`I looked all over, but there was nothing'

John Pease, 48, started his company, Stuffed Shirt, because he was growing tired of getting off planes and finding rumpled shirts in his baggage. In two years, the company has sold 70,000 cases.

One of the first things you learn when you travel extensively is not to check your luggage. You don't want to lose it, and you don't want to wait around for it to come off the baggage carousel. For when you're travelling on a short-haul, waiting half an hour is a long time - and then inevitably you find all the taxis have gone.

I used to travel extensively when I was with Schlumberger, the world's biggest oil services company. I spent at least two weeks a month flying to different cities. I used to try to pack all my papers and clothes in a single bag.

The trouble was my shirt would get wrinkled. I wanted a shirt case the size of the Economist, but maybe two or three inches high, that would also hold socks, underpants, ties and cufflinks.

I looked all over for a compact case that would solve the problem but there was nothing on the market.

I must have thought of the idea for Stuffed Shirt in 1987, but I didn't do anything about it for quite a while. Over the next few years I moved from London to Nigeria and then to Milan. I had been with Schlumberger ever since I left university with an electrical engin- eering degree 20 years earlier.

But in 1993, I left to take a job with Agip, an Italian oil company. It took a long time for the contract to come through from them and while I was waiting I started thinking about going into business for myself.

I had several ideas, including doing something in the oil business but that would have had a fairly small market. We had moved back to England, to Sedbergh in Cumbria, to be close to our sons' school. So while I was waiting for Agip to get the paperwork in order, I started to look around the country to see if anyone was making the kind of case I was thinking of. There still wasn't anything out there.

It took me about a week to complete the design. The core element is a polypropylene shirt frame with a series of partial hinges in the middle. It allows the shirt to be folded easily around it and when doubled over at the hinge, is ready to pack into its covering case, which holds the shirt on the frame and prevents it becoming crushed. It's about the size of an A4 sheet of paper and six centimetres deep. My wife Rose sewed the prototype, cut from thin polyester, on the kitchen table.

The first thing I did with the prototype was to take it to a patent agent. I also registered the trade mark and set up a company through my accountant for pounds 1,200 to pounds 1,300. You can do it more cheaply, but I didn't want to go into business and find out later that I'd missed an essential point.

Thinking up the name took almost as long as making the prototype. The suggestions came and went with alarming ease. Most were functional, like Executive Traveller but when someone described a character they had met as a stuffed shirt I knew immediately that the name would work for our product. It led naturally to tongue-in-cheek slogans like "You don't have to be one to need one".

I took the prototype to Harrods, Thomas Pink and other retailers. Harrods was the first one to place an order. I had found a manufacturer in Walsall, which had said it could make them for me. Our first order was delivered to Harrods in March 1994, a year after starting. With no publicity, it sold slowly and after two months Harrods still had half its initial stock. But the day after the product was mentioned in a piece in the Evening Standard, which called it the "snappiest invention since the suitcase", it was sold out. The next year we were named Gift of the Year at the International Spring Fair, which also help-ed a great deal.

The company that I initially asked to make the cases could only turn out 70 a week. But the first Christmas several orders were delayed, and deliveries became difficult. It was never so bad that we lost customers, but it was our biggest worry. Now we get them made by two companies in China, one in Egypt and we are looking at Portugal and Britain again. The new manufacturers have cut the retail price from pounds 70 to pounds 50 and shortened the turnaround time.

Britain is a fairly small market for something like this, so I wanted to get the product on sale around the world as quickly as possible. Patenting the idea was fine, but it's better to be first on the market than to go to court to chase someone who has copied your idea. There is one company now producing a product similar to ours, although it doesn't have the internal frame. We're negotiating to try to get this firm to buy our design rather than taking legal action, although that remains an option.

I've been fortunate that two former colleagues from Schlumberger saw the potential and agreed to join me and my wife as company directors. Between us, we've lived in about 25 countries, so we have lots of international experience.

It takes most companies years to get into the United States but we managed to set up there in four or five months. We use distributors in different countries, and some of them have worked out very well. Others have died on the vine, so to speak. We've had to drop a couple and replace them with people prepared to do more with the idea.

Starting the business cost me about pounds 100,000 in the first year, and my partners and I have put in another pounds 300,000 since. There are a lot of things we can do with this concept. If it were made out of cardboard, the frame could be used by shirt manufacturers, for example.

If I had one piece of advice for other people thinking of becoming entrepreneurs it would be to have a clear idea of what you intend to do, and to have a clear understanding of your market. That's been the secret of our success.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map