Between the sheets

Christian Rucker turned her fruitless quest for white linen into a mail-order success story. By Imogen Fox

Five and a half years ago Christian Rucker was blessed with a very rare thing - a good idea. Like all the best ideas it was simple and effortless. "My husband and I were staying with his sister. We'd just bought a house and she'd just bought a house," explains Rucker. "The conversation turned to housey things and how we all liked plain white bed linens and towels, but that they were surprisingly very hard to find." A short leap of imagination later, and The White Company - a mail order company specialising in quality white towels and linens for the home - was conceived.

Although there have been rogue flashes of colour in recent catalogues (pretty gingham baby pillowcases and checked wool blankets), most of the bed spreads, blankets, towels and table linens on offer do still adhere to the company's name. With over 120,000 customers nationwide on The White Company's mailing lists, it seems the demand for whites is stronger than ever. While interiors magazines might inform us that hot pink boudoirs are the "big thing", white is to bed linens what black is to clothes - classic and stylish. "It's just soooo versatile," Rucker enthuses. "If you're 22, trendy and living in Portobello Road you can still have plain white sheets, and if you are older and like chintz, you can have beautiful hand-embroidered white linens."

Rucker clearly remains passionate about selling white (the self-stripe linens are her favourites) but she is also insistent on excellence. "The idea was to provide the very best quality at the best possible prices. We have the same suppliers as famous designer brands, but designers charge three times as much as us." Thus, a fantastic quality bed spread from The White Company will set you back around pounds 90, whereas the same quality duvet cover elsewhere might cost over pounds 250.

Softly spoken, with shy smiles and mild wafts of Chanel No.19, Rucker, 30, fits nobody's stereotype of a hard-headed businesswoman. As a youngster she wanted to be a fashion designer ("the next Betty Jackson,") and at 16 she left school to work for wedding dress designer Anneliese Sharpe. It wasn't what Rucker expected, and after a few months "sewing buttons and making coffees" the designer suggested Rucker might prefer working for a magazine.

Rucker agreed and worked as a receptionist at Conde Nast, before getting her big break at Brides and finally ending up as assistant health and beauty editor of Harpers & Queen. She stayed there until 1994 when The White Company was set up. Her experience in magazines proved invaluable for establishing her own company. "At Harpers I did a bit of everything - shooting, writing, editing... and I was always very keen on the art department which came in really handy when I was producing my brochures."

As well as knowing how to set up shoots on borrowed beds, Rucker knew first-hand the importance of good publicity. With no advertising budget, Rucker instead wrote to as many journalists as possible about her new venture. "I was really lucky," she says, "people picked up on it. Lucia van der Post, who was perceived as a shopping editor icon at the time, wrote almost a full page feature in the Financial Times about us. From that we got about 800 enquiries. I knew that without that support it would be very hard."

Rucker also thinks herself lucky to have had the experience of her husband, Nick Wheeler, to fall back on. The owner of mail order shirt company Charles Tyrwhitt, it was he who insisted that Rucker make The White Company mail order. "It meant we could keep our overheads low, and it was a good time for mail order - niche catalogues were starting to get a real hold, the old '28 day delivery' rule went out the window and everyone was delivering within the week."

Today, between 400 and 500 orders are processed daily by an increasing workforce, but Rucker recalls fondly the days when she and her sister used to do everything themselves from an attic room with one computer they couldn't work. "We packed all the orders into the back of my sister's mini metro and took them to the Post Office at the end of each day. We'd be standing in the queue with all these enormous parcels. It was ridiculous!"

Rucker is constantly thinking about ways of developing her company. She was amused to read recently that The White Company was soon to open a shop. "That's in the future though. At the moment I'm really excited about launching a children's range. I realised when I had my own babies how hard it was to find nice bed linen for them without cartoon monsters all over. The company's has been very much in tune with me all along."

The White Company: 0171 385 7988

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

    Nursery Nurse

    £25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

    Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

    £21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

    KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

    £110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape