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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!