Ben is a second generation member of the Lewis & Irene fabric business that was founded in 2013 by parents, Jackie and Bryan Taphouse. The company is named after two special people, parents and grandparents, Lewis and Irene—who threaded love through three generations of their family.
Lewis & Irene are a family run business who together bring many years of expertise in the textiles, design and luxury brand industry. They are a small, devoted team, made up of extremely passionate individuals, and love nothing more than seeing their designs come to life!
Lewis & Irene
We asked Ben Taphouse – Lewis & Irene’s Sales Director to take part in our interview and here are his responses.
You work in the family business – have you worked anywhere else – if so what did you do?
I actually trained as a Farrier when I left school. I completed a 4 and a half year apprenticeship and then started my own business. I did that for about 8 years before joining the family company.
Why did you go to work at Lewis & Irene Fabrics
Lewis and Irene was growing quite quickly and I had always spoken to my dad about working with him from when I was young. I had been kicked by a horse and messed up my back quite a bit about a year before and everything came together and it seemed the right thing to do.
What is your favourite fabric/collection currently?
My favourite has to be “fairy lights”. The glow in the dark just makes it so special. I even have some lamp shades and duvet covers made from one of the designs.
Do you have an all-time favourite design/fabric/collection?
I have a few all time favourites really. It’s hard to pick one. “Fairy Lights” would be right up there but all the “Bluebell Wood” collections we have done have been lovely too. We have a new winter in Bluebell wood coming in June 2019 too!, and that is fabulous!
You travel extensively – what do you take everywhere with you that you cannot be without?
To be honest I don’t really have anything I cannot be without. When I travel it’s normally all the normal things accompanied by lots of samples of fabric!
What is your secret to success?
If there is a secret to our success I think it’s about being happy and positive and fun and trying to pass that on to the people buying and using our fabric. We all really enjoy what we do, and I think that is important if you are going to do well in business and in life.
What do you like most about your job?
I love being able to travel and also meet lots of people. It’s great as the fabric world is a real community and since I’ve been doing this job, I’ve made lots of friends along the way.
You give talks about the designs and fabrics at Lewis & Irene – can you recall the first talk you do and how did it go?
The first real talk I gave was in Chattanooga in America. To be honest I talk about fabric and our designs all day long so it was just doing that in front of a few more people. Haha! I think it went well but you would have to ask the Chattanooga quilters!
How is Lewis & Irene being received in America?
America is going great, we have recently got our own sales force and warehouse in the USA as well as the distributors. We really want to increase sales in the USA which will enable us to do much more and carry out some of the great ideas we have here for the future. The Americans seem to really love our fabric which is lovely to hear as it’s a bit different to most fabric on sale already over there. The quality and designs are going down really well.
It’s important to us to get the business going well in the USA but not forgetting our main market here in the UK, we see the USA as an opportunity to grow so we can expand and do a wider range of fabrics and other things for both here and over there.
What is the main differences between your clients in the US compared to over here?
The amount on offer over there to the shops is far more. There are a lot of fabric companies in the USA and shops have access to a lot more collections than maybe easily accessible over here. The distance reps have to travel is also very different, one of our rep’s areas over there is bigger then the UK !
Do you sew – if so what have you made
Unfortunately I don’t sew. I can probably manage to sew a button on but that’s as far as it goes. Sally, the lady who designs our quilts for us keeps threatening to teach me though! One day I will have a go.
Working so closely with your family – do you discuss business over dinners – is there a switch off point?
When it’s just Me my Dad and my Sister together we sometimes talk about work and also the rest of the family are always interested to know what is going on, so to a point we do discuss things over dinner but we are all able to switch off from it quite well. As a family we do lots of things together and really enjoy each other’s company so we don’t find it too hard to keep the balance.
What is the main inspiration behind the designs for Lewis & Irene fabrics
Most of our collections have a story behind them. Most of the inspiration comes from things we have done or do as a family and places around us. We all keep really busy if it’s work or for pleasure so we don’t find it too hard to get inspiration. Hannah, my Sister comes up with a lot of the ideas. Even things like Bumbleberries, our blender, has a story behind it as Bumbleberry was the name my sister called Felix, my nephew when she was pregnant with him!
Who would you like to see work with your fabrics?
To be honest I love seeing what everyone has made with our fabrics. It’s great when we have our Lewis and Irene Lounge at Festival of Quilts as we get to meet so many end users and they show us some wonderful things they have made.
Also it’s great to have things sent into our Facebook page too.
Have you achieved your vision for success?
We have certainly been as successful as we could have ever hoped so far, we have only been going just under 5 years so we are all very pleased. We have lots of plans for the future though and hope to grow a lot more yet. We are building our brand and company in America at the moment and with extra turnover coming in from there it should allow us to do much more here in the future.
Do you have any pets?
I have a dog I rescued called Shadow. She is a German Shepard. I called her Shadow as when I first got her she wouldn’t leave my side and followed me like a Shadow. We have had hundreds of pets as a family over the years though we are all very much animal people!
Ben with Shadow.
Do you have any hobbies or interests?
Me and My Dad have a season ticket at our local football team Southampton. So we both follow them and have a nice day out together when they play. I also play a lot of Tennis, but love all racquet sports. I have also been horse riding since I was 3 so have always been very into horses and riding. I haven’t ridden as much over the last couple of years though unfortunately as I don’t have the time.
What time do you start your day – are you an early riser or a night owl?
I don’t really have a set start and finish time, it varies day to day. I’m more of a night owl but have no problem getting up if I need too, but given the choice I would rather have a lay in than an early night.
You must meet lots of people in your work – does anyone stand out and why?
I am very lucky to meet lots of really nice people in this job, there are a few that stand out, some for great reasons and some for not so good…haha…. It probably sounds a bit cheesy but the most inspirational person is my Dad. He has been in the business for about 40 years and knows a lot about it. He has a great way with people and has really taught me a lot.
Ben Taphouse – Lewis & Irene Fabrics – more here: Lewis & Irene
Eclectic Maker are a main stockist for Lewis & Irene and you can also see their range of fabrics on our website: Eclectic Maker