A West Midlands’ company which has made its millions selling a wide range of licensed products from Minecraft T-shirts to Pusheen pyjamas, has been recognised as one of the UK’s fastest-growing private businesses.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Tamworth, Vanilla Underground designs, manufactures and sells premium clothing, gifts and accessories, distributing to 140+ countries around the world.
The business, founded and run by husband-and-wife team Jason and Deniz Yarnell, recently shipped its four millionth product worldwide and is on track for a £20million turnover. It employs more than 50 members of staff, sending out several thousand items every day.
Vanilla Underground’s rapid success over recent years has landed the company recognition in 25th place on a new top 100 list of the UK’s fastest growing private businesses where the founders are still involved.
The inaugural Growth 100, run by FEBE, is a new initiative backed by former BBC Dragons Jenny Campbell and Sarah Willingham and founders of major companies such as Bloom & Wild, Grenade and Charlie Bigham’s.
The Growth 100 aims to celebrate entrepreneurship among businesses which have sales between £3m and £200m, have been trading for at least three years and turned an operating profit in the latest financial year.
For Jason and Deniz, who started by selling T-shirts from their garden shed around 14 years ago, it’s the perfect reminder to take stock of everything they have achieved. And that ‘stock’ includes branded merchandise from favourite movies, TV shows, bands, computer games and toys, including items such as Star Wars mugs, Pusheen pyjamas, Stranger Things T-shirts and Harry Potter doormats.
Deniz said: “We’re absolutely thrilled! This is a huge achievement for us. It’s easy to forget just how far you’ve come so it’s nice to be reminded in this way and recognised for what we’ve achieved. We’d also like to say a big thank you and well done to everyone who has joined us on this crazy journey.”
The Vanilla Underground story
Vanilla Underground started when Jason mused over a coffee whether the couple could make a go of a T-shirt printing business. It was something he had tried with a friend a few years earlier, but ultimately led to a loft full of unused stock the first time around.
The couple started by selling on market stalls and eBay and the loft pile soon got smaller while new stock was spreading around the house and shed.
Business continued to grow until they took on their first business unit – a modest 1200 square feet – and decided to branch out into children’s items as well.
They launched a webstore and an Amazon store – which evolved into the one stop shop for a wide variety of licensed products, including clothing and gifts for all the family.
The first members of staff were taken on and steady growth turned into rapid growth. The company’s 10th anniversary was celebrated with a move to a new warehouse in Lichfield Road Industrial Estate, this time 12,000 square feet. And it wasn’t long before more warehouse space was added to get to 24,000 square feet.
The pandemic was another significant chapter in the Vanilla Underground story. While retail stores were forced to close, manufacturers looking for alternative outlets for their goods came knocking, and new partnerships were formed.
More team members joined the VU family, including a brand partnerships department which secured deals with big brand names. Designers, garment techs and merchandising experts were brought in, giving the company the freedom and ability to create a whole new generation of unique products.
Jason and Deniz are now dreaming of a nine-figure turnover, which they hope will be realised through the trebling of warehouse space and further investments in technology, sustainability and people.
“We’re pushing ourselves even further. There’s always an element of risk, but this all started with us dreaming about creating something, and we’re here, we’re doing it. We want to continue seeing where it takes us,” Jason added.
FEBE Growth 100 ambassador and former BBC Dragon’s Den investor, Jenny Campbell said: “I’m very proud to be part of something that celebrates and supports the very best British entrepreneurs and their companies. FEBE Growth 100 focuses on true entrepreneurialism.
“Founders are unique: their experiences, their vision and their resilience are unlike anything else. So, we want to celebrate these ‘dare to doers’ and shine a light on the incredible accomplishments of some of the finest and fastest-growing companies in the country.”