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Jo Tutchener Sharp reveals how near-death experience inspired her to launch brand focused on helping women and children
Scamp and Dude was born from Jo's life-changing brain surgery
With celebrity clientele including Robbie Williams, Billie Piper, Vicky McClure, Emma Willis, Charlene White, and Charlotte Hawkins, you may recognise the neon colourways, animal prints and lightning bolt patterns that epitomise womenswear brand, Scamp and Dude.
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But what fans of the company may not know is that founder Jo Tutchener Sharp was inspired to launch her business – which gives back to women, children and her community – after being diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage and undergoing life-changing surgery.
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"It's funny, when people talk about the Pearly Gates, it's so true, you totally do go there," mother-of-two Jo told HELLO!. "I didn't think anything like, 'Oh I never went to Australia. I never went to Brazil.' It was nothing like that. It was much deeper.
"For me, I thought, 'I haven't done enough good. I haven't made a difference.' And I never even knew that was important to me until that moment."
Jo Tutchener Sharp was inspired to launch a company that gives back to women and children
Thus the idea of Scamp and Dude, a nod to her young sons Sonny and Jude, was born. Jo quit her job in PR and threw everything into starting her own business, which donates clothing and toys to vulnerable women and children, encourages staff to follow a four-day working week, and has kindness and charity at its core ethos.
Aljaz Skorjanec and Janette Manrara twin in Scamp and Dude
Jo, thanks for chatting to us in honour of International Women's Day. Your company's origin has an inspiring story behind it which involved you having brain surgery – tell us a little more…
"I used to have my own PR agency but after I'd had my second child, I decided I wanted to start a brand instead. I couldn't keep going in the PR world where you literally never go home, you're working at events every evening and I just thought, 'I'm never going to see my kids.' But exiting yourself from your own business is incredibly difficult, and it was a very, very stressful time.
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"I developed a terrible headache, went to hospital and to cut a long story short, I'd had a brain haemorrhage and they found a lump on my brain. I then had to face the fact that I was going to have brain surgery to remove this lump and it was completely life-changing because I didn't know if I was going to come out of surgery alive, or come out with damage.
Robbie Williams sporting a Scamp and Dude jumper
"It's a pretty terrifying thing to go through. The thought of leaving my kids, who were only one and three at the time, without a mum, was just the worst thing I've ever had to go through. I kept having these thoughts of, 'Have I done everything I wanted to do with my life? If this is the end, am I proud of it?'
"I'd had a brilliant life. I've always been a good person, but it was the thought that I hadn't made a difference, I hadn't helped people, that bothered me. So I made a pact with myself that if I made it through the surgery, my next career would be about giving back.
Superhero Sleep Buddy for charity - Super Bunny, £30
"Thankfully I did come out of surgery, literally high as a kite, partly from the morphine but partly from the fact that I was just so grateful to be alive. And I thought, 'I need to create something that's really going to help people.' I kept worrying about parents and children who had to be separated in hospital because I had to be apart from my kids for ten days which was a really long time. I had one side of my head shaved with 20 staples down my head. I looked like Frankenstein and there was no way I wanted them to see me like that.
"I kept thinking about what I wished had been available to comfort them and I came up with this idea of a superhero toy because kids love superheroes. I thought if I could have given them a cuddly toy that they could have snuggled, then I could have said, 'Look, this superhero is watching over you and going to keep you safe.' And then I thought about putting a photo of myself in a little pocket on the back of the cape, and I could have said, 'Mummy's still here. Mummy's keeping you safe and watching over you.'
Superhero Sleep Buddy for charity - Super Dino, £30
"So that was the very start of an inkling of Scamp and Dude. When I came out of hospital, I decided to start making these toys and for every one sold, donate one to a child whose parent was in hospital.
"As I started looking for manufacturers for these Superhero Sleep Buddies, I decided I wanted to make a clothing range as well because I thought kids need to be filled with superpowers when they're going off to nursery or school and they have to be separated from their parents. Every garment of ours has a neon lightning bolt which kids can press to get superpowers and keep them safe.
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"That was the start of the brand really… It's hard to remember that we launched as a kids' brand because five years on, womenswear is now 80 per cent of it and childrenswear is just a small part."
But charity and giving back have remained at the heart of what you do?
"Over the last five years, the brand has changed so much but the core values and the charity side have never changed. We've donated about 4,000 of the Superhero Sleep Buddies to kids either in hospital themselves, or who have lost a parent. We've donated over 3,000 Super Scarves to women with cancer or to mothers of a child or children with cancer. We have various hospital partners we work with. We donated over £450,000 worth of clothes to NHS staff during the pandemic.
Charity super scarf in pink with leopard print, £38
"You go into Liberty and see these really stylish animal print dresses, jumpers and jackets and you wouldn't know what's really going on behind it. But we're so much more than just a fashion brand. There's a lot more to us."
And supporting women in your own workforce is just as important, too?
"I very much encourage my staff who are parents to work four days a week over the five days, so that they can all do nursery or school pick-ups without the panic or stress I felt when I was working as a parent in PR. That balance is really important to me, therefore it's really important that I allow my team to do the same thing.
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"I don't want any of us to look back in 20 years and think, 'Oh my God, I just did not see my kids when they were growing up because I worked all the time.' I want them to love their job, to feel that they worked hard but also appreciated the time they spent with their kids. I know a lot of people think you have to be sat in an office 12 hours a day to make a business a success, but that's not true and my team are a testament to that."
You're a successful businesswoman and mother-of-two, with a predicted annual turnover of £7million plus for your company. How do you juggle it all?
"When I go and get the kids from school, I massively focus on them rather than try to juggle both, because that's what I found was really not working. The kids were getting angry because I was answering emails. I was answering emails incorrectly. I wasn't focusing. So as soon as I've got them back from school, there are only a couple of hours before they go to bed and I give them that time fully. Then the laptop will come out again in the evening and I can finish off whatever it was I was doing."
Vicky McClure models her Scamp and Dude scarf
Scamp and Dude also has a massive celebrity following. How much does that mean to you, to have that seal of approval?
"Especially in the early days, it gives you a massive boost because when you set up your own brand, it's relentless. The hard work is absolutely relentless and you can feel very, very alone. At the beginning, it was literally only me. And then suddenly when you see Robbie Williams sat there in one of your sweatshirts, it's a seal of approval but it also gives you that lift to keep going. It was exciting, especially for the Take That fan in me from my teenage years!
"Recently we had Stephanie Beatriz (star of Encanto) wear one of our lightning bolt dresses on her birthday, and Vicky McClure wears our clothes – I absolutely love Line of Duty and Trigger Point. It's exciting for the team as well, and it's exciting for our community. Our community and customers are really important to us and they get excited when they see someone famous wearing the same clothing they might have."
Stephanie Beatriz (star of Encanto) wearing one of the brand's lightning bolt dresses
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs out there?
"I would say make sure that you're willing to give up a lot to launch your business and make sure the business is something you are completely dedicated to, and not just an idea where you think, 'That might make me a bit of money.' That won't work. It's not a short-term thing. It has to be something that you are literally obsessed with and will drive you for the next, at least, ten years. You've got to have that passion for it and you've got to be ready fo relentless hard work. You will never switch off.
"And try to keep learning. That's one of my other things is, I'm always learning and always wanting to feed my brain."
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