Frugi founder says 'guilt will stay with me forever' after firm bought out

Lucy and Kurt Jewson at the opening of the new Frugi shop in Helston in 2018, shortly before they announced they were stepping back <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
Lucy and Kurt Jewson at the opening of the new Frugi shop in Helston in 2018, shortly before they announced they were stepping back (Image: Newsquest)

The co-founder of Cornish childrenswear company Frugi has said the “guilt will stay with me forever” over a decision four years ago that has ended with her beloved firm having to be bought out from administration.

Frugi was the success story that many new business owners dream of but few achieve. What quite literally began on a kitchen table in Constantine in 2004 snowballed to become an international company with celebrity customers.

It was therefore with widespread shock that it was announced on Wednesday evening that the company, which subsequently moved its head office and warehouses to Helston, had gone into administration - but had been bought out by the parent company of another Cornish brand, Celtic & Co.

Writing yesterday, co-founder Lucy Jewson, who started the business with husband Kurt, before they sold the majority share to a private equity company in 2018, described it as the end of a “pretty painful chapter” for her.

They had taken the decision to take a step back following Kurt’s battle with prostate cancer, which began in September 2015.

Keen to spend more time together as a family, they handed over the reins.

Lucy wrote: “Kurt and I felt hugely lucky that we’d managed to create a thriving profitable business, doing lots of good in the world.

“We built an epic team, which were like family, and a brand that our customers loved.

“It really did feel like time to ‘bring the grown-ups in’ though. The professionals.

“We felt we had to stop doing everything by the seat of our pants, learning as we went! Plus, after Kurt’s cancer battle we were pretty burned out and desperate to spend some time as a family.”

Falmouth Packet: The Frugi team last year after picking up two 2020 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, delayed due to the pandemic
Falmouth Packet: The Frugi team last year after picking up two 2020 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, delayed due to the pandemic

The Frugi team last year after picking up two 2020 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, delayed due to the pandemic (Image: Frugi)

However, “heartbreakingly” the business had to go into administration this week, despite Lucy returning in a voluntary capacity over the last four months, to try to help turn things around, alongside a specialist.

Unfortunately, Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and other factors all combined to make it impossible to continue in the current set up.

However, alongside the news that auditing firm PwC had been appointed as administrators to Cut4Cloth – the Limited business behind the brand name Frugi – there was also a more positive announcement.

It was revealed that Refined Brands, the parent company of fellow Cornwall-based ethical fashion brand Celtic & Co, had bought the intellectual property and assets of the Frugi brand, for an undisclosed figure.

Industry publication Drapers reported on Thursday that Frugi’s operations and head office team of around 100 would be relocating to Refined Brands’ headquarters in Indian Queens and that website orders would also resume imminently, once stock had been transferred to the new base.

Jeni Bolton, head of design and brand at Frugi, later put out a statement directed to its customers, saying: “Today our wonderful brand fell into administration. We have been lovingly rescued by Refined Brands, the parent company of the fellow Cornwall based ethical brand Celtic & Co.

“We are joining a family of pioneering ethical brands with aligned values and a shared vision for a more sustainable approach to product and business.

“Our mission remains clear, to bring colourful joy and comfort to our treasured customers in a considered and trusted way. Taking care of people and planet with every step.

“As our Frugi family we thank you all for your continued love, support and patience as we work extremely hard to get us back online and navigate settling into our new family home.”

Lucy has also welcomed the news of the owners, saying: “I’m very relieved, and grateful, that another Cornish business, Celtic & Co, whose founders I admire immensely, have swooped in and bought the business, or rather their parent company Refined Brands has.

“They will undoubtedly save as many jobs as possible and will try to get the brand back on track.”

However, on a more sombre note, she added: “There will be casualties, as there always is when a business goes into administration, and that will be hugely painful for many.”

Lucy concluded: “In the meantime, I pay homage to the wonderful team at Frugi. My heart breaks that you’ve had so much to endure.

“I am so sorry we got it wrong four years ago. That guilt will stay with me forever.”