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Small Business Spotlight Interview: Hannah of Hesperoo!

Digibloom's Small Business Spotlight with Hannah from Hesperoo

IN THE SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: HANNAH - TALENTED DESIGNER BASED IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, DISCUSSES HER BRAND OF KIDS DECOR, HOMEWARE & GIFTS

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi, I'm Hannah and my business is called Hesperoo. I live in a village called Wollaston, in Northamptonshire UK. I live with my partner Chris and our six year old daughter, Hesper. My workroom is a converted outbuilding at the bottom of our garden, which was once a cobblers workshop!

Every morning, I drop my daughter off at school round the corner and head down to my workroom where I spend most of the day processing orders, sewing, photographing products, etc. I can even hear the sounds of Hesper's school when it is playtime!

Image ©Welcome Photography

Image ©Welcome Photography

Describe your business

My business is called Hesperoo, named after my daughter, Hesper Roo! Some people think I named her after the business, but I'd like to think that most people realise that I named the business after her!

Hesperoo is a range of kids decor, homewares and gifts featuring my printed designs. Most of these designs are quirky characters that are inspired by little doodles that I have done for Hesper or were inspired by the imaginary characters she invents when playing. She seems to have a flair for creating original names and so I created little characters to go with the names!

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

They are printed onto fabric which I make into shaped cushions, but they are also available as prints, cards, stickers and melamine ware. I wanted to create decorative pieces that appeal to children, but don't look out of place in modern, stylish homes. I also know how frustrating it can be when your child's clothes, toys and decor are plastered in TV or film characters and I wanted to offer an alternative to that.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

I try to use ethical products or small/UK based businesses where possible. For example, my cushions are printed in the UK with eco-friendly inks and are backed with organic, ethically-produced cotton.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

What inspires you?

I suppose the obvious answer would be my daughter. When I was expecting her, I discovered the joy in sewing and making things for her and her room, like toys, clothes, quilts. I think prior to that, as I'd studied art and photography, I'd always felt that I had to be a serious artist, which is probably why I'd always struggled to make a real success of it.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

I'd always loved making things, but spent years thinking that enjoying craft was something to be embarrassed about, and now it is this huge movement! It was making things for Hesper and getting involved with online craft communities that made me realise that it is okay to just enjoying making things that look pretty!

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

So I would say that having my daughter inspired me to focus on what I enjoy making. Having her has also opened my world up again to children's books, films and toys, especially vintage ones from my own childhood. I love sharing a childhood book or toy with her and a certain image or sound will take me right back to my own childhood. I'm inspired to try and create things that are playful and fun, but still have that timeless and ageless appeal.

Why did you decide to start a business?

I would love to say that my business just evolved without any conscious effort on my part, but no! Having my own creative business has been my dream since I was little, but it's just taken me a long time to get there! My degree is in photography (from many years ago!) and I tried pursuing this for a while, but my heart wasn't in it, or I just wasn't cut out for it.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

When I met my partner in my late twenties, I was fed up of struggling and needed to get a 'proper job' as I felt that I was running out of options. So I spent several years in pretty soul-destroying jobs, but spent my spare time still being creative and dreaming of having my own business.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

When I had my daughter, my maternity leave felt like a last chance to try and make a go of it. I had always wanted to screen print and was interested in textiles and homewares, so while looking after a baby, I taught myself to screen-print. I began by printing kids t-shirts and onesies and sold these on Etsy for a while. When my maternity leave ended, I had to return to my civil-service job and so my Etsy shop was put on hold, as I just couldn't devote the time it needed.

After two years of being miserable at work, we took the risky decision for me to leave my job, so that I could spend time with my daughter before she started school and so I could devote time to my own business. I have been limited by time and money, but I am finally at a point where I am doing exactly what I want to be doing!

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

Absolutely! I began Hesperoo by selling screen printed kids clothes on Etsy. When I returned to Hesperoo after two years at work, I started printing fabric and made tea towels, lampshades and cushions. Around this time, I also started selling vintage goods and furniture, as I had started selling at local fairs and shops. Selling furniture was a good way to display my other items and it meant that I was under less pressure with my handmade stuff, which was quite costly and time-consuming.

Image   ©Welcome Photography

Image ©Welcome Photography

Eventually, my daughter started school and I had more time to devote to my business which had now become a mismatch of printed goods, hand-printed textiles, vintage pieces and furniture! Towards the end of last year, I felt that I had completely lost my way and that my product range no longer reflected me or why I began Hesperoo in the first place.

I'd always wanted it to be a fun, modern brand with an emphasis on kids design, which is why I named it after my daughter in the first place! What I really loved was making things for Hesper and other children. I had lots of little doodled characters in notebooks that I kept meaning to make into little printed dolls, but they never seemed to fit in with I was doing before. I decided these should be the new focus of my business. I stopped with what I had been doing, cleared out all the vintage stock and completely started again.

I started creating digital designs from the various sketches that I had collected and I soon had a few characters to start over with. In February 2016, I re-launched Hesperoo with a small range of character cushions, eventually adding new products and designs to the range. It was a long-held goal of mine to apply to Not on the High Street, but I knew there was no point in applying until I was happy with my product range.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

Within a few weeks of re-launching my business, they invited me to join as a partner! At the beginning of the year, I decided that 2016 was going to be the year that determined whether to I should keep going with this. The business still has a long way to go, but I am pleased with what I have achieved this year and want to continue to build on that.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

Finances, admin and my own negativity. I left a paid job to pursue this without any real start-up money, just trying to build on any spare cash or any sales I've made. Keeping motivated and focused is tough when sales are low. I have a tendency to panic and think negatively about my work and I start thinking of other directions to go in!

Of course I am much more confident with my work when orders are coming in and I've learned that the self-doubt comes and goes. It can be very isolating working alone. As much as I do love it and I always hated working in an office, there is no-one to bounce ideas off or share ideas with.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

Having to do every single aspect of the business myself is also testing, especially when it is something I don't fully understand. I am constantly having to learn new things whether it's to do with tax, accounts, social media, marketing, etc, and I have a constant fear that I have missed something!

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

I love the fact my daily commute is a walk down the garden path! I'm also grateful for the time it allows me with my daughter and to be at home. While we have had to make financial sacrifices as a family for me to do this, it has also given me this time with her that I wouldn't have got from going to work every day.

I'm also still over the moon with every order that I get. The fact that people see my work online and willingly spend their money on things that I have designed and made is still amazing to me!

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

I have had customers tell me that their child loves my "Brunta Bear" cushion and it is so rewarding to think that someone else's child is enjoying something that I made and my daughter named!

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

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

I still feel like I'm just starting out myself as my business still has a long way to go! I wish I'd been more focused and cohesive in the beginning. Instead of trying to be all things to all people in the hope that something will stick, I wish I'd just started with one solid idea and concentrated on making that good.

When I re-launched this year, I just had one product in four designs. I concentrated on those and gradually built on that. It not only makes your brand look more cohesive but I think mentally, it helps you see a clearer path to where you want to be and what you need to do to get there.

What's next for your business?

I would like to incorporate patterns into my designs and maybe some designs that are a bit looser in style. I've been playing around with digital patterns, trying to emulate the free, abstract effects that I used to get from hand-painting fabrics. I've also recently been sketching a series of girls with different coloured hair! They are done digitally but look like ink drawings and I might combine these with the patterns I've been creating.

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

I want them to be a bit more sophisticated, but still have a sense of fun that appeals to all ages. I would also like to extend the products that I offer to include more homewares like placemats, coasters and trays. I have had some melamine pieces but want to invest in this more next year. I'd also like to see my characters on a range of kids clothes, or in a children's book!

A photo posted by Hannah {UK} (@hesperoo) on

Hannah has kindly offered one of her Brunta Bear cushions as a prize in Digibloom's 7 Days of Christmas giveaway! Click here to enter for a chance of winning this gorgeous handmade treat just before Christmas!

Win a handmade Brunta Bear cushion in Hesperoo's giveaway!

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

Website: hesperoo.co.uk
Twitter: @hesperoo
Instagram: @hesperoo
Facebook: hesperoohome
Pinterest: hesperoo

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