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Laura Ashley Leadership and CreativityLaura Ashley Leadership and Creativity


Laura Ashley (1925-1985)


Welsh designer, famous for her English Edwardian and Victorian designs for clothes and home furnishings.

She (pictured right) died falling down the stairs at her daughter’s house.


Why was she so creative?


1. Innovation and hard work

Her designs resulted from


a) self-discipline and hard work

(she and her husband, Bernard, worked 16 hour days).

 Laura Ashley Leadership and Creativity

b) new ideas from

  • sensitivity to new fashion trends and future customer requirements (see point 2)
  • photographs in magazines.

Pictured right is one of her popular dresses in the 1970's.


c) creative ability

She always played to her strengths and never designed anything radically new.


d) simplicity

So her motto was “more is less”.


She wanted to create;

  • practical, beautiful clothes for working women with 100% natural fibres.
  • “a brand new version of the past” (reminding people of old Edwardian and Victorian designs and their simple beauty).

 Laura Ashley Leadership and Creativity

2. Customer satisfaction

Her designs appealed to people worldwide, because of their quality and exclusivity at a reasonable price.

She started to print headscarves in 1953, which were hugely successful, helped by Audrey Hepburn wearing a headscarf in the 1953 film, Roman Holiday (pictured right).

Her long, flowing dresses became her trademark and were very popular, particularly once the miniskirt lost popularity at the end of the 1960’s.

Her designs appealed to city dwellers, because of their association with a romanticized, rural idyll.


3. Purpose

Her Christian beliefs gave her moral purpose and a duty to:

  • serve others (particularly her family, customers and employees) Laura Ashley Leadership and Creativity
  • achieve the highest possible standards.
  • achieve her dream of making beautiful things

Her heroine was Florence Nightingale (pictured right), who gave her life to people’s health.


4. Continuous improvement

 She never took her success for granted and was always striving to improve and keep her customers constantly happy.

 Laura Ashley Leadership and Creativity

5. Teamwork

She was greatly helped by her husband, Bernard (pictured right together), who:

  • was an engineer (he made her printing machines).
  • had good marketing and management skills and incredible drive.

Bernard suggested that she should change the business name from Ashley Mountney (her maiden name) to Laura Ashley. He rightly believed that a woman’s name would increase customer appeal.

He also supported the profitable expansion into home furnishings and retailing. The first store opened in London in 1968.

Their marriage was successful, because they were great friends, endlessly fascinated by each other’s ideas.

She even turned down an OBE (an honour from the Queen), because Bernard wasn’t offered one.


6. Relaxation and reflection

Laura Ashley:Laura Ashley Leadership and Creativity

  • loved family life (she had four children, pictured right - copyright Laura Ashley Ltd).
  • had beautiful countryside homes in Wales and France.

Most of her and Bernard’s ideas, plans and design philosophies were formed on long country walks.

She also visited a French convent (unbeknown to Bernard) for quiet contemplation.

She was proud to be Welsh, set up her headquarters in Carno, Montgomeryshire, and her designs were heavily influenced by the beauty and tranquillity of the Welsh countryside.

“Our inspiration is totally with the rural life, as it can be lived”, she said.


7. Dedicated employees

She cared for her employees in her Welsh offices and factories, and they worked very hard for her in return.

They had Friday afternoons off and were allowed time off to attend local events like an agricultural show!

She and Bernard always:

  • put their interests first.
  • treated them like one big family.

They took advice from the Bible about how to treat them fairly (e.g. treat people as you would like to be treated).


8. Determination

She and Bernard started the business from their dining table with only £10 ($15).

Their incredible determination and drive turned it into a globally successful company, despite a flood in 1958 that nearly destroyed its business in Wales.


Key quote on customers

We don’t want to push our ideas on to customers, we simply want to make what they want.


Key quotes on design

More is less (her design motto).

Our inspiration is totally with the rural life, as it can be lived.

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