Pig Farmer

Indomitable Tracy Mackness started “farm to fork” The Giggly Pig  Company four years ago. She rears her pigs on leased acres in Essex and hand produces their bacon, sausages and meat, selling most of it herself through farmers’ markets and hog roasts. She lives on-site in a mobile home with her boyfriend and three Jack Russels


Tracy is the sort of woman who throws herself at life, she is warm and tough.   She is endearingly upfront about the mess she has made of things in the past

“I am no angel, I always liked money,  I got champagne tastes on a lemonade income. My dad was in fruit and veg, we had a farm and horses , my brother and I didn’t have much education but we worked for him and I aways had what I wanted. Then when I was 14 he went to prison and my mum left him, he met another woman and sold everything. I am not the type who can work for someone else, so I had no job, loads of failed relationships, divorced twice and had mental breakdowns and made two suicide attempts I ended up in prison.”

Tracy spent three months on remand in High Point. She didn’t expect to go to prison but her fellow accused  arranged it so that she took the brunt so she went down for ten years for conspiracy to handle cannabis with a street value of £4 million pounds. Her boyfriend left her, she suffered huge weight loss and mental illness. “I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up” Miraculously prison was good for Tracy, she was a trusted prisoner  and picked up on her missing education, doing 52 courses. After three and a half years she was moved to an open prison and got involved in the prison pig farm and learnt everything she could about the business  which sold its sausages in the local market. That was the model for The  Giggly Pig Company.

"Failure is the Mulch of Success"

The quote is from the founder of  The Big Issue John Bird and for Tracy that was how it worked. Prison gave her the chance to start again, it literally taught her the skills she needed for a new life. In fact it did it twice, originally she qualified as a gym instructor, then fell for the pigs and the idea of her own pig farm. It gave her training and hands on experience, she provided the hardiness and determination.

When she came out in 2007 she was lent an acre of land; bought 30 saddleback pigs which she had bred in the prison farm and rented space in the local butcher’s shop.

In the same year she won The Barclays Trading Places Award which gave her £5000 in cash and another £2000 of  Thomson Directories advertising. It also attracted some pretty naf headlines like “Pig Woman of Alcatraz” from The Sun and “Prison Saved My Bacon” from The Meat Trade Journal.

Everybody likes a Rags to Riches story, so Tracy’s past worked for her and her what -you- see- is- what -you- get quality works brilliantly as a sales pitch. It might be a problem if she was selling diamond necklaces but for sausages at the farmers’ market, its magic dust.

Harsh Reality

“People imagine I’m some Pig Baron but I live on the farm in a rabbit hutch of a mobile home. I need to be on site because  there are dramas everyday. If I want a bath I have to go round to my mum’s, it takes real bravery in the cold to take a shower, sometimes you can’t even do that ,as the cess pit is full. Even if I cook a roast dinner it takes twice as long on the caravan cooker.

I spend my whole life being cold, we spent £100 a week on bottled gas this winter and we were still cold. I’ve done a day’s work before I even get to work and every thing is cold: cold farm: cold van: cold market  then when we get back we have to unload the vans and feed the pigs. On market days we start at 4am and finish at 10pm. Some days I could cry I am so tired”


On the face of it Tracy has done extraordinarily well. She has constantly expanded. She now has her own leased land, 600 pigs in good newly built accommodation. She has a fleet of vans and does about twenty farmer’s markets a week and now leases the entire butcher’s shop in Romford.  She has  twelve staff  and all that was achieved in the space of four years.

She expanded to make the figures work . For example she found she had to sell hot food at the farmers’ markets alongside the packed meat so that she took enough to cover the costs, but that means she needs two staff, one to handle the cooked and one to handle the raw meat.

Then she needs vans to get the produce and staff to the markets which are not close enough together to make drop offs workable so she has a monthly £800 van insurance bill  and tries to kill two vans and replace them with newer ones each year.

Then, this year, the outdoor pens were so wet that she needed extra shedding, she built to last and that was £15,000 out of the kitty.

Feed costs have rocketed, so in order to get the cost down she invested in  a feed silo so she could buy it unbagged at a better rate.

The Dangers of Problem Solving

Tracy is a problem solver and she is monkey baring her way to a better business. She sees the problem, she pushes to the solution. But the solution always takes time and money.

When I visited her, her boyfriend was off to Warwickshire to pick up a strong box that Tracy had bought on Ebay. The strong box was needed because fire extinguishers, sat navs and safety logs were going awol and Tracy saw that if she numbered them and formally issued them and took them back in after events she could sort the problem. Makes perfect sense, but it was a worker off the farm for most of the day and more money outlaid albeit at a better cost than buying new.

What ever the problem she unstoppably drives to the solution. She spends her days firefighting  the problems. She is not choosing her battles she just fights what comes up, effectively and with loads of common sense and ingenuity.

She even takes on her workers’ problems. She can see them going wrong and can’t stop herself getting them sorted, on the basis that if you have a personal crisis it stops you from working effectively. But this is energy and time she can ill afford but she can’t stop herself. She has had rough times herself, sees she can help, so does.

The trouble is that this spirit of attack means you are always reacting, rather than being proactive. The money comes in and has to rush out on the next problem. There is not enough  stopping and looking round and saying this is my priority. Choosing your battles,  and making some things wait even though the solution is sitting there in your mind.

Risking Your Main Asset

While Tracy goes full tilt she misses the blindingly obvious. The business has one key asset which she is shamelessly abusing . It is an asset which, if it cracks, could effectively kill the business and that’s herself.

She is living in punishing conditions not helped by the activities of her beloved Jack Russells , Sausage, Mash and Gravy who have a fantastic time whopping it up in the open plan mobile home.  She is working every hour of the day mostly in  the cold and wet. When I met her she told me they had just endured the worst five weeks so far , cold wet weekends so takings down, with a £1000 bill for the re-modeling of her website and the taxman wanting his £3200 not to mention the money for the strong box.

She had a catalogue of mobile homes, there was one circled that she really wanted, but pushed it away as not to do now. I think I managed to persuade her that it was a crucial investment that she could not put off. She promised she would drive down and see it with her partner. I  hope she does. I can only show you a picture taken when we talked about it. Look at her face, she is beginning to believe that her life is going to be better

It is a really crucial bit of the jigsaw if you are going to succeed in a handmade business, you have to look after its main asset. It’s too easy to sacrifice all to its success and knock yourself on the head, so there is no longer a business.

Look up at the Horizon

There are goals and there are dreams Tracey has dreams of a villa in Spain, of being able to travel, with her brother running the business day-to-day. Her instinct is to always “keep it close, I don’t trust many people”

Her goals are rather more changeable, she thinks she sees an opportunity and charges for it and sometimes finds its not going to work that way, and brings in new directions.

She is not a toe in the water woman, more of a tombstoner.  She races ahead with infectious energy, the overall direction is very positive, she has achieved an enormous amount in four short un capitalised years, but she needs to slow as her business grows, as there is more at stake.

Fairy Tale Pigs

Squeaky Clean

Faintly Amused Duo

How Could You?

The Giggly Pigs are very well looked after, they are well fed on the best food and treats and have fresh dry straw at night,  space and company and don’t want for anything – but when they are a year old they are for the chop. If you leave it any later the testerone  changes the taste of the pork.

That has to be the hard bit. So exactly three months three weeks and three days in the sow and out they pop. One year’s life and then its sausages.

“The first time, I went to the abattoir with them, it was so quick, so humane, they really didn’t know about it.  Its only three miles down the road and the movement settles them.

In the last two years since my miscarriage I don’t load them up, as I feel differently about it. But the difficult ones I simply can’t wait to get rid of, you need real man force to get them  on the trailer”

Hard Graft

Monday to Wednesday Tracy works 8am to 8pm, on market days Thursday to Sunday she works 4am to 10pm.

— Works  108 hours a week — Pays herself £400 a week—

 Giggly Pig website

Knitwear designer

Polish knit wear designer  Gosia Dzik-Holden lives with her English husband and three young children in an East London terrace. She is the creator of Stitchville which offers knitting teaching; knitwear designs; natural yarn  and knitting  holidays.

Getting Going

Gosia has fought hard to be where she is now. She started freelancing when her youngest of her three children was one.

Having kids freed something up in my creativity. My parents had not let me go to art school but I realised that it was a really important part of my life and it was something I really was not prepared to compromise on, it would take sometime but I was sure I could find a way to do it.

Growing Stitchville happened at an incredibly slow pace. I would always find at least an hour to work on my designs each day but I felt that it wasn’t moving. I would realise that I had been working on a sweater for two months and it still wasn’t  finished, but however slow it felt, I concentrated, kept going and held my focus.

I am lucky that my husband is really good at making money so I didn’t have worry about the family going without while I found my way.

I hit some dead ends, for example I contributed designs to a series of knitting books but I came to realise it was an appalling  financial deal as you don’t have any rights to your pattern and the publishers are free to reuse and  resell it. I was paid £300 for the first two projects , then £250 a project for the next four. I learned to be economic with what I produced but it takes four solid days  writing a pattern and you can’t be interrupted as it needs complete concentration.

Having learnt the hard way Gosia is now writing a book of her own on seamless knitting which she will publish and market herself.


Style Guru,

Gosia is sure of her taste  is very particular.  She insists on natural fibres, hating anything fuzzy or sparkly, acrylics, harsh colours or one-dimensional blacks.  “If you start with the right fibres you are half way to making a good garment”

She makes real money from her on-line yarn boutique and is in the process of upgrading her site. Begun as a way of selling on her own surplus yarns she now buys specially and makes her own distinctive notes on each yarn . Last year she made £6000 from the yarn sales.

When it comes to clothes she is a demanding shopper

“It has to be impeccably made and if there is one detail wrong then it kills it for me  I am not interested in fashion trends I want to make something personal and timeless, clothes should enhance your experience and make you feel great about yourself.”

Remarkably sure of her intuition she says she often foresees trends. Her certainty is a huge asset as it makes her the sort of person people gravitate to.  Most people are unsure of their taste and their confidence is boosted by Gosia who knows exactly what she likes and why. Her students stay with her for a long time, probably because they are stimulated by her gentle company, her way of examining things and her positive drive. She has the imagination to understand their knowledge gaps,  the bit the pattern writer assumed they knew and they didn’t, the bit between the lines that the learner needs explaining.

Her teaching is done either on a Saturday in her husband’s company’s meeting room in Islington  for which she charges £20 an hour or during a home visit for which she charges £20 an hour with a £10 travel fee.

An extension of her teaching is her newly established  Stitchville holidays which take place in Landmark Trust venues the first holiday ever is at the end of  January in a remote Scottish castle. This is fully booked with one last-minute cancellation. This first holiday is already self funding making a modest profit which will be rolled over into the next venue, another castle booking just outside Edinburgh in November

Getting It Right

A Single Identity The creation of the single Stitchville identity that can over arch Gosia’s various projects makes sense, she is the sort of person who will always be developing a lot of different strands but all of them can be fed from the same customer base.

Clear Focus If you have a lot of strands you have to be very clear about your focus.  Gosia could reel off exactly what she wanted to do with next year, where her major effort would be and a set of specific goals.

Work Routine You need to carve out a working day from other demands on your time. Gosia makes herself get up at 6.30am because she is very productive in the morning and will have ” loads done by 8am” when she does the school run She is back at her desk by 9.30 and works until it is time to pick the children up from school. In the evening she will be “pottering about” Even when the children were still at home all day she plugged on accepting that it might just be an hour a day but it would add up and some progress would be made.

Certainty You can’t make it if you don’t have a very clear aesthetic.   Every thing you do has to be coloured by that, if customers like one thing they will like another, that way you can build yourself a base. You have to transmit your certainties to your customer, think Trinny and Susannah. Gosia doesn’t dominate but her certainty is magnetic and bankable.

Patience Getting things right takes time. Gosia says she is still building the ramparts but six years ago she would not have believed it was possible. From assistant manager of the John Smedley Brook Street flagship store to knitwear designer is a big stride but its made by talent and persistence

— Hours worked 35 per week—-Income £12,500 a year—

Dress designer

Dress designer Tessa is  just into her fifties and lives in a pretty terraced house in a Camberwell backwater with her daughter and partner.


“No one tells me what to wear!”

Tessa  built up her huge know-how from her mother who was a fashion student in the fifties at the Royal College.

She used to make my clothes,  I didn’t want her to dress me so I learnt how to make things for myself.  My mother is very confident about tacking any practical task. I remember her deciding to drop down the kitchen floor with a  Kanga hammer then barrowing  the clay down the garden to make a pool. I still call her if I have a technical problem .

Tessa did an anthropology degree at UCL and worked on various vintage stalls on the Portobello market then in her final university year a friend asked her to make her wedding dress and  she took her own stall on the market.

I was youthful, optimistic and energetic. I had to sell a lot to make it worthwhile and because it was the market, it had to be cheap. Then I shared a huge studio in Swiss Cottage with Jenny who was a Goldsmiths textile graduate. I was enthralled with her work, it  was far more consciously arty than mine, I was far more bish, bosh, bash it out. We had contrasting interests and we learnt  a lot from each other.

Rolling in Cash

We took a stall in Camden Market in the early eighties and designed a pair of share cropper jeans – they were huge and belted in at the waist, black with white stitching. We called them Dog on the Rocks, asked £30  pair and they really sold.

We had 200 pairs made up by a factory near  Brick Lane run by a Moroccan guy. But later we found he had cheated us; he told us it took 2.5m of material to make them up and actually it was 1.3m and he would make up the extras to our pattern and sell them himself.

In London fashion week the Japanese buyers came down to see us and placed big orders , so we got an Iraqi man to handle the production for us and paid him £1 a pair. The Americans bought and the Germans and we had people working for us on our Camden Market and Petticoat Lane stalls.

It lasted about five years and there are photos of us rolling in the cash takings from the stalls. I loved the moment of making money but Jenny didn’t like the sharp end of the rag trade,  I bought her out and I ran it into the ground. It was a one trick pony, other people copied the jeans and we didn’t have a way to defend it.  We didn’t really know what we were doing but success was a real laugh.

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