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Children’s gift brand worn by Prince George ‘builds back better’

When a fire ravaged through the premises of personalised children’s gift brand My 1st Years, it destroyed everything, including £15 million worth of stock. But co-founders Daniel Price and Jonny Sitton, who have supplied baby products to Prince George, Elton John and the Beckhams, were determined to “build back better”. They reopened in September with a new HQ, warehouse and website less than six months since the blaze, now known to be arson.

The fire, which took hold in the early hours of 1 May, decimated the warehouse in a Northampton industrial estate so badly that the firm had to cease trading.

Price, 34, says: “It has definitely been the toughest time we’ve gone through. The first two months, we felt like there was a limb missing. There was no trading. The past six or eight weeks have been more exciting. The business has been coming back. Patience has been the key over the past few months, but there was never a time when we thought ‘we are not coming back’.

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“The main thing has been to get back before Christmas. It is a stronger business and we have learnt a lot.”

My 1st Years, which is backed by Lord (David) Alliance among others, was on course for record sales for 2021 and international expansion, when the fire struck. Price recalls: “On the night of the fire, I woke at 6am and had 60 missed calls. I listened to a message and it was our head of operations. He was in tears. He said: ‘It’s gone, it’s gone.’”

Prince George meets President Obama and First Lady of the United States, in his gown

He adds: “It was surreal and heartbreaking for us and for our teams. Not once did we get down or bitter or thought: ‘Who would do this?’ No one was worried about their jobs. We feel very proud about that. And I think that positivity went through the company.

“The fire has allowed us time to relook at how we want to progress as a business, and made us realise the importance of the right insurance for every single company.”

The company’s insurance meant the founders could keep their 120-strong workforce and secure a new factory in only a few months. “If we hadn’t had that, we would be in a very different position now. We’re excited to take consumers on a new journey on My 1st Years with new products, better materials and a faster personalisation process for every shopper.”

Fire at the old factory

Price and Sitton, both 34 and childhood friends from primary school, founded the business in 2011, after struggling to find an affordable personalised gift for a family member’s new baby. They started with a pair of personalised high-top trainers. Today, products range from personalised toys, towels and storage solutions.

Gifts were sent to several celebrities, including Elton John, Danny Minogue and Beyoncé, but the real turning point came when Prince George was pictured wearing a My 1st Years dressing gown as he met US president Barack Obama. The robe sold out within seven minutes and, when available again for pre-order, sold at a rate of up to one per second. It remains one of the company’s most popular items.

Sales exploded after Prince George was pictured wearing a My 1st Years dressing gown

“The business changed overnight. We had worldwide success and notoriety, which allowed us to get more investment and grow the business much faster and larger than we originally planned. It was at a time before social media was huge in terms of influence and reach and we knew we had to get this global and fast.

“From this moment, we knew we had to automate our personalisation technology to be able to grow and cope with whatever demand we can achieve. This was the boost the brand was looking for and literally from that moment, we never looked back.”

Two years later, the company was awarded the Queen’s Innovation Award for its personalisation technology.

Co-founders of My 1st Years, Daniel Price and Jonny Sitton at the reopening of the brand’s Northampton factory

The entrepreneurs even managed to weather the Covid-19 downturn. “When the pandemic first hit, business was really slow and order numbers dropped. However, we then saw a massive uptick and success throughout the rest of the pandemic, owing to our online business structure and the quality of our products and especially gift boxes. Babies were still born in lockdown and needed gifts!”

Baby converse

The company has since had a complete rebrand with new products, website and the option of sustainable eco-packaging, with future plans to secure new audiences and expand internationally.  “We want to own the personalisation space,” says Price. “We will continue to do what we do best – innovate and adapt, build our fantastic team and keep growing automation in everything we do.”

Price and Sitton live in Mill Hill, north London, and have two children each. Sitton is a member of Mill Hill Synagogue. They divide their time between London and Northampton, where the company’s HQ is situated.

Source: Jewish News

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