South West business owners Anthony and Jemma Brown have raised thousands of pounds over the past year as they changed their business model to work alongside charities - and their work on one project was supported by British icon, writer, actor and presenter Stephen Fry.
The couple, who took over their specialist branded clothing business OHM Clothing seven years ago, were hit by the pandemic just like many other SMEs.
Based in Swindon and Devizes, the couple had grown their company which provides uniforms to schools, the military as well as logo’d workwear for trades and industry, to a healthy level when covid-19 came along.
Anthony said: "When lockdown hit in March last year, our business dried up almost overnight. From a steady stream of orders we were left with just two to fulfil and, like many other business owners, we began to really worry. We began to think we'd have to look for a new career to keep us ticking over as a family."
However, his wife and business partner Jemma had a lightbulb moment when she saw her friends taking part in Ian Alcorn's initiative to raise money for the NHS Charities Together on social media.
"The project, which Ian called 'The Great British Campout', was getting those who would have been going on camping or caravan holidays to 'camp out' in their gardens or on their drives and donate cash to the charity.
"We simply provided well-priced, good-quality clothing with the GBCO logo on and donated all additional funds to the charity pot. We know that people are hugely proud of the charity they support, and branded clothing is a great way to do that.
"There would be zero cost to Ian and we'd only ever cover our own costs with a small profit on top. My pledge to him was that for every item we sold, whatever our profit was the donation to the charity would be more," Jemma said.
Ian agreed it was a great idea and in four weeks, just through hoodie and t-shirt sales, £11,676 was raised for the NHS charity. Overall, Ian has raised more than £200,000 when his original target was £100.
As a result Anthony and Jemma realised many charities would like their own branded merchandise; however design, creation and keeping stock on site was a barrier for them.
Jemma said: "With my charity background, I know just how much supporters want to wear their chosen charity brand, but also know once you purchase and store charity clothing, let alone running the risk of being stuck with a selection of odd sizes, you really do start to make very little money. Our solution fills the gap for charities both big and small. We host their online shop for them and do everything involved, it's such a great opportunity!"
The initiative has caught on quickly and was picked up by Muscular Dystrophy UK, who ran a campaign with Wiltshire wonder girl, Carmela Chillery-Watson.
The couple decided to further test their idea and, inspired by Russell T. Davies’ TV series It’s A Sin (which charted the experience of gay young people and their friends in the 1980s alongside the emergence of AIDs) they designed a range of clothing to raise money for The Terence Higgins Trust.
Jemma said: "We focused on the 'La' catchphrase which ran throughout the series alongside the red ribbon motif of the Terence Higgins Trust. We felt we had to show that OHM Charities concept could work.
"In fact it worked so well we have a cheque for £10,000 to the charity - and I can assure you that it's not virtual money!"
Stephen Fry was one of the celebrities who purchased a 'La' hoodie. He said "there’' something so very touching about how so many have risen to the idea of Russell’s 'La'."
Actor Faye McKeever (Trollied) said: "It was an absolute pleasure to help raise awareness of the campaign - it was evident that a lot of time and love has gone into their clothing."
During this campaign, the LA range was worn by numerous other celebrities including:
- Beverly Rudd, an actor in the TV series Trollied.
- James Bye, who plays Martin in Eastenders
- Harriet Thorpe, who was in Absolutely Fabulous and The Brittas Empire
- Matt Evers, American pair skater, model and actor who took part in Dancing On Ice
- Sarah Parish, known for Cutting It in the early 2000s
- Sally Lindsay, an actor known particularly for her role as Shelley Unwin in Coronation Street
Today, OHM Charities, as the service is known, has created profit-sharing merchandise for a plethora of charities, including Wiltshire Mind, the Tessa Jowell Foundation, the Lewis Moody Foundation and The Kiyan Prince Foundation. Next week, The Tessa Jowell Foundation is launching its campaign on the anniversary of Tessa's death. The 'Human Sized Picture' campaign will be featuring Jamie Oliver, David Beckham and Alistair and Grace Campbell.
Anthony said: "What we offer is a steady fundraising stream for charities which also helps them engage effectively with their regular and most loyal supporters. We are now looking for an operations manager to come and work with us. We hope to work with charities right across the UK and are now seeking someone fantastic to come and work with us."
OHM Clothing, which has a retail store in Wiltshire, also works with schools to provide branded items of uniform, at a great cost than the main countywide supplier; the military to provide uniforms; businesses across the South West which need high quality and embroidered clothing
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