|A £10 investment in wood for a screen, dyes and some linen, along with many trips to libraries to learn everything about fabric printing, kick started their fledgling attempts. At first they produced small squares with geometric patterns, which reflected the limited space in their tiny flat.
Around this time the film Roman Holiday was released, and Audrey Hepburn’s headscarves in the film sparked a trend amongst young girls which the Ashleys picked up on when they went on holiday to Italy in 1952. They realised that they had the means and ability to produce small scarves themselves, and within a short space of time, were selling in great quantities to shops including John Lewis and Heal’s. Alongside the scarves, the couple also produced tea towels and placemats, with designs from Victorian advertisements and playbills often with quirky, humorous images.
Following their early experiments, Ashley Mountney Ltd was born, joining Laura's maiden name with their married name. Soon it was decided that the name of the company should be changed to Laura Ashley to reflect better the products they were making.
The Ashleys moved from London to rural Kent in 1955, allowing more space to print and develop the company. The whole operation was nearly wiped out in 1958, when the river Derwent overflowed and flooded the house, ruining printing equipment, fabrics and dyes. By now the Ashley family had grown to include three of the couple's four children. But times were hard, and every spare penny was plowed back into the business. This was reflected in the number of products now produced under the Laura Ashley name, including oven gloves, aprons and gardening smocks. By 1960, revenue had grown from £2,000 to £8,000.
1961 saw a significant and long-lasting event for the company when the family moved again, this time to Wales, where Laura had been born, and from where she had many happy childhood memories. They initially set up in the vacant social club in Carno, Mongomeryshire, but moved in 1967 to the local railway station, which had been closed two years earlier. Here, the company set its foundations and grew with the development of Bernard Ashley's first flat bed printing machine which could produce 5,000 meters of fabric per week, and the production in 1966 of their first dress produced for social, rather than work, attire.
Laura's love of all things Victorian led to the long silhouette and feminine styles which would become the company's trademark and was right on trend at the end of the 1960s, as fashion switched from the mini to the maxi.