When ford & guy first sprung up in April near the tram stop on Chilwell Road, they were hard to miss. They announced their arrival with a fanfare of flamingo pink, which stands out proudly against the other smartly painted buildings in subtler shades of grey and blue. Beeston’s corridor to down to Barton’s Market is looking pretty sharp these days.
The bright colour palette continues inside that cheerful exterior, with crisp handmade garments hand painted with bold squiggles and swirls. They have certainly grabbed our attention. A quick search on social media treats my eager peepers to a range of simple shapes, each with their own unique detail. A fluted neck, a cheeky frill, all in a kaleidoscope of colours – and yes ladies, I see pockets! But there is more to this new and exciting brand than meets the eye…
So, who are ford & guy?
I caught up with the shop proprietor and entrepreneur at the start of November, and can now reliably inform you that they are Suzie Ford and her husband Dan Guy.
Suzie tells me,
“Without him and his emotional support I wouldn’t have launched the business. So, in a way there are two of us behind the business. It started in my spare room and on Etsy, the markets, we built our website and now in store.”
I ask Suzie about the bold choice of colour for the shop’s exterior. “Life can be so serious. I wanted us to have some fun and brighten up people’s days. The particular shade of pink is colour matched to my specific mix of pink dye that I use for some of my bestselling pieces.” She also reveals that the shop was mistaken for “another nail bar” when she was out painting the front, by passers-by – hence the title of this article.
Suzie just oozes enthusiasm for her brand. It means so much more to her than developing her own original and wearable clothing collection. In one small retail unit she has packed in a range of local makers work that align with her ethos, and her own workspace that can easily be transformed for workshops and events. She also manages an interesting and user-friendly website that showcases all the elements of her business.
She tells me that she has always been a creative being, and that her first passion was for dressmaking, “I loved designing clothes.” She has always used a notebook, which she keeps by her bed to capture ideas before they become lost in a sea of other thoughts. In the earliest photo of herself wearing a garment that she had made; she is just twelve and already proficient at pattern drafting.
Suzie recognises that her ADHD brain is adept at problem solving and making connections, and that can work to her advantage. She is an entirely self-taught dressmaker and is working to improve on her skills constantly.
“There’s a lot that you can learn from books and giving yourself time to practise, fail and try again until you understand the process.”
But owing her own fashion label was not quite her original life plan.
Like most bright young people with creative talents, she chose the academic route to ensure she had qualifications that would open up her options. And her creativity wasn’t going anywhere! It was definitely something that was deeply ingrained and remained in the background. Having completed a PhD in Biology at the University of Oxford, Suzie says she definitely enjoyed her role in post-doctoral research “it was interesting, but it wasn’t everything.” It wasn’t completely fulfilling her.
Changing direction wasn’t too difficult for her though. Her biology degree and then further research in this field, coupled with a genuine interest in mental health, led Suzie to apply her deeper understanding of cause and effect to train as a psychotherapist, which she is still practising two days a week alongside a busy schedule with ford & guy.
Having spent many years enjoying designing and making clothes for herself, and of course getting better at it, Suzie decided to share her designs with others to see what response she would get. In 2019, she started selling on the Etsy selling site and was both surprised and enthused by the instant success, “I had three sales in one evening!” Her best experience with public interest though, was at The Garage Market in Chilwell.
She shares with me how unprepared she was when a stall space became available at the popular Sunday Market. She shows me the sumptuous rust velvet jumper that she “ran up for the event”, instinctively knowing that it would be a good seller. She was right, it was the first item she sold and the feedback she received at that market was the catalyst for finding shop premises in the area.
Suzie also recalls how grateful she was to Fiona Barton, who had informed her of the last-minute cancellation and provided her with a table cloth, along with lots of encouragement, when she arrived feeling a little flustered but keen to be part of the market.
And now she is here in Beeston?
“People have been lovely and welcoming so I feel settled. Don’t get me wrong there are huge ups and downs but I do feel that Beeston has got me.”
The core values of ford & guy are to be “ethical and sustainable”. By tirelessly researching which fabrics she can use that are both ethically produced and are made to last, Suzie now has a stock of quality fabrics in stock to make her clothing and accessories. This same approach is applied to obtaining inks which she uses to paint on her signature squiggles. She also adopts a “no waste” policy, every scrap of fabric is used to make smaller items and she pays a company to take away her thread scraps to be used in loft insulation. Nothing goes into landfill.
“I take a lot of inspiration from artists such as Matisse and Picasso. This influences my hand painting but also the silhouettes of my clothing.
I also think hard about how a piece makes you feel when wearing it- what does it say about you, is it comfortable, is it practical? Can it easily be worn with other pieces. I want my fashion to stand out but also be really wearable. Another factor is sustainability- I limit myself to working only with fabrics that have the top sustainable credentials, such as hemp, Tencel, linen and organic cotton. I hand dye and hand paint most pieces, choosing low-impact dyes and minimise water use.”
As a zero-waste business, all of her remnants are used to make a range of accessories that complement her clothing, such as bags, hair scrunchies and earrings. Looking around, on the shelves I also see a range of reusable home products including good sized face scrubbies. “I have also started working with tiny leather scraps that come out as waste from other businesses- I take the really bright fun pieces and patchwork them together into sandals. These have been doing so well I have a waitlist!”
Her distinctive range of clothing has a unique look and is instantly recognisable on social media as her style. Other designers that she admires are Cecilie Bahnsen and Molly Goddard.
“If you know their designs, you’ll know that they love volume and drama as much as I do. They give me permission to not take it all too seriously and just go with your gut on a design.”
As well as being a beautifully designed retail space, the business seems to be very much a creative hub, with regular workshops on the schedule. As part of the ‘Mindful Maker Collective’ ford & guy support between 30 and 40 other local makers and artists that value sustainability. “We stock a range of products from pottery, jewellery, toiletries, homeware, bags, prints, underwear and cards to terrariums and other clothing. It’s a great place to treat yourself or find carefully curated gifts. The makers that I work with also run workshops in the store, so you can come and learn to make these items yourself. I teach dressmaking and sewing lessons but also pattern drafting, too.”
I was really pleased that I got the opportunity to sit and chat with Suzie, she is super-friendly and generous with her time. I finish our chat by extending a warm Beestonian welcome to her and her business, congratulating her on her incredible achievements (ford & guy were nominated for the Beeston Civic Society Design Awards) and asked her what we can expect to see in 2024.
“Hopefully me as a slightly less stressed version of me as I settle more into a rhythm haha. But also, new collections and collaborations. I’ll be building on my shoe designs and the stock that I house in-store.”