A Welsh designer and businesswoman, Laura Ashley’s ideas grew from scarves printed by her husband at their kitchen table to a global fashion and textiles brand.
Laura Ashley was born at her grandmother’s house in Station Terrace, Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil in 1925. She was raised as a strict Baptist, attending chapel in Dowlais which she loved, especially the singing, although she could not understand the Welsh language. She was educated at Marshall’s School in Merthyr until she left for school in Croydon in 1932, but was evacuated back to Wales during the War, attending Aberdare Secretarial College.
Laura married engineer Bernard Ashley while working for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, where she became interested in quilt making. Taking up the craft she had learned from her grandmother, she began making headscarves, napkins, table mats and tea-towels which Bernard printed for her. During the 1950s, her Victorian-style designs were taken up by John Lewis and her business began to expand.
In 1961, Laura was drawn back to Wales, where she felt a strong connection to the past. Her dresses drew inspiration from simple designs once made by housewives at home. In Machynlleth, the couple opened their first shop, later moving to Carno, Powys. They established several factories in Mid Wales. Business boomed, and by 1981 they had over 5,000 outlets throughout the world, and had expanded into home furnishings.
In 1985, on her 60th birthday, Laura fell down the stairs at her daughter's home and died later of a brain haemorrhage. She is buried in Carno. Bernard, knighted in 1987, continued to expand the company which was floated on the stock exchange - and oversubscribed 34 times! Sir Bernard retained strong links with Wales, opening Llangoed Hall hotel, near Brecon, and launching traditional fabrics company Elanbach in 2000. The family are actively involved in running the charitable Ashley Family Foundation which helps individuals realise their potential.