After a number of years travelling in Asia, Shane was broke and needed to find a way of funding his wanderlust.
He hit on the idea of importing Kashmiri papier-mâché (hand-painted boxes and other stuff, with highly intricate traditional designs) and selling it back in the UK. His first shipment consisted of five wicker basketfuls, which he began to hawk around to gullible retailers in the London area. He also got himself a stall at (then just up-and-coming) Camden Lock Market in London. For 3-4 years the business staggered on, providing just enough income to keep him in the style to which he'd become accustomed (abject poverty). He then had his second great idea - why not work a bit harder, keep proper accounts,
and generally try to make a viable business out of Transomnia.
This plan succeeded so well that by 1985 Shane needed some help at corporate HQ (the spare bedroom).
He turned to his brother Rod, luring him away from a promising career in retail (driving an ice cream van).
Rod brought along a friend, Chris Ayles, and the three of them set about taking the world of giftware by storm.
Shane had started buying craft products from other parts of India in 1983, and in 1985 he turned to Thailand as a new source, followed a couple of years later by Indonesia and the Philippines. The products were generally 'ethnic' and mostly selected,
with occasional tweaks, from items already being made in the areas of production.
The years passed and Transomnia grew steadily, moving in 1987 to its first real premises on the wonderfully named
Mahatma Gandhi Estate in Brixton, South London. The company started to attract attention from some of the larger retailers; 'Ethnic' was becoming mainstream, taking Transomnia with it. In 1992 the company was incorporated as Transomnia Limited, the directors being Shane, Rod, Chris, and Chris's brother Shaun (who's since escaped to Devon and got himself a proper job).
By the early 90's buyers at Trade Fairs had finally stopped saying 'is this your first show?' and Transomnia was becoming an established name in the giftware market. Eventually, however, the mainstream rolled on, and by the mid-90's ethnic giftware was no longer so fashionable. Facing the choice between contracting back into a small niche market (and laying off half the staff) or changing direction, the Directors chose the latter, and recruited a designer to help us - and our producer partners - make the transition.
Today the company employs two designers, who are also closely involved in the buying process. Some products are still traditional, but our main focus these days is on our own in-house designs, ranging from the seriously stylish to the fashionable and fun (see the Products page for more details). However the same traditional craft skills are still well to the fore in their production, allowing us to retain trading links with many producers who have become friends over the years.
We stock a small range of Kashmiri papier-mâché, for example, from the son of Shane's very first supplier back in 1979.
In 2006 Transomnia moved, after 18 happy years on the Mahatma Gandhi Estate, to bigger, better and leafier premises near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. We've continued to grow in our new location, and we plan to carry on doing so, by providing
products and a service which help our customers to succeed along with us.
We now supply well over 1,000 retailers in the UK, ranging from small independent shops to large multiple chains.
Much has changed since those early days; Shane got rid of the beard, Rod washes more often than he used to,
and Chris now has a haircut at least once a year. The product range has also changed fairly dramatically over the last 20 years, and will undoubtedly continue doing so in the future. What hasn’t changed, though, is our enthusiasm for what we do,
and our commitment to providing our customers with great products and a service that's second to none.