It's only five years old, but already Lucy Locket Ltd is bringing in a seven figure income - much to the surprise of the buyers who said that the fairy dress idea would never catch on. Sonia Roberts traces the UK company's rise to riches.

When Paul Edwick talks of "a fairy tale come true" he means just that. For the fortunes of Lucy Locket Ltd, the company he raised from a standing start to a seven figure income in five years, rest on turning little girls' fantasies into fact. He has created Britain's first range of "fairy" dresses conceived not merely as dressing up kits but as "proper clothing" designed to be displayed on the hanger and sold alongside more conventional party dresses in children's fashion outlets.

"We have even persuaded our toy trade customers, starting with Hamleys of Regent Street, that the right way to show our garments is on the rail," says Paul. "And this is certainly the message I took to the USA during my first major overseas sales tour in late August."

Mermaid dress: A big hit with little girls

Europe falls in love with Lucy
Lucy Locket lines are already selling to selected stores in Germany, the Netherlands and France. "When they first saw the range all the buyers from mainland Europe fell in love with the idea, but said it would never sell. Yet almost without exception, once persuaded to take a trial batch, they have come back for more and most initial contacts are now regular customers," says Paul.

"We conceived our fairy dresses as a line which would appeal primarily to the actual wearers - that is to little girls in the three to eight years age range," he continues. "However we have discovered that the love of 'the little folk' lingers long into the adulthood of most females and that some of the most ardent supporters of the brand are the children's mums, aunties and especially grannies who exorcise their own fantasies through the impulse purchase of dresses which they then pass on to the youngsters in their family.

"Despite adult interest we have no plans to upgrade sizes and start competing in the adult fancy dress market for we have learned that full size fairy dresses are very seldom requested for full size females. They go out either to the gay community or to huge, hairy heterosexual rugby players.

"And neither of those are niche markets with which we wish to be associated - the image we want our garments to evoke is the nostalgic innocence of Edwardian fairy book illustrations," says Paul.

Nostalgia has never been more popular
The nostalgic element is conveyed by the modest hemlines of the layered skirts with their petal-like overskirt designed to dip below the knee. "Initially we worked in poly satins for the bodice and the wings which adorn all our fairy models, but we have now moved on to man-made fibre organza which has better drapability," says Paul.

"Obviously, working in the field of children's clothing all the fabrics we use have to be washable although, because of the sequins which trim most of our garments, we advise hand rather than machine washing.

"On the question of flame retardancy, our brief to all the overseas subcontractors that make up garments for us is that the end result must pass the UK safety regulations imposed on the toy industry - which on almost all counts are more stringent than for clothing. But we would rather be safe than sorry.

"While not compelled to change basic styling these days as often as mainstream children's clothing producers, each season we like to introduce variations on our key themes, which is how our 'fantasy' dress evolved," he continues.

Fantasy fashions
"Unlike the fairy dresses it is a wingless creation. And whereas fairy frocks sell best in pastel shades with 25 per cent of sales in pale pink - closely followed by deeper pinks such as the near cerise in which pop celebrity Paula Yates' youngest daughter, Heavenly Hiraani Tigerlily, was recently pictured in the pages of Hello! magazine - for the fantasy dress we are able to use more of the really strong colour combinations that children themselves seem to like most."

Lucy Locket also produces a "fun party wear" range for boys of which the best-selling number is the pirate outfit comprising trousers, weskit, bandana, waist scarf and eyepatch. This is one of their more expensive productions, retailing at a suggested £30.

"Above this price point you tend to lose the impulse sales which remain the backbone of our type of business despite the emphasis we place on a wear resistance which compares very favourably with conventionally designed children's clothes," says Paul.

"As a result of improved techniques in the cutting room and on the factory floor we have recently been able to bring down the suggested retail prices of our best selling fairy dress lines from the original £24 a garment to just £l6 which has obviously opened up new markets.

"However we still consider ourselves to be operating at the medium to better end of the children's wear market rather than attempting to compete with the grocery superstore chains like Tesco and Asda, both of whom will be strongly into party garments for kids in the run-up to Christmas 2000.

"Our approach is always to see how much detailing we can build into the costume and still keep it commercially viable rather than - as I think is the case with the supermarket suppliers - starting with a design and then whittling away detailing to meet the pressures for ultra keen pricing which stockists in this sector impose on all the manufacturers with whom they deal regularly."

By Sonia Roberts