Earlier I returned home from another inspiring morning of business chat (and cake). Each month Helen who runs The Creative Business Network organises an event for small business owners with 2 speakers each time and we pop along to have a good catch up, a cup of tea and to learn from their experiences. I’ve been going to these meets up since they first began in November 2014 which coincided with the set up of my business. It cropped up on my newsfeed at a time I was struggling and unsure, I’m now quite certain it was fate. I’ve made some of the greatest friends, learnt pearls of wisdom and basically do everything I do now that helps me succeed because I heard it there.
This month, to my great surprise Helen kindly asked me to be one of the two speakers, the other being the talented artist Angie Spurgeon. My initial fear was that everyone would know that i’m learning at the same time they are so why would they want to hear what I have to say, especially following Angie who so clearly knows her stuff. But I also know that it’s a lovely bunch of welcoming, kind and fun ladies who (surely) wouldn’t chase me out of the door, so I agreed to do it.
I’ve broken my presentation down into a few blog posts as it went on for quite a while and it’s annotated with roughly what I said today so that if you weren’t there we can pretend you were! The first post is about my story and how I started out, followed next week by what I’ve achieved up to this point, what I’ve learnt along the way and some top tips I try to keep in mind. I hope you enjoy it and that ultimately in some way, you find it helpful. Thank you to all the ladies that listened to me today, it was an pleasure to speak to you all.
Hi Everyone! I’m Lauren from Lauren Aston Designs. I run my small business from my little loft studio hand knitting super chunky statement pieces for interiors. Today i’m going to talk about “My Journey” and some of what i’ve learnt along the way. So here goes…
My Grandmother taught me to knit at the age of 11, I started out making some very terrible and seriously wonky scarfs before I got the hang of it. I then pursued fashion and textiles throughout my educations with GCSE’s, A Levels and a Foundation Diploma before ending up at Winchester School of Art doing my degree in Fashion and Textiles and to my fathers horror, specialising in knitwear. He’d always told me to get a degree “it doesn’t matter what it’s in as long as you have one”…apparently at the time he didn’t realised they did degrees in ‘knitting’ but has since eaten his words 😉 I graduated in 2012 and then in 2013 moved from Worcestershire to Devon with my other half Alex as he was offered a job at the airport. We bought our little 2 up 2 down and had a fresh start, I was searching for both friends and a job. Having moved my entire life for someone else (something i’d promised myself i’d never do…but I am quite fond of this guy, which is lucky as we’re getting married in October!) I knew I needed something for me. I needed a job I enjoyed, a reason to get up in the morning and something to feel passionate about. I just couldn’t find it.
The pieces began to fall into place when I visited The Contemporary Craft Festival in 2014. I witnessed for myself the passion, enthusiasm and love that each of the makers seemed to just exude, the friendships and support and importantly, the enjoyment in the everyday and I knew I needed that. It felt like a world I belonged in, I just needed to build the business to find my place there. I had this seed of an idea, something hand knitted and because it would be handmade it needed to be chunky for speed… but it was just a thought. I continued to go to job interviews until a sunny September day when I was finally offered a job. I sat in the garden with a bottle of wine and drank it all whilst calling practically everyone in my phonebook to ask for advice. Should I take a secure job that will pay the bills or should I take a risk to do something I love? In the end I listened to all of them and none of them. Ultimately these decisions are yours to make but sometimes you need to hear what everyone else has to say before you figure out what you want.
The following day (sober and fresh again) I picked up the phone and politely declined the job, the next phone call I made was to my dad asking him to come to Devon (from Worcester) to help me convert the dark and empty loft space into a workable and inspiring studio. My wonderful father travelled down weekend after weekend and we dragged ourselves up the ladder to fit the electrics, board the floor, plaster the walls, insulate the bugger (boy was that hot!) build the desks and paint it white with a pink floor (that came out red). I will just add that I honestly did pull my weight. I love a bit of DIY and nothing gave me more pleasure than learning to plaster the walls (my dad skimmed them after i’d had a go but thats not the point)
So now I had my studio! I gave myself a deadline of December to create a collection and apply to Notonthehighstreet. At this stage I didn’t really know how to do it without help. I assumed that the average NOTHS customer would be similar to mine based on the other products and price points on the site and I didn’t know anything about marketing or getting my name out there without the help of a sale platform so it seemed to be the be all and end all. I spent months developing my ‘chunky knit’ idea. Once I found the chunkiest wool, I needed the chunkiest needles, once I had those made I realised I’d have to process the wool to bond the fibres together somehow, it took months to figure it all out and it really was up to the wire for my submission deadline, not to mention the fact that I, in no way had endless streams of money coming in. The footstool in this image wasn’t finished – I’d rammed loads of cushions in it and was holding my feet up for the picture as I hadn’t discovered what to fill it with! But I finally got something of a collection together, I took the photos myself with an average camera. I did it in the evening (*facepalm*) with every light and lamp I owned directed at the products, and I finally submitted my application to Notonthehighstreet. Sensibly they said no. I mean, look at it, of course they said no! More specifically they said “you’re so close, you have a great product, improve your photography and get back in touch”
So I did, I hired a photographer this time (and photoshopped a brick wall in the background) and reapplied in February 2015 and this time was successful. I launched a week later with nothing but a NOTHS storefront and a FB page. My first order came a week later and I was so elated. I cracked the champagne and screamed with joy. I was a business!
I always think it’s good to look back at how we’ve progressed, if for no other reason to give yourself a pat on the back and realise what you’ve achieved. Thankfully this is what my product listing look like today, much clearer, more colourful and I take all the images of my products so have full control. Although I cringe when I look back at the first submission and even a little at the second, I’m so pleased I have them to reference, to see how my work has developed and evolved into what finally feels like My Brand. My vision of my work feels clearer than ever, I started out by trying everything and anything and I’m so pleased I did as I now know what works best for me and where I want to take it. I also trust that as time goes by it will evolve into something else and I’m so excited to see what happens.
So that’s a the journey. The next post (next Wednesday) is about what i’ve achieved in the last 18 months and how i’ve done it.