etsy seller interview

Small Business Spotlight Interview: Of Alp and Ash

In the Small Business Spotlight: Debs Slater - designer/adventurer based near Blackburn, invites a behind-the-scenes peek into her brand of laser cut wood and acrylic gifts inspired by the great outdoors!

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hey! I’m Debs, and I live in a little village just outside Blackburn with my husband, in a chaotic mess of a home that we’ve been renovating for far too long.

I’ve loved making things for as long as I can remember, took a degree in Graphic Design, a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration and get excited for the outdoors (mainly hiking & camping), documenting life in photographs, beautiful coffee-table books, mid-century modern decor, plant-based cooking and strategy-based board games.

Debs Slater from homeware brand Of Alp and Ash, in Digibloom's Small Business Spotlight

Describe your business

I create under the name ‘of Alp & Ash’ and make laser-cut products in a workshop at the bottom of my mum’s garden (which is conveniently located only two streets away from where I live!)

My Contoured Coasters are aimed at those that love adventuring in the UK as they depict the most popular hiking spots, and I’ve recently introduced map art to allow customers to select their choice of location (in the UK) to be recreated in wood and acrylic.

Topographical contour map art - laser cut wooden gifts by Of Alp and Ash

What inspires you?

I’m mostly inspired by my adventures outdoors. The idea for my Contoured Coasters came about whilst I was undertaking a personal challenge: to hike all 214 Wainwrights in the Lake District to mark the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing.

All that time spent studying maps during my challenge gave me the idea to recreate popular hiking areas in coaster form, with blue-tinted acrylic to represent the lakes and tarns.

Why did you decide to start a business?

Bad bosses! Not all my bosses have been horrendous, but the majority have. The last terrible encounter I had, working for a startup in Toronto, was the last straw for me. I came home to England vowing I’d never work for anybody again, used my savings to buy a laser cutter, and then had to think up something to make with it!

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

My products have definitely changed since I launched. The first products I designed were wedding frames, Christmas decorations and matchbox-style greetings cards that weren’t at all related to my business name. Some of them can still be found in my Etsy shop, but since developing my coasters I’m trying to be more conscious of my brand, so all the products on my website are now related to the outdoors.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

I think the hardest thing about being a small business owner is having to wear all the hats, at least until you can afford to outsource some jobs. I particularly struggle with marketing as I’m not confident enough to shout about my work, and I’m also much more excited about the design stage of the process; when it comes to repeatedly manufacturing the same products I struggle to stay motivated.

I’ve faced many challenges during production too. My coasters took quite some time to prototype and even now the focus of the laser or the thickness of the acrylic can throw some things out. It’s a constant learning curve, and I’m always trying to think of ways to improve the process, but I’ve come a long way since I first started.

What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

Not having a boss, a tiny commute to work, being able to time my lunch to align with Neighbours ;) Top of the list though is the fact that people are parting with their money to purchase something I’ve made. Regardless of how many meltdowns I may have had in the production stages, popping a set of coasters in a box and packaging them up for someone is an amazing feeling.

Feedback is also wonderful to receive, especially when a customer tells me that their dad loves their coasters, as I’m pretty sure my dad would have loved them too :)

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

If you can afford to outsource a job in an area you’re not skilled in, do it! Also, use social media as a tool to inspire you and to connect with other business owners, rather than to compare yourself to other sellers.

You will always find people that are more successful than you are on the internet, but it’s important not to let this put you off your own journey. You’ll never truly know the backstory to these businesses... they could have been working on their craft for years longer than you have, have had more money to invest than you, got lucky with a marketing opportunity, etc.

Focus on your own work and one day you’ll be that super successful business that somebody just starting out is in awe of! (This is definitely something I have to remind myself of.)

What's next for your business?

This is a question I wish I knew the answer to! I know I definitely need to get the word out as I’m still not where I’d like to be in terms of sales. I’m also hoping to add more products where I can outsource the manufacture.

Debs Slater from giftware brand Of Alp and Ash, laser cutting contoured map coasters in wood

My coasters are extremely labour-intensive to make, which means I can’t sell them in shops and that makes it harder to scale the business up to where I’d like it. I’d love to get drawing again, and come up with some products featuring my illustrations.

I also have some other business ideas that aren’t related to ‘of Alp & Ash’ at all, and will be exploring those this year too. I’m excited to see where my journey takes me, the opportunities are truly endless when you’re creating your own career path, and that’s one of the most incredible things about it!

Debs Slater of Alp and Ash with one of her topographic coasters

Shop for 'of Alp and Ash' products - click through images to see more:

Learn more about Debs and connect with her online using these links:

Website: alpandash.com
Etsy Shop: alpandash
Instagram: @alpandash
Pinterest: alpandash

Small Business Spotlight Interview: The Kat & Monocle

IN THE SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: KAT FROM THE KAT & MONOCLE - AN INDEPENDENT BUSINESS BASED IN LONDON, PROVIDING HAND DRAWN DESIGN CONCEPTS FOR FASHION, HOME, AND GIFTWARE.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name’s Kat – (short for Katrina), and I live and work in Hackney, London. I’m originally from North Yorkshire but left in September 2000 to study a Foundation Course in Art and Design, and a degree in Embroidered Textiles. I studied at The Manchester Metropolitan University and have always been interested in drawing. I have a love of pattern and print, and music is right up there on my list of interests too. I enjoy walking and being outdoors, plus I run regularly but can’t say I love it - it definitely makes me feel good after though. 

Katrina from The Kat and Monocle

I like cooking and travelling and one of my biggest interests is providing help in the community. I’m part of a group who provide amenities and conversation for the homeless and I definitely want to get involved in therapy-based artwork in future. My studio space is in Dalston – very close to where I live, and I love having that shared space to separate work from home, whilst working alongside others in the creative field. I have a small but close family, all dotted around the country, and I’m currently living with my boyfriend plus two other lovely housemates and my cat Grace!

Describe your business

‘The Kat & Monocle’, is a small independent business which I set up towards the end of 2012. I came to a point where I wanted a change from working for a company – something I had been doing 5-6 years prior, and gain the opportunity to work in an environment where quality and design come first. Basically I wanted to be as in-depth and creative as possible in my design endeavours.

I create detailed, hand drawings, in pencil, of dogs and cats in gentrified costume, giving them plenty of character and an eccentrically British sense of humour. My subjects are not necessarily just dogs and cats and I’ve created ‘people’ and cityscape illustrations too. The essence of the brand is in the intricate style of my drawing, which is time consuming to produce. Furthermore I add my own patterns into the mix, in order to complement and add to the signature style of my illustrations.

All of my designs are printed ethically in the UK onto various gift-based products such as t-shirts, greetings cards and dinnerware. The principal aim of my business is to provide goods with a conscience that bring cheer and enhancement to peoples’ lives. I always seek to use recycled or environmentally sustainable materials, and take commissions including bespoke wedding invitations, stationery, pet portraits and illustrative prints.

What inspires you?

My Dad is a retired vet and I grew up in a very beautiful part of North Yorkshire, surrounded by pets! This definitely has some bearing on the inspiration of my subjects, as I know how much pets enhance our lives. Perhaps (not consciously), I wish to share this love and belief, and have done so through illustration and design. I also find that a lot of my designs originate from portrait commissions requested by customers so I can certainly say that my customers inspire me too.

My inspiration is also triggered spontaneously by what surrounds me. I love geometric prints and wallpaper design, which influence my patterns heavily. I might find marks or shapes in the environment around me, which influence these patterns too.

I’m a huge fan of doing things the old school way, such as hands-on drawing, collage, and making etc. rather than always relying on digital methods of producing my goods. I’ve always admired independent designer/makers such as Donna Wilson because her products have so much character and are completely unique to her. She definitely hasn’t lost her identity and brand ethos amidst her growing success and I really believe she deserves the credit she has earned today.

Why did you decide to start a business?

I felt the need to branch out on my own and move away from working for a company. I couldn’t find an opportunity to stretch my design work to its full potential because of time constraints, concerns that the design wouldn’t be commercial enough, or costs constraints of putting it into production. I wanted to see how I could get on if I were to set up on my own accord and see how designs under my own direction would work.

Recycling also plays a large role in inspiring my work and I have a borderline obsession with avoiding waste and being resourceful. The textures and colours within my repeat patterns come from an ongoing theme I’ve been working on - looking at different ways in which I can reuse business envelopes.

The business was therefore consciously planned, despite my initial efforts to achieve the above goals through freelancing and/or finding a smaller company that was more in tune with my aspirations. I found that the business built itself off the back of a wallpaper design I created for an American company, which involved various hand-drawn dog breeds scattered over a background of large white spots. There is no doubt this inspired me to come up with the subject matter for my own designs and having tested out these illustrations on some Christmas cards at a market, I realised there was scope for them to sell.

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

The essence of my business, such as the hand drawn style and the use of pattern hasn't really changed. My product offering is continually expanding though, and I offer a lot more bespoke products too. I like the idea of creating products, (such as wedding invitations and groomsmen’s ties/bow ties), on a supply and demand basis and would like to focus on this type of work in future. It is a lot more resourceful materials-wise and involves less hoarding of surplus stock.

My freelance work tends to differ in style to the goods I produce under my brand. I have a regular client who asks me to create their company Christmas cards each year with a cartoon look, and I am happy to deliver what is requested, which varies my business greatly.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

I’ve found there are many challenges as a small business owner.

The challenges differ from person to person - I don’t mind doing the accounts for instance, which is something most creative professionals hate! I do struggle with the marketing though because informing people continually of what I am up to does not come naturally and I find that quite relentless.

It's easy to lose your work-life balance as a small business owner but I strongly believe you should be aware not to. The enthusiasm you have in the early stages is great and it’s good to put a lot of time and energy into your work. The pitfall however, is that if you don’t take a break at good intervals, you risk ‘burning out’ and losing that wonderful enthusiasm you had in the first place.

I find it hard to work on projects that seem never-ending. I like to commit all my attention to one project at a time, give it my full attention, then go on to the next one. As a small business owner you can't really do this, as there are many things to juggle at once, plus your business is ongoing, so things can seem like they’re never ‘finished’.

The best way of coping is to break down all the tasks into ‘mini’ projects and tick them off the list when they’re complete! You also have to be very organised to do these tasks at the right time and in the right order to make optimum use of your time and meet any deadlines you have set for yourself.

What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

Having mentioned the pitfalls above, working for yourself is still a very rewarding experience. There is nothing better than creating something you are passionate about, which others appreciate too. The positive feedback from customers is what keeps me going and it is re-affirming to know that there are people out there who get what I do and want me to make more of it! It’s also very nice to have no one else to answer to, apart from myself of course, plus having the opportunity to direct my business in whichever way I choose can be very liberating.

Another thing I love about having my own business is that I can pick and choose where I work and what kind of environment this is. My studio space, (described above), is to me, far more inspiring than working in an office and I can also work at the times of day I choose, which I love!

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

You certainly have to be very self-motivated and passionate about what you do. Without that, it would be hard to find the drive to keep going. You need to really believe in your business’ practice and what it stands for. Being your own boss, as good as it is, can be hard to sustain so it can be easy to lose direction and stray off the beaten track.

Katrina Wight from The Kat and Monocle working on a drawing

Having business mentors and going to regular workshops which offer skills and advice is a good way of keeping on track. You also have to be very organised. I find a good list is what keeps me in check and I tend to make these continually. Also working out your ultimate deadlines and creating a time line to work back from is an excellent way of organising your time. I don’t think I’ve ever used a calendar/diary as much as I have since I started my business!

You need to take a holiday! You are likely to burn out about two or three years later if you don’t. Also if you expect to have plenty of time to allocate to your actual business practice, you will feel disappointed. There are so many other tasks in running a business that will take up your time.

Finally, I think you need a clear, succinct idea of what your business actually does. I feel I’ve stumbled with this at times and still think I could be spreading myself across too many different products. I personally think that the most successful businesses have a very clear purpose, which is unique to them and is something they do very well.

What's next for your business?

I have a few options at this stage. As I’d touched upon before, I think I’d prefer to provide more custom-made products on a one-off or supply and demand basis. I like the idea of reducing waste and that way, I can take orders and work on separate projects, as and when they come in.

I would also like to cater more for weddings or one-off events/projects. I have enjoyed working on the commissions I’ve gained in this area so far, and it’s been exciting having to have a whole project to manage and deliver.

I’ve also been doing a lot of voluntary social work aside from my business, which involves helping the homeless and catering for their needs. I’d like to work more in this way and am considering a qualification in Art Therapy in order to apply my art with a more healing-based purpose. I know how much the arts can aid those who are undergoing difficult periods in their lives, both physically and emotionally, and I feel quite strongly about being a part of this practice.

Please feel free to watch this space as I’m sure any further activities will be posted on my social media feeds. My products will be available at The Hackney Shop with the wonderfully talented members of the London Local Team, from the 2nd to the 14th August!

Website: www.thekatandmonocle.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thekatandmonocle

Twitter page: https://twitter.com/KatandMonocle

Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/the_kat_and_monocle

Small Business Spotlight Interview: Nicole David Furniture

Small Business Spotlight Interview with Nicole David Furniture

IN THE SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: DAVID, DESIGNER/MAKER FROM 'NICOLE DAVID FURNITURE' REVEALS How HE LEFT BEHIND AN UNFULFILLING CAREER TO START A FURNITURE AND HOME ACCESSORIES BRAND

David Gotts from Nicole David Furniture

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m David and I run a furniture and home accessories company called ‘Nicole David’. Our workshop is nestled in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside where I live with my wife Nadine ‘Nicole’ and daughter Evie. The company was established in 2015 after I retrained as a furniture designer maker.

Describe your business

‘Nicole David’ is a brand that specialise in modern furniture and home accessories with a simple, stylish and contemporary aesthetic designed to last. All our products are designed and made by hand in our workshop ensuring that each and every one is treated with our obsessive attention to detail.

What inspires you?

We generally get inspired by quality craftsmanship and design but very often it’s identifying what we think is a gap in the market or something we’d just like to have in our home. This is especially the case with our record shelves, being avid record collectors we wanted a way of displaying records in a way in which we didn’t think was currently being offered.

Why did you decide to start a business?

I’ve always been a very creative person so after an unfulfilling career in IT Support I took the scary decision to retrain as a furniture designer maker and in 2015 we started our own company.

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

Our home accessories ranges were initially developed to help support us between furniture commissions but they’ve been more successful than we expected which is great as we love making innovative products in small batches. This hasn't taken over completely however as we still enjoy making bespoke furniture for private clients.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

Getting the balance right between making products that are up to the standard we expect with a realistic and fair price.

What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

The flexibility of running our own business. Being able to see our daughter grow up, spending more time with family and doing the things that matter most to us in life. Also having someone buy a product that you designed and made by hand and them getting the same amount of pleasure out of it as we had making it.

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

Find your niche, stick to your guns and don’t try and appeal to everyone’s price bracket.

What's next for your business?

The launch of our website and online shop, though we’ll still be running our Etsy shop for the foreseeable future.

Learn more about Nicole David Furniture and connect with David via social media using these links:

Website: www.nicoledavid.co.uk
Instagram: www.instagram.com/nicoledavidfurniture
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicoledavidfurn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/nicoledavidfurniture

Small Business Spotlight: Knitted Story

IN DIGIBLOOM'S SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: VIRA FROM KNITTED STORY DISCUSSES HER BRAND OF BEARY CUTE FOREST FRIENDS!

Digibloom Small Business Spotlight interview with Vira from Knitted Story

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi! My name is Vira. I'm the owner KnittedStory. I live in the Kharkiv, Ukraine, with my boyfriend and two cats. The huge part of my life - my small business - is crocheting teddy bears. I've been crocheting since 2011 and in the summer of 2015 I set up a shop on Etsy.

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

Describe your business

My brand name is KnittedStory. I make small crochet teddy bears and sometimes other animals. The bears make good presents for your friends, loves ones, and yourself. In the shop you can find many kinds of designs and I'm trying to invent and add new designs, so that everyone can choose a bear for themselves.


Also I want to make the choice of bears more individual. I'm working on personalised design ideas, I hope that it will become a reality very soon.

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

What inspires you?

I like a lot of things. For example, I really like autumn. Autumn here is yellow and orange, with red leaves that fall from the trees. It is very beautiful and inspires me. I often walk at this time and have a lot of new ideas in my head.


I like going to the yarn store and look at the colours of yarn. I like choosing yarn for accessories by colours. 

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

Why did you decide to start a business?

My boyfriend is an active person, he has his own business. Seeing that I like to create toys, he suggested that I sell them. He is my great support in my small business :) He helps me to be in good shape, do not give up, do not stop there, and critically assess the opportunities.

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

In the beginning I was trying to make crochet jewellery. After two months, I started making the crochet toys and this is what I'm continuing to do.

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

I need to do a lot of other things, not only crocheting. I need to take a photos, advertising, to do internet companies, manage websites etc. This takes very much time. Anyway I like it, it is very interesting to learn something new! 

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

What’s the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

The opportunity to express myself and contribute something to the world. I like meeting new people who will become my close friends! 

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

Just do it! :) No need to wait.

What's next for your business?

I have many ideas! As I said before I want to make the bears more personalised for customers. I'm trying to achieve this.

A photo posted by @knittedstory on

Learn more about Knitted Story and connect with Vira via social media using these links:

Website: www.knittedstory.com 
Etsy Shop: www.knittedstorybears.etsy.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/knittedstory
Twitter: www.twitter.com/knittedstory
Facebook: www.facebook.com/knittedstorybears

If you're a small business owner and would like to be considered for a future Small Business Spotlight feature, here's how to nominate your business.