Friday 25 November 2016

Deaf Girly visits John Lewis Haberdashery

Two weeks ago, after reading a news article in The Telegraph which said that John Lewis Haberdashery would be closing, I did something I've never done before – I set up a petition. A petition appealing to anyone who had ever bought a button to sign and show their love for John Lewis Haberdashery department.

I'm sat here in a cafe in central London looking at that petition and marvelling at the 5,562 of you who signed it, many in the first day, many in the first hours before Peter Cross, Director of Communications & Brand Experience at John Lewis got in touch to reassure me that, despite the news stories and rumour, John Lewis Haberdashery was safe.

One of the things Peter also did was invite me to visit John Lewis's flagship haberdashery department on Oxford Street and talk with the haberdashery buyer Ian and Emma from his comms team. And of course I jumped at the chance to meet the person who is in charge of John Lewis's button selection – amongst other things.

Here's what I wanted to talk about:
  1. Buttons and trimmings
  2. Haberdashery department development
  3. Customer interaction
  4. What makes the haberdashery buyer tick

And don't worry, everything I found out and was reassured about, I will go back and check on in 12 months.

But it really wasn't just about me. It was about the 5,000-plus people who signed the petition and many of you were still worried. So I asked you to get in touch and let me know what you wanted me to ask – my email account went mental.

What you guys wanted…

Many of you were worried about the fabric selection being scaled down and the increase in 'kits' rather than individual things you could buy separately. Trimmings came up a lot – you wanted trimmings available off the roll rather than pre-cut, and ribbons fell into that category, too. 

Others asked if John Lewis could showcase and celebrate British suppliers of wool, scissors, patterns and other such things. Those outside of London also pointed out that some of the kits and wool felt very 'London priced' and what you really wanted was affordable, good quality products that you knew would do the job. You felt that starter kits and one-stop projects were taking away your shelf space.

And it wasn't just requests. I read comment after comment of people praising the knowledge of John Lewis staff in the haberdashery department and expressing a wish that these kind of people remain at the heart of this department.

In addition to the staff, you wanted classes, tutorials, workshops and places within the department where you could share and learn. You wanted haberdashery to stand proud in store, not be tucked upstairs with children's things or out the way in sports and leisure. If you had your way, make-up and beauty would be quietly moved to get haberdashery back on the ground floor. There was also many suggestions of putting it near home furnishings.

So, armed with all this, I went to visit John Lewis Haberdashery on Oxford Street. It is tucked away upstairs on the fourth floor past the kids's clothing, but it is there. And I was immediately greeted by 'The Makery Table' and two women knitting and having a chat with each other. 

I met with Emma and Ian, who has been a buyer at John Lewis Haberdashery for six months and there's no getting away from the fact that he is passionate about John Lewis Haberdashery.

So what did I find out?

Firstly, and this was in answer to my direct question and two more slightly differently worded questions, John Lewis is NOT and will not being getting rid of its haberdashery department. Nor is it scaling back on the size of them.

According to Ian, 16 John Lewis Haberdashery departments now have places where people can meet and make. In the Leeds store, there is a community room which can be used for that purpose.

On the products, Ian told me the following:

  • FABRIC There are 1,200 different fabrics available at John Lewis Oxford Street. Other John Lewis's have on average 900 different fabrics. 
  • WOOL When it comes to wool, John Lewis is very UK focused, working with British suppliers and ensuring the Wool mark is on their products. They are offering pattern books and pattern folders and have begun to re-catalogue these according to clothing, home, kids and hobbies. I had a flick through and they look good. If you don't have them at your John Lewis, let them know that this is something you want.
  • KITS Yes there are kits – quite a lot of kits actually – and I told Ian that this was not something you were thrilled about. Ian explained that in an Etsy and Pinterest-driven world, some customers are looking to copy what they find online and John Lewis is working with those Etsy people to bring their work in store. Does it take shelf space away from more traditional items? Sadly right now it does. But I hope that Ian meant it when he said that they are always looking at what people are buying and responding to that. 
  • BUTTONS It's good news for buttons – Ian and his team are in the process of re-working the button department, which means that 2017 will see a refresh and revival of the wonder that is those little plastic tubes of buttons of all shapes, colours and sizes. I personally can't wait for that.
  • TRIMMINGS Trimmings also are getting a refresh – 100 extra trimmings are hitting the shelves on cut-to-order rolls and I was assured that this was not just a 'London thing'.
  • EVENTS These are having a comeback, which is good news. Ian and his team are looking at how they can get experts in to run workshops and classes across the country, not just in London. They are also looking at making sure that your experience of sewing machine buying doesn't stop as you walk out the door with your shiny machine and two-year guarantee. John Lewis wants you to make with them, in store, and it wants established talented crafters, knitters, sewers and creative types to inspire a new generation of people.
As Ian and I were finishing up our chat, I got to meet Sylv – she has worked at John Lewis in the haberdashery department for 47 years. I watched her afterwards moving around the shop floor, chatting to people, picking things out and I realised that it's people like her that matter more than ever.

Ian asked me to send him your comments, which I am going to do (without names or emails attached as many of you requested this) – collated and laid out so he can browse them and see what else made more than 5,000 of you speak up. 

I know I am a bit of an optimist, but really do hope that Ian, and the peeps at John Lewis, will listen and that haberdashery remains safe and even better, grows. They told me that they want to make haberdashery more relevant. And relevant is about giving you what you want. So go in to your local store and let them know what you want, and what's missing. 

You know I did that in my local Sainsbury's once as I really wanted them to stock something specific. I asked in store every week whether they had it, and eventually they did. And it's still there and I still buy it.

But if Sainsbury's ever stops stocking it, I will speak up again, and that's what I think must be done with John Lewis. Keep visiting your haberdashery department, keep an eye on it, spend money in it and let's make sure that John Lewis never ever thinks about closing it, because it quite simply makes too much money and is too loved.

And as I said, I will be going back to John Lewis and checking that everything I was told would happen, is happening.

Finally though, I wanted to say big thanks to all of you who got in touch, tweeted and supported me in my petition – it worked, John Lewis noticed us and even though the closing of the haberdashery departments turned out not to be true, it did so much to reaffirm the importance of haberdashery in the 21st century.

DG x

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Deaf Girly & the John Lewis petition update

So yesterday was a bit of a weird day – but weird in a good way.

On Monday night, when I set up the 'Save John Lewis Haberdashery please...' petition, I had no idea that it would gain nearly 5,000 signatures.

Or that I would receive an email of reassurance from John Lewis that haberdashery was safe – and more importantly not being downgraded.

Nor did I have any inkling at how brilliant the comments would be that so many petition signers chose to leave, reminiscing about their loyalty to the buttons and bobbins floor and how important it is that John Lewis never, ever get rid of it. Especially not in favour of a bikini wax salon.

The power of the internet – particularly Twitter – never ceases to amaze me. While there are plenty of negatives surrounding social media, I feel very lucky to have such a lovely bunch of followers and follow such a lovely bunch of people. Every day someone makes me laugh, or cheers me up, or tells me something I didn't know – not just about deafness-related things but about life in general.

What's more, my little petition even made the BBC news story about John Lewis not downgrading haberdashery!

And today, when I woke up to a Twitter community in despair at the news from America, I went back to the petition and re-read the comments left yesterday and today – despite me changing the title stating that John Lewis Haberdashery is safe – and cheered myself up. Here are just a few of the amazing comments...

To paste them all here would take up the internet – there are literally hundreds. And many of you had a sense of humour about the bikini waxes.

I hope that I am going to meet with the peeps from John Lewis soon and chat to them about the future of haberdashery at John Lewis and get a tour of the department. I can't wait to do this. I can't wait to tell the staff about the comments on the petition – about how loved and valued they are and about how genuinely upset people were when they thought it was true.

But in the meantime, thank you lovely people for getting behind such a great cause and showing that somethings really should be around forever.

Now, I hear someone's started a petition about Toblerone... shall we all head over there and sign that?

Happy Wednesday peeps


Tuesday 8 November 2016

Deaf Girly's John Lewis Haberdashery update

Ok, so my Twitter followers will know that yesterday I set up a petition to save John Lewis Haberdashery departments after news articles appeared on The Telegraph and The Pool

And here's why I did it! 

When I was four years old, my grandmother made me a party dress. It was white, with puffed sleeves and the prettiest pink floral smocking across the front. I wore that party dress to every party and attempted to wear it to a good many non-parties. I loved it. I still have it.

Since my first memories were made, sewing, craft and creating things have been an integral part of my life.

My ma, like my grandmother was, is an amazing seamstress. She made my school uniform when I first went as I was too small for the regulation one, and then continued to make my school uniform because hers was quite frankly better quality and better fitting. It was so close to the real thing, no one noticed, but it had clever hems to let down and all sorts of other things.

I used to get home from school and she'd have a craft project ready - from cushions to cross stitch, soft toy making to t-shirt printing, we did it all, and it was amazing.

And at school, where I struggled to hear traditional subjects where teachers stood at the front of the class and recited facts, I found that in textiles, I could still excel.

So that's why, when I read that John Lewis is downsizing, doing away with, getting rid of its Haberdashery departments in favour of prosecco bars and bikini waxes, I set up a petition to let the company know how much its Haberdashery department is loved and valued. And this is coming from someone who loves prosecco.

And at time of writing, nearly 1,000 of you have let me know you feel the same way.
John Lewis was the place I headed to one Christmas to buy red and green felt, glitter fabric paint and ribbon with which I created hand-made personalized little stockings for all my friends - many of whom still hang them on their trees every year.

It was the place I bought elastic and cotton to help make hair scrunchies with my cousins when the 1990s started becoming fashionable again.

I headed there to buy a denim patch when I went through the knees of my favourite jeans - and I really don't have the kind of knees that should be poking out of jeans.

And when London Cousin 1 declared a proper interest in sewing - it was to John Lewis I sent her to buy her first machine. And she excelled from the moment she got going.

As a deaf person, I have a lot of solitary hobbies. I find them easier, more enjoyable than group events or team sports where I struggle to hear. Craft, making things, creating and designing - however badly as I'm really not that good at it - is something that a great Haberdashery department like John Lewis allows me to do.

So imagine my happiness when I received the following from Peter Cross at John Lewis this morning after my petition had received more than 2,200 signatures:

In the above, Peter Cross confirmed that John Lewis haberdashery departments would not be downgraded or shut... he said some very nice things about haberdashery in fact.

So that's great news! Head to John Lewis this weekend, buy your craft supplies safe in the knowledge that they are here to stay...

Good work peeps and thanks for all your support!


DeafGirly: How I feel about being deaf at work

It's been a whole year since I posted a blog on here. Life's been happening. And I guess I am no longer 'deaf in the city and ha...