One look at Tatty Devine’s jewellery will tell you that this is no ordinary brand, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the founding duo are far from ordinary as well.
At the heart of the brand, which celebrates 20 years in business this summer, is a couple of women who knew they wanted to do something creative with their lives, and pulled out all of the stops to make sure their dreams became a reality.
The Tatty Devine story is nothing short of extraordinary, as is evident by the fact the Crafts Council has teamed up with the brand to put on a two-year travelling exhibition about its history and heritage.
From selling bangles made out of leather samples at Portobello Market, to employing 35 people and running two successful bricks and mortar stores, alongside an online business, Vine and Wolfenden have come a long way since meeting at art school, and can look back at 20 years of fond memories, whilst keep their eyes firmly on the future.
Camden Market to Covent Garden
Vine and Wolfenden met at Chelsea Art School where they both studied fine art in the same year.
The duo forged a close friendship when Wolfenden’s roof fell in and she had to call upon Vine to shelter in her spare room.
From there, they became housemates and later on found out they had a strong working chemistry when they started serving tables at the V&A restaurant.
“It was there we realised we could run things together,” shares Vine, with Wolfenden adding: “We found very quickly that we could look at each other and know what needed to happen. We had a really similar work ethic and we both had ambition.”
Putting their theory to the test, Vine and Wolfenden teamed up to put on a graduation party.
Wolfenden explains: “We realised no one was doing a graduation party so we decided to organise one. But, we didn’t just hire a bar, we hired a venue on Regent Street, and did all the negotiations on the price, designed tickets, sold tickets and got a real buzz from making something happen.”
“It was the power of coming together, and together we could make things happen,” adds Vine.
After art school, the friends started trading from a market stall in east London in the summer and developed a signature style that saw them lauded in Vogue and stocked in Harvey Nichols and Whistles before the year was up.
“One night coming home from college I found all these bin bags filled with leather samples on the street and really that’s kind of what started Tatty Devine,” Vine reveals. “We cut the leather samples into strips, made them into cuffs and took a selection of every colour cuff imaginable to a market stall in Camden. Everyone thought we were mad.”
The Tatty Devine founders then started selling their jewellery at Portobello Market and Spitalfields during the weekend, whilst holding down part-time jobs in the week. Wolfenden recalls: “In the first week we did £100, then £200, and we would always split it in three ways; a third for Harriet, a third for me, a third for Tatty, and we built up a bit of cash.”
“It all happened really quickly. We graduated in June 1999, then started doing market stalls in the July, and by December we had orders from Whistles and Harvey Nichols. We also had our pieces featured in the millennium issue of Vogue and had got into London Fashion Week.”
Realising they couldn’t sell cuffs on a market stall for £10, whilst the same pieces were sold in the likes of Whistles for £30, they quit the markets, and worked from their bedrooms to fulfil orders from big clients for most the year 2000, before moving into a premises on Brick Lane.
“In the early days we were working from my bedroom and we had this big order come through, so we had to train the boys I lived with to sew because we had no team and no workers, so we just got all of our friends round and asked them to muck in,” Vine reminisces.
“When we got our studio we didn’t get a standard studio space, we got an old shop and it looked like a shop even though we didn’t open it as one. We just painted it white and put the jewellery on display and people came in and bought pieces — it was amazing. As we didn’t have much stuff we also used the space to host exhibitions because all of our friends were creatives. So once a month we would open the doors and everyone would come to a private view and it was kind of like a real social network — we just made so many friends and it became a little bit renowned.”
By this time the jewellery had got more experimental, with pieces being made from objects the friends found, such as cake decorations and plectrums. It was during a research trip to New York in 2001 that they discovered laser-cut acrylic and fell in love.
“It was one of the most exciting moments of our lives because there was all these little shapes cut out of plastic,” shares Wolfenden. “We bought all these shapes and took them to LFW, and they got such an amazing reception.”
In turn, they found themselves ordering so much from New York that they had to find a local supplier. It then got to the point where they were spending so much on laser cutting, the supplier suggested they invested in their own machine — so they got a bank loan and purchased one. This gave them a creative freedom to push the boundaries. Something they continue to do.
“Laser cutting ticked all the boxes. We could make something crazy, we could make something massive, and we could only make a couple of pieces if we wanted to, and it was plastic and shiny,” shares Vine.
20 years on and the brand is still pioneering attention-grabbing laser cut jewellery, with all their pieces made by hand in the UK.
Tatty Devine has two stores in London, one in Brick Lane, and another in Monmouth Street, alongside a studio in Kent. It also has a strong online following, with the company being quick to embrace digital platforms such as social media to bolster business and build brand awareness.
Jewellery wise, whilst staying true to the aesthetic it has become famous for, Tatty Devine has also become more political, collaborating with charities to raise awareness of causes close to the founders’ hearts.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary the Crafts Council is putting on a touring exhibition titled: ‘Misshapes: the making of Tatty Devine’, which will showcase the creativity and innovation, alongside the glamour and humour that has been the making of this successful British brand.
The exhibition will be the first-of-its-kind about the design duo, showcasing the story of the brand and defining moments and jewellery pieces over the last two decades in business.
The exhibition will start in London tomorrow and tour the country over two years.
The anniversary will also see the publication of a new book dedicated to the pairs’ story and creativity, and a special jewellery collection, re-imagining some of Tatty Devine’s best-loved pieces from the 5,000 strong archive.
One thing that stands out in the brand story is that having a real social network and a growing community has been paramount to the success of Tatty Devine.
Along the way, friends, family and acquaintances have helped take the business to the next level in one way or another. Whether that be housemates helping to fulfil big orders in the early days, or the duo creating a business with a family feel where everyone takes ownership of the brand and its success, real relationships with real people have got Tatty Devine to where it is today.
Its little wonder the brand gained a loyal following pretty quickly and that it continues to gain new fans-turn-family members every step of the way. By having a community feel people don’t just purchase Tatty Devine, they become part of a family firm that continues to go from strength-to-strength.
Looking ahead the founders would like to see Tatty Devine sold all over the world, and to maintain the level of business that gives them the creative freedom they have worked so hard for.