Don't call me sexist, says Cath Kidston as she reveals critics accused her of 'celebrating' women's household chores

Camilla Turner
Cath Kidston at her showroom, London - Rex Features

Her cheerful polka dot and floral crockery is a staple across kitchens of middle England. Some call them nostalgic, others call them kitsch.

But the eponymous designer Cath Kidston has revealed that one thing she objects to being called is sexist.

The 59-year-old businesswoman from Hampshire, whose colourful homeware items are now a multi-million pound global empire, has told how when she was trying to establish her brand she “got a lot of stick” from people who accused her of “celebrating” women doing household chores.

She said that far from an attempt to endorse female stereotypes, her first ever product - an ironing board cover with a print on it - was merely a “practical” item to bring some cheer to a dull task.

Speaking at the Oxford Union, she said: “I got a lot of stick with people saying 'are you celebrating women ironing?'. Or men. But they always said women. Are you celebrating ironing? And I said well, actually, if I do my ironing I want it to be more pleasurable.

An official photo of Prince George of Cambridge sitting in a courtyard at Kensington Palace, wearing a Cath Kidston jumper Credit: - Source: AFP

“The reason I designed the ironing board cover was I had a very small flat, and I had a grey ironing board on the back of the door. And I thought actually, why isn't it covered in decoration? So that was my best product."

Kidston set up her first shop - which she later described as a “glorified junk shop” – in 1993 in Holland Park, west London, where she sold second hand furniture, cushion covers and other house hold objects.

Now there are over 50 stores around the country, and around 28 per cent of the entire female UK population own something from Cath Kidston, according to the company’s CEO Kenny Wilson.

Kidston’s designs are popular overseas too, with shops in Hong King, China, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.

She admitted although she tried to have everything made in the UK, this proved difficult, and  within eight years of opening the business she moved production out to Asia.

 A jogger passes by the beach huts at Bournemouth Beach in Dorset, which have been decorated in Cath Kidston prints Credit:  Matt Alexander

"The manufacturing was very difficult, because I tried to get everything made in the UK for a long time,” she said.

“I had so many print mills go broke on me. And if that's your ingredient and the factory closes down, it's really hard moving screens.

“I opened the business in 1993, and I think it was eight years later I had to move the lot to Asia because I couldn't get the stability.

“I could still get certain things made at home, but all those print mills, it was really a dying business, it was really hard to get that done.”

She also revealed that she made a big design for Ikea, but refused to let them put her name to it. "I did a big design early on for Ikea.

They were amazing to work with, the coolest company ever. And they paid me so much money, I couldn't believe,” she said.

“And the poor things, I wouldn't let them use my name. So everyone thought they were ripping me off, because it was like a Cath Kidston looking print, but actually they'd paid me a lot, so they had a really crap deal.”