidence, and this Tori can attribute to her mother. “She always stressed that we should have the means to rely on ourselves,” she says. Tori’s mother certainly set an unequivocal example: she took a job at a theatrical agency and despite having had no previous experience in the world of luvvies, she ended up taking it over, handling the affairs of the actors. Tori’s younger sister is herself a successful actress in Denmark, and has just written her first screenplay. Her youngest sister works in the City in recruitment.
With the self-reliance thing drummed into her from an early age you might expect the hardness associated with many women in business. What strikes you as remarkable about Tori Trimming is that she recognises the need to unite to get the best out of everyone. Which brings us to her second Isle of Wight idea. “There is no Women in Business network. It would be great to have an environment, a support network, where women can go to discuss their business. I think there are an awful lot of women who underestimate what they can do, who just need a bit of steering in the right direction.”
She envisages an informal environment where knowledge can be pooled. Women might stand up and talk, but off the cuff: “You don’t need to pressure to have to prepare anything,” she says, adding: “Men could be invited if they were in a similar situation to most women – house husbands running a business from home.”
But giving away free advice? Surely that’s business suicide. “Everyone gets something back. You can get a lot from other people. Not necessarily something specific that they say – it might be an idea they’ve planted in your head or something you’ve gone away to think about. I get an awful lot from talking to other people – ways of managing, another route.”
Spreading a bit of her optimism as well as her business nous would be generous, certainly. Tori does have a remarkably positive outlook, even when, as she and stylish Rachel were about to go into production with their first Raggy-Tag, a similar idea from a huge American company started up. “At first we thought ‘oh, not what we want to hear’,” she says, “but then we realised we were benefitting from their marketing. After all, selling labels was a new concept.”
The rival tactile baby cloth is actually very different from theirs. Vibrant colours, large ABCs and cute animal appliqués are not what Tori wanted. “If you’re six, or even nine, or even a boy and you still love it, you don’t want it to look like a baby thing.” Certainly if you left your child’s Raggy-Tag in the smartest café in Harrods, or even at Elizabeth Pack of Ryde, you wouldn’t be ashamed to go back for it. The same couldn’t be said if it were fully of cutesy googlie-eyed teddies in primary colours. The top of the Raggy-Tag range uses Liberty prints, oldie-worldie roses for girls and blue bumper cars for boys. They are charming. What the US rival did was to prompt Tori and Rachel to step up the appeal of Raggy-Tag to grandparents and godparents as a first-gift present, by presenting it in a simple organza bag.
So she appears to have the business sewn up. She is exporting to Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, Northern and Southern Ireland, Spain, Denmark and Japan, and receives orders via the website. Yet she is seriously looking at ways her business could benefit the Isle of Wight. She already uses an Island company for her website, and Crossprint have printed their book. And while she doesn’t want to change anything about the manufacturing – she’s spent too long nurturing those Midlands ladies – she is considering moving the distribution here. Needless to say, she has already started her research. Light the fuse of an idea and you never know where it might go.