Business & Economy
Interview: Waxing lyrical
January 2, 2023
A new product set to revolutionise our reliance on plastic is being quietly developed in a small house garage in a remote County Durham village. Rosie Bath only started experimenting and creating household items using wax cotton – which has been around for more than 500 years – in 2021. She registered her company Cera Cotton in the October of that year and quickly started producing a range of items for the home, using her own refreshing and inspired designs. She picked up the high growth accolade at last June’s Startup Awards North East and, within days of celebrating her 27th birthday, packed her bags in London and returned to the region. And orders for her plastic-free wax cotton items have been flying out ever since. Here, Colin Young meets Rosie to hear how her journey is progressing.
Rosie Bath is never happier than when she’s sitting at her sewing machine in her parents’ garage in Durham.
And it has certainly seen plenty of action over the last few years.
Designing, experimenting and producing new sustainable houseware items using a 500-year-old fabric, Rosie has been busy revolutionising products we’ve so long taken for granted.
She’s working with a better sewing machine now – and on a ‘nice big table’ – far removed from the tiny bedroom in a house she once shared with six others.
This, though, was where the Cera Cotton revolution began.
Thanks to an idea on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster – and the small matter of a major entrepreneurial award – Rosie is now back on familiar territory in the North East, preparing to take on the world and its reliance on plastic.
She says: “My aim is to become the home of wax cotton.
“I want it to be a viable alternative to plastic in household products.
“I want to expand my range, make more products, sell more wholesale and do more pop-ups.
“I had one at Boots, in Eldon Square, recently, and I absolutely loved it.
“You can’t show people how effective it is online, but I have a little watering can with me to show how water resistant it is, and people love it.
“It was great to have that customer interaction.”
Four years ago, after she’d graduated in fashion, design and marketing from Northumbria University, Burnopfield-born Rosie could not have believed she would be on the brink of changing all our consumer needs with a ‘new’ product, which has actually been around for centuries.
She left for London to find work in 2018, and admits she didn’t have much of a plan when she first headed south.
Rosie says: “I knew I wanted to do something creative.
“I interned in fashion, but it was very computer-orientated and I’m very hands-on; I like the sewing and practical element.
“I went to London because I didn’t have a plan.
“My second cousin worked in film and TV, and she suggested I worked on this really tiny production, a short film for a charitable cause.
“The crew was made up of volunteers, I worked on costumes for three days, and fell in love with it.
“I didn’t even know the role existed; coming from the North East, it’s so far away – it’s London, someone else does that job. I went to a comprehensive school in Blaydon, and that’s not what you do.
“I remember coming home and telling my dad my choices for sixth form – more creative rather than maths and science – and his jaw hit the floor.
“It was a real eye-opener. I knew I wanted to work in film.”
After working as a costume maker on the set of the ITV period drama Sanditon, Rosie was advised to take a ScreenSkills course, which opened up the world of big film productions.
If you have seen No Time To Die, Tom And Jerry, Jurassic or Midnight Sky, you will have seen her work.
“It all sounds very glamorous working on a film, and even though it can be an incredibly rewarding career, for the most part, it isn’t really glamorous at all.
“They did have a crew screening at the end of a job I’d worked on, and I took my dad – as my plus one – who absolutely loved it.
“He kept telling everyone he was going to the premiere, but the film had already been released when we went.
“You don’t get to see a lot of the films until years later and, by the time you do, you’ve forgotten what you made.
“But I loved it; it was an amazing experience.
“One minute you’re making something for the present day then, on the next job, you’re making in the style of the 17th century.
“I found that really interesting – you don’t get that from a fashion job.
“Of course, you’re not rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities on set every day, but I wasn’t in it for that.
“It was always about the costume making.”
As much as she was living the dream, though, working as a freelancer on sets across the country, often for weeks at a time, did take its toll on the former St Thomas More School pupil.
She says: “I got to where I wanted to be because I got a costume maker role.
“But I just wanted,” she pauses, “more…”
She adds: “I wanted to understand the process of setting up a company.
“Seeing through an idea from conception to sale is an exciting process, especially when the products have a positive environmental impact.”
Inspiration came on a job when Rosie worked with wax cotton, which is traditionally, and famously, used in Barbour jackets.
Still working in the film industry, while living in her shared house, Rosie used her small bedroom as a base for the fledgling business – and her experiments on bunting, plant holders, washbags and toothbrush carriers.
“When I first started working with wax cotton, I thought, ‘I have this amazing water resistant and plastic-free fabric, what can I do with it?’
“I’d come home from work, stay up until two in the morning, and have all my fabric on one side of the bedroom.
“I then had to start putting things in my bed, because I had no room; I was literally lying next to fabric rolls every night.
“It was hard, but I loved it.
“It is one of the world’s oldest performance fabrics, introduced by the Scottish seafarers 500 years ago, and then companies like Barbour picked it up.
“But it hasn’t really been utilised for anything else; they only ever really made jackets from it, and the odd accessory.
“We are so reliant on plastic.
“It was only invented in 1907, and in the course of human history that isn’t that long, but nearly everything is plastic – something close to 70 per cent of household items have plastic in them.
“We’ve just grown so accustomed to it.
“Obviously, we now know how damaging it is, but I don’t think recycling goes far enough and I don’t think business is doing enough.
“It is time to turn off the tap.
“Most people have a plastic peg bag, and if everyone switched to a wax cotton peg bag, imagine how much plastic that would save.
“It does the same job, it’s water resistant and actually lasts longer.
“I had a camping trip coming up, and wanted to make some bunting, and wax was perfect because cotton gets all mouldy and soggy, and plastic flakes away.
“I realised there were endless opportunities that could be explored.
“You can only do so much as consumers; lots of people are trying, but I heard a comedian once say it’s like turning up to the aftermath of a hurricane with a dustpan and brush and asking, ‘can I do anything to help?’
“Business needs to change, and to start looking at other methods, other ways of packaging, and also looking back as well.
“I’m used to looking back through my costume work and how things used to be made and how people lived their lives.
“I’ve looked back; how did we live before plastic? Wax cotton, it kept people dry.”
Cera is the Latin name for wax.
“I just googled it,” admits Rosie.
“But, like the product, no one was using it, so I registered it immediately.”
Cera Cotton was recorded in October 2021, and Rosie made the decision to return to the North East and move back in with mum Anita, chief executive of the Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust, and dad Mike, a technology transfer manager at Durham University.
Rosie says: “We kicked out my mam’s car, and I moved into the garage.
“They have been really supportive, and I was very lucky to be able to move back home.
“It was a bit strange; a lot of my friends are getting married and having babies, and I had a really good career, which I did enjoy, but I wanted something else.
“I moved back because I knew I would get support from home and from the Northumbria University Graduate Enterprise Scheme, and although there would have probably been more opportunities in terms of the market, I wouldn’t get that in London.
“If you have any sort of academic potential in the North East, people presume you’re going to train to be a doctor or a lawyer, and I think it’s a shame; up here, creative careers are not for you, that’s for privately educated kids down south.
“It is changing. But I knew I had to do something, even if it meant working in London, to come back. I’m really pleased I have.”
Today, when she’s not tapping away at her sewing machine, Rosie can be found on the road to an increasing number of pop-up shops, or lost in thought in the woods.
She carries a trusty A5 notepad with her at all times – for the scribbles on innovations and ideas that only she can understand – and is happiest taking a break from the world of creation – and frustration – by going for a walk, even if her bestie, Teddy the Westie, is no longer around to keep her company.
Rosie says: “He was 16, he was deaf and going blind, but he was happy as Larry.
“He was my little heart-throb, and I’m really grateful we got to spend his last few months together.
“If I ever feel frustrated – which happens a lot – I just go for a walk, probably talk to myself really quietly and try to find a solution.
“The number of times I’ve found a really simple solution just going for a walk is amazing.
“There are lots of product ideas I’m really excited about.
“I’m working with a cycling firm to produce new plastic-free accessories – and products for the younger market as well.
“The pop-up in Eldon Square was a real revelation.
“Young women, in particular, really like the product and the sustainability, which I honestly hadn’t expected, so that is going to be exciting.
“I want to make it easier for people to switch everyday products, which is going to make a massive difference to the environment, and make them attractive too.
“I put a lot of work into the design because you want to make something people want to buy, and are also proud to have in their homes.”