When you have a new baby, remember the important things.
Have you signed the birth certificate?
Did you reserve a nursery place?
Have you been to Sammy Duder? asks Georgina Blaskey.
NappyValleyNetters love to recommend things to fellow mums – everything from pushchairs to highchairs, nurseries to holidays – and sometimes we are spoilt for choice, to the extent where we might even (sshhhh) disagree on the best. But when it comes to capturing your baby at a special moment in time, there are no dissenters. A Sammy Duder baby footprint is a rite of passage for SW parents, who have always felt pretty darn lucky to have such a talented girl on their doorstep.
I first met Sammy nine years ago when she came to my house. I answered the door with the prerequisite splodge of baby sick on my shoulder and this sunny, beaming person bustled in and promptly got to work painting my daughter’s foot (as she squealed in delight), expertly pressing it onto all sorts of pottery as we worked our way through the relatives’ Christmas list. To this day, items such as these sit proudly on walls and windowsills up and down the land as other families have done the same and given them as presents.
It’s hard to believe that Sammy Duder has been doing this for 10 years, but from the start Sammy knew she wanted to do something artistic. “It’s in my genes; my family are all massively creative. I wanted to do something myself, to be in control and see what I could do. I also knew that once I had children, I wanted to be close to home, and be able to do drop-off and-pick up, which works most of the year except December when I am crazy busy!”
When Sammy’s granny died and left her £2,000, she’d just come back from travelling with her then-boyfriend, now husband Garth. “I felt invincible, spurred on by the excitement of backpacking.
I thought, what would Granny want me to do with this money? So I put every penny in and budgeted for 15 aprons, 2,000 leaflets, paint, stock, brushes… Then I went and stood on Northcote Road every day with leaflets and talked to mums.”
Many of us will remember Sammy from those days, when she’d arrive in her brightly painted van and pop back a week later with our pottery that had been glazed in her back bedroom. For new mums the process couldn’t have been easier, but it was challenging for Sammy. “At that point I rented kiln space, never knowing in advance what I needed as I wouldn’t know if a client would be spending £5 or £300.”
But Sammy’s magic touch was proving very popular and people would pass on recommendations. “I didn’t have the budget to do any advertising, so I was reliant on word of mouth and being outside showing mums the product. Each time I went out, I got a booking, it was amazing. But at times it was cold, wet and fairly demoralising! You’d bump into people you went to university with and they’d say, “why are you standing on Northcote Road handing out leaflets?”
After one year Sammy decided the back bedroom was getting a little bit splattered with glaze and it was time to look for a business unit to house her own kiln; she found one off Queenstown Road. But the business would never grow beyond her own capabilities – it was time to look for premises and staff. “Northcote Road was prohibitive in terms of rent,” recalls Sammy. “So I looked on Webbs Road and this one came up. It was light, airy and had a nice feel to it.” A month was spent getting it ready. “Obviously I painted it, my mum made all the bunting – I was still on a tight budget.”
Nothing could have prepared Sammy for the day she opened eight years ago. “I will never forget day one! We were fully booked and there was a queue of people outside, holding cakes they’d made, clients whose children’s footprints I’d done already. It was so emotional – local support at its best. And it was super exciting – we had a place for people to come and we were open seven days a week!”
Everything in Sammy’s shop, she has either been on a course to learn how to do or she’s taught herself (bar the bronze casts). “When we launch a product we’ll have been making it for about six months to test it. Every few months we’re thinking of a new idea because we don’t want to get bored, but we don’t want our clients to get bored either!”
Initially the range consisted of plates, mugs and tiles. Next came clay imprints. “I couldn’t find any that were right – too twee, too fussy. Ours are clean cut and simple. We do hands and feet, doubles, siblings and even the whole family – including pets!” Following that, silver print jewellery – charms, cufflinks, key rings – took the business in to another area and now she also offers hands and feet miniaturised down in silver.
“One of the most exciting elements of the business is new products. I have so much freedom and no constraints (except not enough time in the day!). I’m constantly thinking up new ideas and jotting them down when I see or think of things, whether I’m sitting watching my kids at a swimming lesson or it’s 3am in the morning. Somehow my brain is always looking for new creative things that we can explore! A lot of my inspiration is based on what I would like to buy, or what I need, so I am lucky in that I have three children – I am my target audience, aren’t I?”
There’s no doubt the business has come in to its own since having her children – Jemima, six, Jack, four, and Jasper, 18 months. Whilst Sammy’s house isn’t full of pottery (I am imagining dinner parties were everything on the table displays a pink or blue footprint), her children do have egg cups and plates they paint each year. “They very much see this place as an extension of our house. They all came to work with me as babies. It would be very funny at 11am when I would stop to feed my baby and so would my client! I feel very connected to the business, more so than when I didn’t have children. Even my own children want to have their parties here.”
The party room at the back opened nearly four years ago and has proved very popular. At a two-hour event, you can expect Sammy to take all the stress away from mum, run it for her so she can relax, and get on and deal with whatever comes her way. But it’s not just for kids: hen parties, baby showers, Toddler Tuesdays (for two to four year olds where exciting arts and crafts – such as slime-making and creating snow globes with glitter and glow stars – keep kids and adults engaged), and even corporate bookings. “When the phone rings, you never know who it will be and what they want. I love the variety of the job and not knowing what’s coming next.”
Very occasionally Sammy still embarks on home visits. “But only under very special circumstances. I visited a mum who only had a few weeks left to live and I did her and her baby in clay. And I do posthumous footprints of babies. I feel very privileged to be allowed to visit that person’s child and be with the family at such a private, vulnerable time.”
What strikes anyone who has had the pleasure of making Sammy’s marvellous pottery is that it’s a two-way street. Sammy and her staff go out of their way to make the experience as positive as possible – and as a result we enjoy the product and treasure the memory of creating it. “At the moment I feel I have a work/family balance,” reflects Sammy. “A visit to us is very personal because I am so often here, and I wouldn’t want to lose that by turning in to a chain. I’ve watched my clients’ kids grow up, which is quite mad! It makes me realise we have been here for a long time. But despite being established I never sit back and think, oh, job done! Because we’re always searching for new things….”
And we’re always coming back for more!
To have pottery in time for Father’s Day, visit Sammy Duder by Monday 15th June.
0870 242 7881