Monday 28 November 2016

A taste-maker for Xmas

People watching: 
Kate Williams, founder of Handpicked by Kate

Some years ago, I was introduced to a young woman at a party. Around her neck, she wore a golden bumblebee, which instantly caught my eye. The necklace I coveted was by Alex Monroe, a brand I hadn't heard of at the time. It was my first (but not last) encounter with this quirky, British jewellery-designer and also with Kate Williams, one of those effortlessly stylish women who was clearly a taste-maker. 

Kate Williams, founder for Handpicked by Kate
Kate Williams: 'I really love design'
When I discovered that Kate recently set up her own website, Handpicked by Kate, selling a range of brands that she has selected herself, it didn't come as a surprise. "I really love design," she tells me. "Friends used to come to me and say, 'Where can I get a good throw?'" The 28-year old had always wanted to set up something on her own and decided to realise her dream by creating an online boutique.

"From social media to blogs, people are interested in other people's lifestyles so I wanted to portray a lifestyle that people could buy into," says Kate. Her own Pinterest board feeds into the website to provide added inspiration for her customers.

The new site, which launched in September, is effectively a shop window for a number of distinctive brands which are still trying to establish themselves. With an eye for picking a unique product, Kate has arranged many of the items into gift lists for Her, Him and the Kids. "I've tried to cover beautiful things for everyone with a balance for different budgets," she says, aware that many of us are too time-poor to shop around.

Jumbo the Elephant Wall Head
Top pick for kids: Jumbo the elephant
This 'shop window' formula is not new - Not On The High Street has been doing it for years - but Kate's site has the advantage of being more nimble. In some senses, Not On The High Street has become too unwieldy - search for a particular product and you end up with pages of results.  Smaller sites, like Kate's, promise the customer an original buy and provide more visibility for the brands they carry. 

Kate is also a product of her generation, millennials who have grown up in a connected world. Many people her age are harnessing the internet to set up their own ventures. Not so long ago, I interviewed Lizzie Heeley, who founded an online company called urbanTurban, making branded hair towels (see Country Wives online magazine). "We are a much more entrepreneurial generation and the internet makes that much easier," says Kate. 

I now own my own piece of Alex Monroe jewellery, thanks to Kate's good taste, and no doubt she will continue to be my conduit to other brands. Certainly, I have added a few of her handpicked treasures to my own Christmas wishlist this year! 

Top Xmas picks from Kate

Kate expects her bestseller this Christmas to be the House of Violet Coconut Sweater (£45). "Everyone loves it, the world is going crazy for superfoods," she says of the eponymous slogan on this organic cotton sweatshirt. 

White Flamingo Clutch

For Him:
Percy Pen Pot (£24 sale)

For Her:
White Flamingo Clutch (£85)

For the Kids:
Jumbo the Elephant Wall Head (£52 sale)

As a favour to readers of An Author's Notebook, Kate is also extending the deadline for her competition to win the Coconut Sweater, an Emily Bond Washbag and Eight Hour Studio Shorts. All you have to do is enter your contact details for her mailing list. Competition closes on Friday, 2 December.

Competition goodies on Handpicked by Kate

An online Christmas

Black Friday caused a frenzy of buying as the British consumer took to the internet last week for a mass Christmas shop. UK consumers do more shopping online than almost any other country, mainly because we were early adopters of internet shopping, according to Radio 4's Today programme
Last year, we spent £1.9 billion on Black Friday and most of those shoppers were women.

The new Marks & Spencer Christmas video starring sassy Mrs Claus (#LoveMrsClaus) has tacitly acknowledged that it is women who shoulder the burden of granting Christmas wishes, whatever the cultural myths might lead us to believe. Put more prosaically, by Fiona Davis of the Women in Retail group, between 85 - 90% of all consumer purchase decisions are made or influenced by women. It is not an understatement to say that we ladies own this sector!

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