When Claire Locke moved to the Island in 1990 with husband Glyn she had designs on running her own business. After a fleeting thought of opening a cafe in Yarmouth, Claire decided to develop the experience she had already gained, importing Italian fashion into the UK.
Within a few years Claire and Glyn’s business venture was in full flow; a multi-million pound company marketing high-quality Italian clothes and accessories under the ‘Artigiano’ brand. It proved a hugely successful venture that she and Glyn continued to develop until they finally sold their catalogue, mail-order and eventually internet company in 2006.
Now Claire is relishing a different type of challenge for the next 12 months – that of High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight. And she promised: “During my year I will do my best to do what I can for the Island, and meet and appreciate the many people who do voluntary work to keep things moving in so may ways.
“I want to celebrate all the fantastic things about the Island, because it has gone through a difficult time, but we must not lose sight of all the wonderful people and things we have here. It is a very special place, and we are very fortunate.”
Claire was born in Worcestershire and lived in several areas of the country with her family, because of her father’s work as a business executive in engineering. The family eventually settled in Henley-on-Thames where she met and married Glyn, a former Olympic oarsmen, had a boat building business, making world-class single sculling boats, used at the famous Henley Regatta.
Claire was already working closely with several Italian fashion companies, until they opted for a change of lifestyle, with Glyn selling his business. She said: “We moved to the Island for a better quality of life. We had one baby, and another on the way, and we wanted to move nearer water, and in a good environment to bring up our children.
“We were in Lymington one day and someone suggested we try the Isle of Wight, so we came and had a look, loved it, and moved here. I asked Glyn what we would do for a living, and being an entrepreneur and eternal optimist, he replied ‘don’t worry, we will think of something’!”
Nearly 25 years on, Claire and Glyn are enjoying life on the Island as much as ever. She explained how her business empire grew, saying: “I had worked for Italian fashion companies for many years, selling to big groups liked John Lewis, Austin Reed and Selfridges. The business was combining economics with my love of clothing, retail and of Italy, where I spent a lot of time as a teenager.
“I supplied big groups with private label products, until Glyn and I founded Artigiano in 1995. I had always been fascinated by mail order, and it was only mail order in those days as it was still pre-internet. We used the same suppliers that I had always worked for, but instead of putting someone else’s label in the clothes we put our label in, and it went from there. We specialised mainly in women’s wear; Italian knitwear, skirts, trousers and jackets, as well as shoes and handbags.”
The company grew so rapidly that Artigiano had more than 200,000 customers across the UK, and employed 150 staff. It was all based on the Island, with headquarters in Shalfleet, and a big warehouse in Cowes, with more than 2,000 orders a day being shipped out.
It was not until 1998 that Artigiano had its first website, and a transactional website followed two years later, allowing customers to buy on-line. Before Claire and Glyn sold the business in 2006, they had opened a few shops, catering for Island customers on a more personal basis with a hugely-popular outlet in Cowes.
Claire said: “We decided to sell because we would either have had to go to the next level, which would taken another five years, or bring in some outside investors. So we had a management buy-out and I was involved for a further two years until it was sold on to another company. It was a lot of fun, and we had the most fantastic people working for us.”
Since selling the company, Claire has spent time with the family, and has learned to sail, often showing her skills in her Folk boat against mostly male opposition in the waters off Yarmouth. She has also been involved in the Prince’s Trust since 2009, being part of the Enterprise Fellowship group which comprises entrepreneurs nationwide, raising money to help young people start their own businesses.
Claire said: “I am very passionate about it, and that is why my theme for my High Sheriff year is enterprise and business. I really believe that in this era when the public sector is declining, people have to consider self-employment and starting a small business of their own as a way of managing their own future. It is what I believe is needed on the Island and unfortunately no one is going to do it for us; we have to do it ourselves.
“My other project is that the High Sheriffs have a small charity called the High Sheriff’s Trust, and its aims are to focus on young people, the elderly and crime prevention. The Trust makes grants of relatively small sums to community groups, and as the High Sheriff spends a lot of time meeting such groups, and seeing what help is needed, it is a powerful way of feeding funds into the local community.
“We don’t have any natural sources of income, so I am securing some for the next three years, and I am pleased we are going to be the charity of choice for Cowes Classic Sailing Week, and the Chamber of Commerce have also promised to support us, along with other organisations. I want to raise the profile of the High Sheriff’s Trust and secure its financial future for the next few years, so we can play an important role in helping the local community.”