My cats inspired me to start my own business

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03 February 2021
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The founder of Sophisticated Scratch tells her story of creating these unique scratch posts and how it became her career.

When Di Gallant came across a fallen tree on her daily dog walk, little did she know that giving this tree a ‘second life’ would also create a new path for her.

Di lives in Devon with her husband Mark and has always been an avid cat lover. She has spent her cat-owning life spellbound by the Siamese.

Di says: “I have had five cats in my 50 years so far, all Siamese apart from one. I find Siamese are quite one on one and they do enjoy your undivided attention so I have never had more than two at any given time. Siamese are my favorite breed.I find these cats amazing, almost dog-like in their ways, but each one individual in character.”

She continues: “Our current Siamese, Samuel Scampers, is 14 years old, he is my little helper and you will find him modelling most of my designs. I love him to bits, and, yes, he’s a diva for sure and spoilt rotten.” 

 

"I was fed up with mundane choices of cat furniture"

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purrfect’ scratch post

Di’s business Sophisticated Scratch was born of “pure frustration” of not being able to find a scratching post fit for purpose, but that is also pleasing to look at.

Di explains: “Like many other people, I am quite house proud. I like nice things and have spent quite a lot of money on making our home look nice.

“I was fed up with the mundane choices of cat furniture available that looked tatty in no time at all after purchase. Whenever we had guests, I would find myself hiding the scratcher in the cupboard until they had left because of embarrassment – silly I know. “I would trawl the internet looking worldwide for hours in a search to find something different for my two Siamese we had at the time and everything I found was either repetitive, ugly, not fit for purpose, or just plain boring, so I just gave up in the end.

“Then one day, while walking our Shar Pei Wrinkles, I came across a fallen oak tree the wind had brought down; my initial thoughts were how sad it was that this beautiful, magnificent tree had now ended its life, but then I suddenly thought ‘I could make a cat scratcher’. No one would have one the same and how beautiful would it be to give an end-of-life tree another purpose, and I would also have this unique piece of furniture that no one else had! I rushed home. I couldn’t wait to get started. I was so excited.”

Branching out

Di says: “I was so pleased with my first efforts it took pride of place in the lounge. I actually look back now and cringe at the standard, but it was a good start. I had so many lovely comments on my new masterpiece. 

“People started to ask me to make them scratchers too, so I branched out — excuse the pun — to make cat trees from there, and it just went on and on. I got better and better with the more practice I had. We have bigger premises now, but before Mark built me my first workshop, I made the cat trees in my kitchen and lounge.”

In 2012, while working for the ambulance service as an emergency care assistant, Di was diagnosed with ME and fibromyalgia, and she knew she was going to have to make some career decisions.

Di explains: “It was a bit of a blow; I was in denial at first and stayed working as normal, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry patients forever and cope with the relentless workload this job demanded. I knew I needed to find a new career in the near future, as I was only 42 years old.

“In 2016, it was just too painful to work for the NHS any longer and I had to act on what I was going to do in the next stage of my life. I wanted to make my next work chapter my passion. Something for me. Something I love to do. I have always loved working with tools so I started making cat scratchers and cat trees, and putting them on the internet for sale. I started to collect bits of oak on dog walks so I had something to work with and started creating pieces. Sophisticated Scratch was officially started in 2017.”

 

Di's first handmade cat tree.      Di Gallant

Building a business

Sophisticated Scratch products are all bespoke and handmade by Di using English oak or applewood and natural oils, such as tung oil, beeswax, and linseed. 

Di says: “I only use quality sisal and I like to use a minimum 10mm to 12mm thickness as I found this a main problem when I used to buy scratchers, it just wore out too quickly, putting bits all over the place, making a mess, and I definitely did not want to repeat this for my own creations.

“I support local businesses for my materials where possible. I buy applewood from local orchards clearing end-of-life apple trees and I clear fallen oak from the local farmers. It is then seasoned for a minimum of two years before I can work with it.”

She continues: “I line most of my beds with sheepskin. Cats love sheepskin; it’s extremely relaxing for them and natural sheepskins can help relieve aching muscles.”

Di plans to expand in the future and hopes her husband will become more involved. She says: “I would like Mark to be more a part of the business. He’s starting to step in more to help me; we will grow the business together with love. 

“I will always be the artisan though. I wake up in the morning, and I just can’t wait to get to my workshop. I find it hugely therapeutic for my ME and fibromyalgia.”

Di continues: “I always work with the natural way of the tree, and I never bolt limbs on to make it look different, that’s not what nature intended. I can look at a limb of a tree for ages before I decide what way I am going to work
with it.”

When asked what advice she would give to readers looking to make a passion a career, she says: “If you have a passion for something, then go for it. It’s hard work when you work for yourself, especially if you’re a ‘purr-fectionist’ like me, and have to do everything. I never stop, but I absolutely love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else now.”

For more information on Sophisticated Scratch, visit www.sophisticatedscratch.co.uk