Do you ever feel frustrated that all Mother’s Day cards say Mum instead of Mam? Or annoyed that your flatmates don’t know what you mean when you say “Mek us a brew”? Perhaps you fancy some Scouse but can’t remember the recipe unless it’s stuck to the kitchen wall? Well, Wot Ma Like has the solution.
Founded in November 2009 by a husband and wife team, Wot Ma Like produces cards, mugs, wooden signs, tea towels and a whole lot more in a variety of beloved Northern dialects. Whether you’re a Geordie or a Scouser, hail from Cumbria or Yorkshire, or prefer barms instead of rolls – there’s a product on its website that will raise a chuckle. Wot Ma Like’s expansion is such that its products are now seen the length and breadth of the British Isles.
Northern Soul is a long-term fan of Wot Ma Like’s products, especially the Northern Soul Mate designs, so we talked to the couple about their quirky and thriving business.
Northern Soul: What’s your connection to the North East. Where are you from?
Jo Burrows: We are a husband and wife team Jo and Nick Burrows. I’m from Newcastle, from Byker to be precise, and I use Bykerlass as my design name. Nick is from the Isle of Wight originally. Both of us have a passion for music and I’ve loved Northern Soul from a very young age. One of my first records was the 7” Tainted Love by Gloria Jones.
NS: What did you do work-wise before setting up the business?
Jo: I was a designer, I previously worked for big design brands such as Marks & Spencer, Boots, and designer brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY through my agent. I worked as a designer for a large cruise company and met Nick in New York.
Nick: I joined the Pursers Department of a large cruise at the age of 19 and travelled round the world for 12 years. I became head of customer services for an amalgamation of cruise companies and then took redundancy in Summer 2013 to work with Jo.
NS: Why did you decide to set up Wot Ma Like?
Jo: I designed some Geordie cards for a shop in Tynemouth and they were a huge success. I continued to develop the Geordie brand, before expanding into Liverpool, Manchester, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Nick came into the business as it was growing a very fast rate and we launched Wot Ma Like and started adding more products to each area looking at where brands could be improved. Nick took over the running of the business to enable me to design. I have a good understanding of commercial products, and I still do bits of freelance for big stores.
Nick: It’s Jo’s unique drawing style and constant innovation of the products which keeps the customers interested.
NS: The business is clearly doing well, so how much has it grown since you first launched?
Jo: I used to print the cards on card blanks on my Argos printer in my conservatory at home. We now use a print company which only specialises in printing greeting cards. We have to print in very large quantities, on average 10,000–15,000 cards minimum, so now have a very large warehouse and use a fulfilment company to process all our orders.
NS: How do you decide upon what phrases to use for your products?
Jo: Sometimes phrases are banked in our mind. We hear someone say something or read something on social media, then we find a way of using that phrase. For example in Geordie there is a saying ‘You lucky nowt’ meaning you are really lucky. We couldn’t use it on a Good Luck card as it doesn’t really work as it isn’t wishing someone good luck, so instead we put it on a retirement card which says ‘Retiring?? You lucky nowt!!’ We have friends, stockists and agents in Liverpool, Manchester, Yorkshire and Cumbria to approve dialect and ensure it’s correct when we aren’t sure.
NS: Which dialect range is the most popular seller?
Jo: Geordie is still really popular as it was our first area, closely followed by Yorkshire and Liverpool. There was no-one doing dialect-based design and now there are several ‘interpretations’ of our products. We think our products sell because of the strong design element and the polite non-stereotypical use of dialect. We like to celebrate dialect in a positive way and don’t use whippets and flat caps.
NS: Are you planning to add any more dialects to your selection?
Jo: Our Scottish range has recently been launched. We have several stockists now in Scotland. My grandparents are from Edinburgh and there is a direct link there so it has been a fairly easy range to design.
NS: Are you planning to add any more products (mugs/signs etc) to your range?
Jo: We have just added a Northern Soul Mate mug to the range as this phrase is popular everywhere. Many people have a connection to the music and have a Northern Soul mate so this range sells all over the UK. We’re adding more to our national brand which is non-regional – it’s been more of a personal love affair with horses and dogs, with more country elements and a ceramics range to be added. Our regional brands will continue to grow and evolve and be updated to keep it all fresh as a Greggs’ Stottie (that’s a Geordie flat-bread by the way).