Great British Sewing Bee finalist Lauren Guthrie tells Shelley Carter why she shunned physiotherapy in favour of haberdashery – and how she’s living the dream
You may remember Lauren Guthrie as the smiley, pint-sized Scot who made it to the final of last year’s Great British Sewing Bee. Her talent and warmth wooed the judges and viewers alike and her feet haven’t touched the ground since. Although she didn’t win the BBC show she couldn’t be happier with the result. “I know it was a competition so it’s a funny thing to say, but by the time the final came around I’d had such a fun time and made some really great friends that winning didn’t matter.” In the end there were six months between filming and the show being aired in which time Lauren couldn’t talk to her friends about it. “My parents and husband knew about the show and the result but I couldn’t tell anyone else. It was difficult not to talk about it because GBSB was such a special time for me.”
Way before Sewing Bee, the dressmaker’s daughter – she made her first dress with mum’s help when she was just five – was hatching a plan to leave her secure job as a physiotherapist to pursue her dream of opening a haberdashery. Lauren moved to Birmingham to be with her husband Ayaz who had owned a near-derelict building in Moseley for a few years but couldn’t decide what to do with it. Lauren mooted the idea of turning it into a haberdashery and workshop. The building was gutted and took two years to renovate. Lauren hadn’t done anything like this before. In fact, she says: “It was all completely new to me. I’d gone from school to university to the NHS. I had never worked in business, my family had never owned a business, so I learned as I went along. I watched Dragons’ Den and studied what kind of questions they asked and I Googled lots of things.” Launching Guthrie and Ghani was a steep learning curve but Lauren’s philosophical about it. “I think it’s important not to let the fear stop you from doing anything,” she says.
The timing of the shop opening coincided with the final of the GBSB being aired which was ‘pure coincidence’ as the contestants weren’t told when it would be on TV, but it was a huge bonus for Lauren’s business. The photos of the opening day resemble the first day of the Harrods sale with hoards of customers queuing to get through the door. Naturally the series boosted business last year, but Lauren has also seen an upturn in business with the current series airing now. In addition, she has performed a real coup by being chosen as a stockist of Liberty London’s highly desirable fabrics. Lauren isn’t allowed to tell me how this came about – a Liberty rule not Lauren being tricky, but however it happened it’s fabulous news for the shop. Lauren has cleverly incorporated a wonderful workshop space where she runs a series of creative courses from knicker-making and crochet to dressmaking and a ‘knit and natter’ session, so she’s engaging with her customers and the locals at a deeper level than just selling to them. “I get a lot of satisfaction from making my own dresses and I love the idea of inspiring other people to be creative too,” she says. Lauren also installed a coffee bar so that customers can sip a decent cuppa while browsing pattern books.
SEW WHAT’S NEXT?
We all know craft has seen a resurgence of late. It’s shaken off its stuffy WI image and is attracting a new generation of men and women eager to get involved. WI champion and TV presenter Kirsty Allsop is often giving us an insight into her crafty endeavours. Even social media has gone crafty in the form of the Birmingham boys over at Hobzy, the online craft based network that continues to go from strength to strength on a global scale. Not to mention Pinterest. So, what’s next for Lauren? As well as ensuring Guthrie and Ghani’s success, she has a book coming out in September and would love to do more TV. There’s nothing in the pipeline yet, but her brand of enthusiasm, talent and all-round loveliness has already proved a TV hit, so why not? Move over Kirsty there’s a new kid on the block.