FIRST PERSON: Passion for fashion becomes big business
6:02pm Wednesday 9th October 2013 in News
She's the creative force behind a successful business that has won acclaim from the likes of celebrities such as Dannii Minogue. Marianne Sparrenius-Waters,55, talks to Kath Skellon about growing up in Sweden, travelling the world and settling down near Abergavenny.
"I suppose I was a bit of a global nomad, having travelled the world with my husband and our three children for 25 years before setting up my company in 2005. I've always loved fashion. I'm not an expert but love to be organised so I founded RedDog Design at home to create fashionable, yet simple functional handbags and accessories. I believe well-being equals being well-organised- a philosophy reinforced by several decades' experience living abroad in various countries with my husband Kim.
I came up with the idea for a clutch-size organiser called a Bagpod because I was always losing things. You know what it's like, you have a dozen handbags and you take one out, realising you've forgotten something really important because it's in your other bag.
This way you have one organiser that goes inside every one of your bags, and is with you all the time.
The leather and canvas clutches, along with phone covers and handbags has evolved to sell in more than 160 shops worldwide from Switzerland to Australia.
I never thought I would one-day set up my own business.
I grew up in Lund, Southern Sweden as one of five sisters to a civil servant father and my mother who stayed at home to look after us.
When I was 12 we moved to Landskrona, a small city by the sea. I always wanted to be a midwife but after passing the equivalent of A-Levels I studied for three years to be a specialist children's nurse which I loved, working with premature babies who had been through surgery.
I loved it but it was very emotionally difficult working with very young babies going through so much and knew it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I always knew I wanted to be involved in international business.
I left nursing and totally changed direction, enrolling on a PA course, spending six months in Munich and six in Brighton. I enjoyed it and when I arrived back in Stockholm in 1984 I got a job immediately as PA to the-then general manager Kim Waters, who was to become the global business manager at Reuters news agency.
Me and Kim married after a few years working together. Kim grew up in Newport but had been working in Hong Kong and had been posted to Stockholm when we met. He was soon posted to Norway and I left my position at Reuters in Sweden to join him. It was always easy for Swedes to get jobs there and I began working as a boutique manager for the designer Nicole Farhi. I loved it. Our first child, Ella was also born in Oslo.
As a family we did a lot of travelling and when she was six months old Kim was posted to Istanbul, Turkey, where our boys Max and Samuel were born during our four years there.
It was a fantastic country and the people were lovely.
We had the support of the expat community which became very important as we did not have our families there. We were a very active group, holding toddler groups and organising charity events.
When Samuel was four weeks old Kim got posted back in London and commuted to London from Abergavenny, where we had a home and retired to last year.
We had the opportunity to go to Africa and Kenya where the children went to a British School in Nairobi, but would return home to Abergavenny every summer.
We arrived in Nairobi a week after the bomb blasts at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 200 people.
Samuel was three. My mum begged us not to go. But the next three years in Africa were wonderful, taking the children on safaris and exploring the coastline before moving to Amsterdam in 2001 and spending the next six years there.
We cycled everywhere. Dutch people are very direct and they can come across as abrupt, but I soon understood it's their way of being open and straight forward and as a Sweden I felt really at home.
We felt rooted there and I was doing involuntary work in an international school organising charity events. We would get big-named companies involved and raised around 120,000 Euro from parents and friends.
It was a big change to move back here seven years ago when Kim was posted back to London . I've always loved to be by the sea so it is lovely to live by the river.
It was important for the children too as they had become global nomads, though they still have it in their blood and was perfect timing because Ella was studying for her A-Levels, Max his GCSE's and Sam was in secondary school. The kids settled and after years of being a happy 'Travelling Appendix' to my husband I started to think about setting up my own business.
Having spent 25 years travelling I was inspired by many things I had seen and people I met along the way.
I saw a lot of handmade products that interested me and realised I wanted to do something with that. There's a lot of rubbish made for tourists, but there are also some great craftsmen.
I set up a website with the idea of helping sell unusual locally-made products to the rest of the world.
I found oils made by an Iraqi pharmacist and handmade vegetable soaps from Amsterdam.
There were also beautiful handmade wooden brushes made by partially sighted workers on Sweden; leather belts from Africa hand-stitched with Masai beads, and leather clogs from Scandinavia.
I began importing carpets from Istanbul for country houses in Wales and eventually came up with RedDog Design and launched a range of handbags and accessories which includes the first BagPod, made from leather in Istanbul and canvas in China, in 2009.
My husband came up with the company name. There's a song by Marty Wilde called ‘Abergavenny’ where he sings 'Taking a trip up to Abergavenny, hoping the weather is fine, if you should see a Red Dog running free, well, you know he's mine'.
It's just me designing everything from my office at The Dog House, Llanvihangel Gobion, under the name RedDog which was inspired by two Parson Russell Terriers, Mollie and Jack and a song by a sixties crooner, but it's a lot of fun.
My range has been endorsed by the fashion designer and pop star Dannii Minogue who was one of the first to receive a Bagpod.
Not only did she reply to say she loved it she wrote a blog on her website saying it was practical and perfect.
I didn’t ask her to do that but it was lovely of her.
The children are now young adults studying and working hard. Max is studying at Aston University, Samuel is doing his A-Levels and Ella is working as a teacher for a year at Hong Kong University.
I am very happy right now and one day hope to see RedDog Design become a household name.
The business has been nominated for several awards, last year reaching the finals in the Designer of the Year-Accessories, in the 2013 Drapers' Footwear and Accessories Award and won the Theo Paphitis small business award, amongst others.
It's going from strength to strength and independent boutiques and the department store John Lewis in the UK, Europe and am currently expanding to Australia. They sell my products in the Thomson Airlines in-flight magazine and on the Virgin and BA airlines retail therapy website.
It’s been hard work but I’ve never given up."
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