The city secret that's taking on the world
A WEST Hull company that has been described as "one of Hull's best kept secrets" is championing the merits of British manufacturing.
Mr Mole Blankets in the Avenues area of Hull has been creating personalised fleece baby blankets since 2002.
The company was founded by Hull-born Naomi Whiteley, who developed the idea after making personalised blankets for friends and family.
She said: "At the time I had another company, which made co-ordinated horse and rider wear.
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"I'd been into horseriding when I was younger and used to make my own blankets and clothes. I realised there was a demand for it, so in 1987 I launched Nags Rags.
"The company was growing, then in the 1990s the foot and mouth outbreak hit and business dropped 80 per cent overnight.
"I'd never known anything like it."
The outbreak came around the time of the birth of Naomi's son, when she began making blankets for mothers she had met at her antenatal group.
She said: "I'd made all of the babies in the group blankets with their names on, and the mums would be walking on Bridlington promenade, for example, and people would ask them where they got them from.
"A friend of mine suggested I look at doing it as a business, and when foot and mouth hit I realised it was something I could diversify into."
Mr Mole has been growing ever since and today, around 95 per cent of its products are sent overseas.
Housed in a former chapel, the company boasts a small team of highly skilled seamstresses who design, make, embroider and giftwrap blankets before sending them worldwide.
It also sells a diverse range of baby gifts, as well as blankets for "grown-up" family members, and has corporate contracts with a number of London-based firms.
Naomi said: "We have customers all over, from Singapore and New Zealand and across Europe, however relatively few people in Hull know about us.
"We also now have Monsieur Mole in France, however all of the products are made here in Hull.
"We have a fantastic group of machinists, one of whom – Karen – has been with us almost since day one."
According to Naomi, a key selling point for Mr Mole comes down to the quality of the blankets and the fact they are made in Britain.
"I think it is important," she said. "It makes us stand out, although I don't know what I'd do if I lost my staff as the skills are just not around any more."
Naomi, along with her husband Pete, ran Mr Mole and Nags Rags alongside each other for a while, however a surging demand prompted the couple to sell Nags Rags in order to concentrate on their other venture.
But, always keen to capitalise on an opportunity, the team has now branched out into pet blankets and yacht blankets.
Naomi said: "I came from quite a creative family, and my mum would always have a 'rag bag' from which I used to make all sorts of things.
"I remember when I was younger making animals and selling them in a newsagents on Newland Avenue.
"My dad would look into my bedroom and say, 'one day you'll have a roomful of machinists', but I just laughed.
"Now it's true!"
Visit www.mrmoleblankets .co.uk