Selling to Death?

6 years ago my good friend and neighbour approached me rather sheepishly with news she had taken some night classes. She had the look of a child who had found her stashed presents way before Christmas… unsure if or how she could tell me her juicy story of training to become a funeral celebrant.

Now, I don’t know what it is with my face, but even strangers assume I enjoy the unusual, weird and the dark side. But this was the first time I’d been approached in both a professional and friend capacity to discuss the world of death. My friends request was simple, she wanted both to share gossip regarding her new venture, whilst also picking my brains about setting up a small business. I leapt at the opportunity, I was more than happy to help with a website and some marketing material. Especially if it satiated my child like curiosity of morgues, what dead bodies smell like and of course tales of ghosts and ghouls.

What it really turned into was my first glimpse into a different world, one we never enter without good reason… it was a true peek behind the curtain. Always there, always in the background, but inaccessible, far away and not for the likes of you and me — us, the living ‘non death’ people.

I would say I am just like you, I would put money on it. Beyond two non religious family funerals, my knowledge and experience of death was very simple, you died, you had medical people check you really were dead then eventually you had a service in a church or crematorium, after which you buried or burned the body.

I was vaguely aware of the appointment of an individual who would be tasked with processing legal arrangements, paperwork and the deceased wishes… I was aware of the implications of not having ‘your papers in order’. But the whole A to Z of ‘death’ was alien… it was something that just happened. It was automatic, it was not, not talked about, it was another one of life's ‘things’ that the relevant people at the ‘time’ would know what to do, and you would get on with it. Church, state and ‘that’ family member would come to the front and take charge, at no time would there be any video of a will being read out… I am told this is one for the movies.

I digress.

I began to learn and understand what my friend was training to do, how she was going to approach the business in her own unique way, her ‘stamp’ her ‘celebrancy’ would be her… she is the commodity, so together we put together a simple site. Some literature, and that was it, we were selling her.

My friend is a very approachable, modern woman with a career history in public facing roles, in hospitality to hospitals. She is not lovey dovey, not away with the fairies, she is, dare I say it, entirely normal. Your nan would love her, until she dies. And she has become a huge success, people love her. She recently used the old chestnut of wanting a cloning machine, as is the want of many people in an industry where they are the service.

But my friend isn’t that nice. No she doesn’t perform for free. No she sells her services, she sells to the dead. And I guess this is where we do wavy lines to fast forward thursday last week.

My friend has been running her business none stop for 6 years; from the first day she went out ‘on the road’ to see funeral directors to introduce herself she has not stopped. Much of her business is through word of mouth and recommendation. She keeps the services simple and honest, she spends as much or as little time with the family as is wanted. Business is booming. The sector of funeral celebrancy is growing rapidly in the UK as it did in Australia and New Zealand 40 years ago. But here it is in it’s infancy. This is where that phone call happened for me.

For those 6 years I have been doing what I love, quietly scheming. I am a product developer working in the fashion textile industry. Since going it alone 9 years ago I have been part of and responsible for all sorts of trends and fashions for companies and individuals that want something made from cloth. From leggings to curtains, hoodies to suits I have made ones offs, 1 million offs, but for my own business I have never had that hit that is really my own making. Everything has always been for someone else. Until…

The day started normally, I’m in the process of developing the new range of my own brand of men’s bags. That morning I have a scheduled telephone conference with a new factory owner. A casual chat about quality and the importance of speed was conducted with each party not understanding more than 2 words in each sentence. A successful meeting one might say. But one word sticks out in the back of my mind. Funeral.

I’m not sure what it is about that word, but it created a resonance, I didn’t really understand in what context it had been used, but I got the impression it was due to an attendance at a funeral, I was wrong.

The next day I had a follow up call and plans are put into place for the usual factory visits and audits. And once again funeral and burial is mentioned. I asked for more information… I got an email and it became clear.

I am going to be selling to the dead. And I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to help people and councils save money. Lots of money. The concept is ancient, Western society will take time to adopt it. But I am going to be developing a range of textile products, for the dead. I’m selling to death. I’m not going to advertise the product here, but I have found my million unit seller... that will have my death stamp on it.

I am of course in two minds. My marketing expert has refused to touch the job. I don’t want to make money from death. But I will.

Funny thing hey.

We will be launching with a huge party in December 2015. More the merrier.

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