Sara Davies once dreamed of being a teacher but is now a lesson in North-East entrepreneurialism having fashioned a successful career in the crafting sector. She speaks to Business Editor Steven Hugill about her experiences, laughing off gender stereotypes and earning respect the right way

SARA Davies is the very epitome of a local woman done good.

From humble beginnings in her university bedroom, she is now a globally recognisable figure in the crafting world.

Her business, Crafter’s Companion, is growing at a serious pace, with her appearances on national and international TV shopping channels only helping its progress.

From papercraft and haberdashery to knitting and art and colouring goods, the company, based in Newton Aycliffe, suits the needs of enthusiasts both at home and abroad.

Formerly headquartered in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, it employs about 150 staff globally and operates out of Newton Aycliffe’s old Holiways Ford showroom, having transformed the empty site into offices, a café, and a retail outlet.

Further stores, in a Chesterfield-based Dobbies Garden Centre outlet, Evesham’s Valley Shopping Village, and a Boundary Mills store in Colne, near Burnley, reflect its growth domestically.

Across the Atlantic in the US, where the crafting market carries a value of about £30bn, the landscape is similar.

Sales in that adventure are understood to stand at around $17m, having been just $2m three years ago, and Europe, particularly Germany, offers further scope for growth.

Sara speaks excitedly as she lists the successes, so much so that sentences follow each other, bumper to bumper, providing a quick-fire rundown.

Hers is a North-East entrepreneurial success story, a tale of the girl from Coundon who seized an opportunity and changed her life.

Silverware gleams from the copious awards in her trophy cabinet, and her day at Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE will never be forgotten.

But it could have been so different.

She wanted to be a teacher, but, after a conversation with her father, she struck on the idea of launching her own venture and spent a year with an arts and crafts mail-order business to make it happen.

It was hard work, but Sara's mantra has always been that perseverance reaps rewards.

She says: “I started with an envelope maker, people were making all of these lovely cards, but they needed something to send them in.

“So, I went to a joiner's shop and asked them to make me a design for the tool in MDF.

“I touted it around the whole industry and wouldn't take no for an answer.

“It was sheer persistence, I would not stop banging on the door until someone let me in.”

The crafting industry is well-represented by women in terms of the gender balance, but that doesn’t mean Sara wasn’t exposed to some more deep-rooted biases as an entrepreneur.

As a 26-year-old back in 2010, she was nominated for a regional honour, which led to national acclaim. But her success wasn’t shared by everyone.

She says: “I remember going to an Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year awards event.

“I was the only woman from the region for one of their high-profile awards.

“I could tell there were some people in the room who had dismissed me because I was young, and I was a woman.

“Some of the men were a little glazed in their eyes when they were talking to me.

“I never expected to win, but there was one man who did expect to win, and he bought a whole table.

“I remember his face being an absolute picture.”

However, while that encounter highlighted why work is still needed to make sure equality is prevalent across the workplace, Sara isn’t one who seeks special treatment.

It all comes back to working hard.

She adds: “There are people who have pre-conceived ideas that you might not have as much to contribute as a man would.

“I learned I had to work harder to earn respect, but, once I’d got it, I felt like I had more than some men would have in the same situation.

“It will change, bit by bit, but I get frustrated when I see women just complaining about it in the media.

“The only people who are going to change attitudes are us and the women who want respect have to earn it.”