Fed up arriving at meetings looking like a hi-vis tennis ball, Antonia Maybury took the leap and set up Water Off a Duck’s Back. Producing British-made, men’s and women’s waterproof jackets with hidden qualities, Antonia came through to our offices for a coffee and a natter.
As I’ve always sewn, I made a coat, and I thought it looked quite good. I knew there was a gap in the market because I hadn’t been able to buy one. I thought to myself, I don’t want to be one of those women in a rocking chair, saying ‘I had that idea’ so I handed my notice in, set up the business and away we went.
I set the business up because back at the beginning of 2010 I used to have a job working in the West End of London. My job included a lot of meetings in Mayfair and they were generally all at board level. The quickest way for me to get to the meetings was to cycle there and at the time there was nothing on the jacket market that was smart. I was wearing my little yellow tennis ball outfit and even worse, as I wear skirts most of the time when I cycle, there was nothing that you could wear that covered you from the waist down. I would have my yellow high vis jacket and a bin bag if it was really raining. You would have to arrive at someone’s office, creep out by the corner, take everything off put your dripping sodden stuff into a carrier bag then into your handbag. The whole thing was just ridiculous.
So I thought, what I want is something that is waterproof, that’s designed for cycling, so it looks smart but you don’t get the cut in your mid arm that you get from all jackets and that’s visible and reflective but that you don’t see that it’s reflective.
Things take time, but actually I’ve found that the bike industry has been really quite welcoming. Two years ago, it was actually a really different market to the one that it is at the moment and there was absolutely nothing like this. There were a lot of bike shops I’d pulled up to, the owner would be covered in oil having just fixed a bike and they’d look at me as I trotted in with my heels on and my nice coat. They’d go, ‘Is that a bike coat?’ and I’d be like ‘yes it is, it’s a different kind.’
Nobody was dismissive, even if they said ‘I don’t understand’, they would be all be very open. They’d sit there, almost quite humbly and say, ‘just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s not needed’. Now, cycling has changed so much that people are starting to understand that normal people are cycling rather than just people who have a hobby.
We’ve had a fantastic reaction from people, women in particular. There are a lot of women who want to cycle and look nice. We’ve had such wonderful positive reactions from people and I think for women in particular, it’s a justification to buy a nice practical item of clothing and they can wear it on their bike.
We are looking to expand the range, at the moment we have 9 different styles and we’ve got a number of accessories that we’re moving into. Everything that we do will be within the same concept of the fact that it will be tailored to cycling but will look perfectly normal. For example, if we do venture down the women’s trouser road, they will look like a normal pair of trousers, but made for cycling.
For women, the most popular style of jacket is the Cassandra, which is a double-breasted trench coat. Our Spring coat, the Pamela which is just off the press, is out and ready to buy, I think that it will probably overtake the Cassandra in terms of popularity because it’s single breasted and a bit younger looking.
We made a very conscious decision when we set the business up. Britain was and still is sadly in a recession, and I actually think it’s a very nice thing to be able to support British industry. Not only do I feel strongly about it, the number’s also work, otherwise as a small company I wouldn’t be able to do it and British manufacturing, you don’t expect it but ‘my’ factory is not just my factory, they also work with huge high street names that you would simply not expect. British manufacturing is alive and kicking.
It was quite scary actually handing your notice in. All of a sudden, you don’t have a job, you don’t have a salary coming in, is my idea actually going to be a business. The doubt creeps in but luckily I’m remarkably confident and sort of bounce through it. I think I’m quite fortunate, a lot of people who design things are not very good at sales and my background is sales, marketing and PR so I’ve got no fear of calling people up and selling myself.