Sisters Charlotte and Victoria Sullivan launched White Rabbit England in 2002, and the company’s range of nostalgic pottery and bone china lamps has now expanded to include nursery bed linen and children’s gifts. Charlotte and Victoria each have two children, and live in the UK and New York respectively.
How did White Rabbit England start? Growing up in the 1970s we shared a pottery toadstool bedroom nightlight. As mothers at home with young children, we remembered this lamp and the idea for recreating its design grew. We drew the design from memory, and Charlotte – who had done ceramics as part of her Art Foundation course – worked with potters on the clay models and illustrations. From those early steps, our first lamps (the pottery mushroom lights) were created. We make as many products as possible in the potteries and all our bone china lamps are manufactured in Stoke.
Did you both have creative backgrounds? Victoria did drama, followed by photography styling, and Charlotte trained as a graphic designer, so yes, we were able to draw on our love of design and flair for creating beautiful things. Once we realized how much retailers, and other parents, loved our lamps, we knew we had a brand we could grow and develop further.
Victoria is based in New York, Charlotte in the UK. How does that design relationship work? As sisters, there is just ten months between us. Being close in age means we’re also close in the way we think, so bouncing new products and ideas off each other is perfect! Our working relationship may be across the Atlantic, but the internet and Facetime means that we can discuss new ideas and designs daily. Charlotte runs the business from the UK, but we have both learned about retail as we’ve gone along.
How did the bone china animal lamps join the range? A friend suggested we create a lamp in the shape of our logo, so our White Rabbit lamp was born. As soon as it had been launched, it won the Best British Made Gift in 2009. We’ve gradually added more animals. Charlotte’s son Henry was “owl mad” and had a collection of every shape and size in his bedroom. We worked with him to create the Henry the Owl lamp, featuring the same ‘footprint’ as the rabbit. Charlie the Dog lamp, named after Victoria’s son, features a shape based on our three rescue dogs.
What inspired your Pony and Hedgehog? Peggy the Pony lamp is based on Charlotte’s two rescue donkeys that graze outside her office window. Herbert the Hedgehog was inspired by a hedgehog from the woodland design on our original toadstool lamp. Last autumn we also launched the Baby Bunny moneybox, a miniature replica of the White Rabbit lamp in bone china, and the perfect christening gift.
What prompts the nostalgic appeal? We’d be rich if we had a pound for every time someone has said: “Oh, that reminds me of the lamp I had when I was little!” We have a very British product, but the lamps have nostalgic appeal that works all over the world. We sell our lamps to Australia, USA and five European countries, and new markets are opening up all the time. It is precisely the British look that appeals to parents and grandparents, and we like to think the lamps are heirloom pieces for the next generation; just as our original toadstool lamp was for us.
What products were favourites from your own childhood? The Bunnykins ceramic plates and bowls from the 1970s, as we used to eat off them every day! Today it’s harder to find great children’s gifts as many are plastic and the characters are ‘on trend’ for shorter periods of time.
Was co-ordinating bedding a natural progression? We launched the White Rabbit Nursery bedding in early 2012 and it has gone down very well. It is now stocked in Harrods Nursery Department. We’ve designed matching blankets, cushions and framed pictures to complement the lamps, as we have discovered that many people like to have matching nursery interiors. There is even a made-to-measure linen rabbit curtain design to match the cot sets. This summer, we have also launched Junior bedding, cushions and blankets and Junior lamps.
What kids’ products were must-haves with your own children? Our lamps – our children hated sleeping in the dark.
What are your favourite children’s books? We love Enid Blyton for her gripping storylines, the Flower Fairy books by Cicely Mary Barker for the mesmerizing illustrations, the iconic, colourful and cute The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and the Nicky and his Forest Friends illustrated by Fritz Baumgarten Nickson; the details in the drawings pull you in.
Tell us about the White Rabbit storybook? Charlotte wrote the white rabbit bedtime storybook Foot Prints in the Snow after her son, Jack, asked if the rabbit could come to life. When you buy the book, it comes with a fluffy white soft toy rabbit; perfect for your child to cuddle up with as you read the story.