How to start an online lifestyle store

If you’ve ever dreamt of being a shopkeeper, opening an online store can certainly seem like the easiest option - no property overheads, open 24/7 and working from home are all enticing benefits - but as Huma Qureshi discovered, it’s not quite so straightforward! This kind of business demands you to become a jack-of-all-trades, and is certainly not an easy path. Huma tells us a little of her tale and then chats to three women who are nailing it at online retail to find out what is really involved in the land of e-commerce….

Last year, I launched an online store. I was excited about the possibilities. I had grown bored by seeing the same brands appear everywhere, even in independent stores, and I started thinking - what if I could make a shop filled with the unusual timeless products I wanted to buy? A picture formed in my head of a store full of mesmerising and beautiful pieces. I created mood boards on Pinterest and played around with website templates. I started browsing on Etsy and Instagram, looking for the sort of pieces I wanted to sell.

But in reality, I had very little idea of what I was doing or how to do it. I am a writer with a blog; I had no retail experience. I didn’t let this stop me. I jumped straight in, emailing crafters and makers whose products I wanted to stock, not really realising just how much work would be involved. I wish I could say I had a methodical checklist by my side but honestly, I did everything more or less at the same time - I bought my web domain and built my website while ordering stock; I picked out my branding colours while writing product descriptions. I didn’t really have a plan.

Somewhere along the line, and possibly because of my lack of planning, I stopped finding it enjoyable. I realised it was no longer the right decision for me and so it was with some relief I closed my store down. Still, I’m always curious to know how other people manage it successfully; it is a huge task, to be all things (shop owner, shop curator, photographer, marketer, administrator) at once. So I decided to find out. I asked three fellow online shop owners to share their more positive experiences.

Jo McCarthy, shop curator and owner of Firain

Jo McCarthy, shop curator and owner of Firain.

Firain, an online lifestyle store, opened in September 2017. Taking its name from an old Welsh word meaning ‘noble, beautiful, fair and fine’, Jo has filled Firain with handmade treats, gifts and beautiful homewares. She runs Firain from home, sourcing products from makers, using her spare room as her office and stock room.

 Jo’s idea: Firain had been at the back of my mind for a long time, but since my husband and I were living overseas I didn't pursue it. When we came back to the UK, the idea of running a little online shop became more of a feasible income stream. I knew that I wanted to work from home and have a flexible schedule and I had hoped that the necessary skills would come along at the right time. I told myself that if it didn’t work, I could turn the experience into something to learn from. I love that I am slowly carving out a little niche for myself.

What came first, products or a website? I emailed makers and small businesses to ask if they would be interested in selling through me, despite me having no website to show them. I was so encouraged when supportive and enthusiastic emails came back and that’s how I started to curate the shop. At the same time, I started to share on Instagram about my new shop opening and used targeted hashtags which seemed to gain a little bit of attention. 

With the website, everything has been very 'DIY' and done within an extremely tight budget - I built it myself on SquareSpace. I am certainly not techy! Don't be put off by your lack of experience. I am never happy with my website and tweak it every day!

Firain - online lifestyle store

And everything else…? I set up my shop with zero budget for branding, marketing materials or photography (a graphic designer friend helped me with my logo). Taking product photos and uploading them is the most time-consuming task and using a professional would be a good solution, but it’s not in my budget right now. I am trying to enjoy this creative process and not think too much about what I can't achieve, right now!

How much work is involved? I try to set time aside each day to work on the shop in some way, around my other jobs. Usually, it's keeping up with baseline tasks - posting on Instagram, updating the website, fulfilling orders, answering emails and keeping on top of invoices. Then there’s writing monthly newsletters and blog posts too.

Running a creative business will never be the easiest, most lucrative path to take and I have struggled to justify some of my decisions. The ebb and flow of running a shop can keep me awake at night! I need to make an income from Firain and I wish I had prepared a little more about the start-up costs and the potential challenges. But I absolutely love packing up orders for my customers. I feel that my creativity is coming back.

Jo’s advice:

1. Do the best with what you have, be self-sufficient and financially responsible but try to enjoy the creative process. Seek out interesting products that speak to you somehow, for some reason. You can't expect your friends and family to be your most loyal customers, so try to find your own tribe beyond your current network.

2. Be modest and acknowledge where you have gone wrong and try to learn from those mistakes.

3. Be selective about working with people who understand your limitations as a small business. Allow yourself time to breathe and pause. You can't make good decisions when you feel frantic and stretched. Most of all, be patient with yourself and with the business. In time, you will be proud that you swam against the tide and created something from scratch.

Tabara N’Diaye, shop owner of La Basketry

Tabara N’Diaye, shop owner of La Basketry

Tabara set up La Basketry, an online boutique selling artisan Senegalese baskets, in 2017. Originally from Senegal, she was born and raised in Paris but has been living in London for over a decade. Tabara grew up in a home filled with traditional Senegalese baskets and loved them not just for storage but as a way to remain connected to the stories of her heritage, and this is what she wants to share through La Basketry. She runs La Basketry from her home and has cleverly transformed her walk-in wardrobe into a storage room which holds all her shop’s products.

Tabara’s story: Being online is ideal as there are no borders; I can reach customers everywhere in the world and spread the love for the beautiful products I sell. I didn’t have any experience of retail before launching La Basketry, although my mother did own a shop. But I don’t think you really need experience - the tools and platforms available make everything very easy. I use Shopify – it’s very straightforward. I do think you need to be tech-savvy though. You can’t expect your online shop to sell products for you! SEO, Google Ads and even social media advertising are great ways to reach new customers so why not maximise the opportunities that are available to you?

I write all our website copy, newsletters and manage all our social media,  but I much prefer to work with professionals for product photos. I’ve also worked with a PR company in the past. I have no problem outsourcing certain tasks to people who can do a better job than me! I think it’s important to realise you cannot be good at everything.

How long did it take between having the idea for La Basketry and turning it into a reality? It took about a year. I worked with the London Small Business Centre to get my business plan into shape. I studied the market, the competition, established my pricing structure, and thought about marketing and so on. My business has evolved since then, but this was a great starting point. It’s free to see an advisor at the London Small Business Centre – they provide with templates and you can book as many appointments as you’d like – you can even sit down with an accountant to run through the numbers!

La Basketry online store

How do you source your products? I work directly with female artisans in Senegal. When I started the business, I had no design experience so I curated products from their existing collections, just changing colours and patterns for example. As our client base has grown, I’ve now started to design some of our products.

What's the biggest day to day challenge you've encountered in running an online store? Packing orders! It was taking a lot of time so I decided to outsource it. I work with a fulfillment company called Weengs when orders get too hectic. It means I don’t have to spend two to three hours packaging or queuing at the post office but can focus on other areas of the business instead.

Tabara’s advice: There are hundreds of online shops launching every day so don’t think that the moment you press the ‘LIVE’ button, customers will flock to your site. Your online shop is part of a much wider marketing strategy and you need to make sure that you’re engaging with potential customers via social media, PR and any other methods that would work for your business.

Emily Mathieson, shop owner of Aerende

Journalist-turned-social-entrepreneur, Emily launched Aerende, an ethical homewares online shop, in 2016. She runs her business from her home in St Albans, using her spare bedroom and office to design, develop and store products and package up orders. Unlike most online stores, Emily doesn’t just curate products from makers - she collaborates with and commissions social and therapeutic craft groups to create beautiful and everlasting products for Aerende.

Emily’s story: I have a lifestyle media background so I was confident in branding, telling stories and coming up with a beautiful edit of products. But it was arrogant of me to assume that that would be enough and I’ve been on a steep learning curve since then to really understand finances, cash flow, costings, marketing and strategy, as well as the underlying technical skills and SEO needed to really make a success of an online shop.

Retail is much more demanding than I naively imagined. You have all the normal requirements of running a business but now have to be great bloggers and social media masters too. I don’t have a background in manufacturing or design so product development (though wildly exciting) can be a tricky process and, of course, many of my makers face so many of their own challenges so that volumes, consistency and deadlines don’t happen in a conventional way.

I do every single thing for Aerende, from sticking labels on candles to sending images out for press requests. I’ve written every page of the website and hand-wrapped every single order. I store our products in my home, which is brilliant for flexibility, but challenging in terms of finding a cut-off between home life and work life. I’m lucky that we do have a spare bedroom and an office, but Aerende is starting to outgrow them and, having limited space means we can’t benefit on economies of scale on things like packing boxes; I simply don’t have enough space to store them. The next step is seeking some social investment to help fund a studio where we can store stock properly, showcase the products and create some distance for me between home and work.

 Why online? Being online has many advantages – not least in being able to reach people from a wider network than a physical shop might do. But I’ll be honest: this was a practical decision born out of lack of finance rather than a strategic one. I needed to be able to work flexibly around my family and going online is a much less risky way of testing a concept than going all in with a physical store. Having said that, a bricks and mortar shop is still a dream for me. We loved our pop-up with Appear Here so much, we’re looking at ways of funding another.

How hard was it to set up your website? Setting it up was the easy bit. My family are amazed at what I’ve built considering my fairly basic technical skills. I’ve learnt a lot in the last three years but the retail platform we use – Shopify – is amazingly user-friendly, even for non-techy people like me. It makes all the back-end payment stuff easy and links in with lots of apps so we can add and adapt features as and when they are requested or when we have funding to do so. SEO is a harder thing to crack and is an ongoing process. There are so many resources out there (and I’ve heard Lucy Lucraft’s SEO course is a good one).

 How do you source your products? It’s a complex process. Unlike almost every other online interiors/gift store, we can’t find items at trade fairs or on social media because our makers aren’t really on or at either. So it’s a process of word of mouth, Google and lots of research. And then, because we want the products to be desirable and to fit with the collection we work out colour schemes and shapes and sizes that would work well, and create each product in collaboration with the makers – so they can explore their skills and we can ensure an ever-changing collection. Now we have a profile makers are starting to find us too.

And how do you design your products? I don’t have a formal background in design so I simply start by creating products that I’d like to own or want to use. I hope that by creating things I love to look at and use, others will feel the same. Some inspirations come from nature, from heritage techniques, from Shaker and Danish design or sometimes start with a colour mood board I’ve spotted on Pinterest. It’s easy to feel there’s a ‘proper’ way to do this stuff but one of the great joys of running your own business is that it’s not always necessary to conform to preconceived notions of what business is. And I often remind myself that being an outsider without an MBA or corporate experience can open up possibilities for doing things differently and more effectively. Design is an organic process and I want to hang on to that feeling rather than over-thinking or over-complicating products that should bring pleasure and beauty to the day-to-day.

Emily’s advice

1. Plan ahead and do the finances but be prepared to ditch the plan and to drop an idea if it isn’t working.

2. Have a story. Tell it confidently and regularly. Make this your point of difference.

3. Have a vision. Knowing where you want to get to really helps to prioritise and focus on the day to day.

Thank you ladies! So insightful! Do check out all three lovely brands - Firain, La Basketry and Aerende, as well as Huma’s excellent blog Our Story Time.

Taking the leap to freelance life

Writer and blogger Jessica Rose Williams recently made the long-dreamt-about decision to leave her job and go full-time with her blog. But how easy is it to make that choice, and how do you know the time is right? Jessica shares her journey with us and then chats to three other creative women to hear their tales of taking the freelance leap…

When is the right time to go freelance? Jessica Rose Williams explains.

It’s what most of us dream of when the boss is dishing out those jobs we hate doing, breathing down our necks and telling us we can’t have that morning off we’d asked for. Being my own boss has been a dream of mine for years, but I never thought it was for people like me. I thought you had to be one of those stereotypical creative types, an Insta-ready 6ft blonde in a bikini or have a bullet-proof business plan in your pocket with a ton of money in the bank in case it doesn’t work out.

Mostly, I always thought you had to have a lot more brains, confidence and courage than I thought I had. Fast forward a few years and here I am writing this; being my own boss, and I took that morning off I wanted just yesterday. 

I have a theory that given the choice, most people would jump at the chance of being self-employed over working a traditional 9-5. Making my own leap took a lot of psyching myself up for, like one of those birds you see flapping around in the tree before they actually fly the nest. But I did it. And I’ve no regrets. Knowing when to do it was the toughest part. Is there ever a right time? 

I knew the time was right to start blogging full time 18 months ago, but I chose to ignore it. My husband was the one who said it out loud first and I insisted he was wrong until it got to the point where I couldn’t ignore what had been staring me in the face any longer. So I jumped. I felt lucky to have had the freedom to write my blog alongside my work for our financial advice business but the workload scales eventually tipped and I couldn’t manage both. I had to choose and I chose what fed my soul and gave me the most joy, even though it wasn’t a sure thing financially.  

My biggest struggle was stepping into what felt like an almighty spotlight and saying out loud that I was doing this. I’d already been doing it anyway, but I’d stayed in the safety zone and kept my strings attached - just in case I failed. Reframing failure as a learning opportunity was invaluable in lifting the pressure I’d been suffocating under and giving myself the reassurance I needed. 

It would be unrealistic to glamourise freelance life as a perfect one but with so many of us dreaming of a career on our own terms or even just a creative side hustle that provides some pocket money, I think it can be comforting to hear from those that have gone before us. 

I interviewed three other self-employed creatives to find out more about their stories and the struggles they had to overcome before they flew the nest too. 

Kayte Ferris on going freelance

Kayte’s story 

Kayte Ferris was a marketing manager for a nursery furniture company before she upped sticks to the Welsh mountains to start her creative coaching business. She told me how even though her job was creative on paper, the reality of staff meetings and sales targets weren’t what she wanted to do. Something was missing. 

It took her boyfriend accepting a job offer in rural Wales for Kayte to run out of excuses and take the leap. Knowing her living expenses would be halved felt like the opportunity she’d been aching for. With the decision to quit her job and move to the countryside taken out of her hands, Kayte’s real struggle came with deciding what she was going to do. To overcome this, she signed up for coaching with Jen Carrington, binged on creative podcasts such as Being Boss, Hashtag Authentic and Blogtacular and gave the decision making process the necessary time it deserved.

Siobhan Watts on becoming a freelance photographer

Siobhan’s story

Siobhan Watts was a tour manager for a theatre company before she decided not to return from her maternity leave and develop her photography business instead. She’d been building her creative venture for two years prior to her leap, but it wasn’t until she got pregnant that she knew she wanted to take it full time for freedom. 

Sometimes it’s a case of asking yourself which is worse and this is how it was for Siobhan. It became scarier to see herself at 40 with 2 kids in a job she didn’t like than to go after what she truly wanted. After years of fearing the vision she was terrified of and not knowing who she really was, it felt like it was now or never. Siobhan found believing in herself the hardest thing to do but with the task of raising a little girl on her hands, she felt she wouldn’t be able to tell her to follow her dreams when she’d clearly given up on her own.

Kara Leigh Ford on being a freelance ceramicist

Kara’s story

After finishing her art degree, Kara worked in marketing for 10 years before she decided to take her ceramics business full time. She describes herself during that time as a compass with no north. Kara had learned pottery at evening classes as a creative outlet, but it wasn’t until she was in a room full of potters at auditions for BBC’s The Great Pottery Throwdown that she realised it was possible to make a living from her hobby. Less than six months earlier she’d lost a close friend to a brain tumour and felt this was the kick from the universe telling her to make it when he tragically hadn’t. 

When it comes to choosing the right time, Kara believes in signposts from the universe and ‘if you ignore them, it’ll give you bigger signs’ she told me. She couldn’t ignore the signs any longer when her new home came equipped with a shed perfect for a pottery studio at the bottom of the garden. Less than six months after losing her friend Kara had handed in her notice and was ready to face her greatest fear of not being a success. Leaning into a little vulnerability and telling her family and friends what she was thinking of doing gave her the final push she needed.

Some tips if you’re thinking ‘this is me!’ and you’d love to start your own creative business

‘Start before you’re ready. I wish I hadn’t kept my cards so close to my chest and shared my business developing openly. It’s more important to be talking to those you’re thinking of selling to’ - Kayte Ferris

‘Tell people about what you’re thinking about doing. The self-critic is loudest when you don’t get support’ - Kara Leigh Ford

‘Do it. Do it. Do it. You don’t have to go all in right away, but make a plan and get yourself in a secure position - maybe cut down on some days in your job. If possible save up some money and get a few clients so you can explore what it is you do and don’t want to do. Hire someone like a coach or get some like-minded people together to support one another. Ultimately - just do it’ - Siobhan Watts

And me? I would encourage you to let to your gut guide you. Too often we look for external permission when we’re the ones that know what’s best for us. Forget what your head and heart are telling you and focus on that pull that comes from deep down in your stomach. You’ll know when the time is right. Trust it. 

I came away from each interview feeling more and more inspired to continue my new but exciting freelance journey and chase my own creative dreams. I’m hoping you feel the same way. 

Thank you Jessica (and ladies!) for this inspiring and insightful look at how it’s possible to make the move from full-time employment to living the working life you really want. Follow Jessica’s journey over on her blog and Instagram.

Facing adversity with creativity

At 91 we love delving in and hearing the stories of why and how people have launched a creative business. There’s often many different reasons why people have decided to go it alone or try something they’ve always dreamt of. All are inspiring of course, but there are some stories that just stick with you. Grace Harvey chats to two women who found their calling after extremely dark and different times in their lives. Their stories a reminder that life isn’t a dress rehearsal and we should take every experience - good or bad - as a way to move forward with positivity and creativity, making the most of life however it leads us.

 Photo by Scott Murray

Photo by Scott Murray

Positive Luxury. Choose Light. Four words born out of darkness and circumstances in which many of us hope to never find ourselves. Siân Esther, a luxury nightwear brand founded by Siân Adkins following the death of her parents, sets out to ensure that women can have a safe night’s sleep, and puts positive luxury at the heart of its mission. ‘Choose Light’ is the foundation of Moments of Sense and Style, or MOSS for short, a lifestyle store founded by Syreeta Challinger and her partner Rob, after Rob suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2014.

Siân Esther

Siân built her brand around the notion that in the nights we can’t sleep or days we can’t get out of bed, that we should still have beauty around us. Siân’s willingness to share her experiences so candidly has established a system of support for women who otherwise would not have this. Grief, as Siân herself notes, is not a topic of conversation that we have on a day-to-day basis. Her work with charity partners and the ethics behind the brand set her apart from other luxe brands, whilst ensuring that luxury remains at the heart of Siân Esther’s philosophy. Here, Sian tells me more….

What in particular inspired you to create something positive out of difficult personal circumstances, and to share your experiences so frankly as well as positively?

Creativity has always provided a great sense of joy for me and when I struggled to find the perfect pair of sophisticated pyjamas that I could give as a gift to my Mum, we challenged ourselves to make samples and look into patterns. During this time my Mum died suddenly and I really felt this was something that I wanted to carry on in her legacy. Mum’s ethos was always about buying fewer, better quality pieces and so this would form part of the brand values.

For me I found the grief of losing both my parents young (my Dad died 5 years before) really affected my sleep hugely and I would often wake in the night with anxiety, or worry about things that I would never have done before. When something tragic happens to you, it also challenges us to look at things differently, I couldn’t change the situation but I did realise I wanted to do something that was purpose-driven. Although grief impacted my sleep, I was so grateful for my fantastic support network of friends and family, as well as a lovely home and I realised that not all women who go through tough situations have this support system. Through the partnerships with our charities, I want to be able to help vulnerable and disadvantaged women to have a safe night’s sleep too. To be able to give them that feeling of comfort and security, like when you put on a pair of pjs.

What work do you do with your charity partners and how do you help vulnerable women through these partnerships?

We support women through three different routes; through our profits, our supply chain and personal support. 20% of our profits go to supporting our three partner charities. Firstly, The Marylebone Project, which is the largest women’s homeless shelter in the UK. They help women who find themselves homeless and in need for many reasons; from domestic violence and mental health issues to financial difficulties. The Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise in East London and provides training, community and employment opportunities in their bakery for disadvantaged women who may have experienced poverty, homelessness, violence or criminal activity. Mercy UK run a 6-month residential programme for women aged between 18 and 30 and who may be struggling with low self-esteem, depression, self-harming, eating and anxiety disorders. The home provides a safe place to equip and empower women in a healing journey.

Our second route is through our supply chain – we work with a social enterprise - Juta Shoes in East London - who employ women who would otherwise find it difficult to get into work to make our espadrille leather slippers and we also partner with Freeset in Kolkata, India who employ women who were previously stuck in the sex-trade industry to make our makeup bags. This is part of their journey to freedom. Lastly, we have also been practically involved with supporting the set-up of a women’s day shelter in a church in London.

 Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

 Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

What has been the biggest challenge about developing and communicating the philosophy that underpins Siân Esther?

Brand visibility in general has been hard outside of the regional area, as probably lots of start-ups find. For me personally; the challenge has been around being able to share my story openly and honestly, as I don’t think we talk about grief enough but then also balancing this with the beauty of our products and not just creating a heart-felt story. I want people to fall in love with our products and then also love our mission to support a social cause.

And the best? Which moments or opportunities have especially stood out to you?

I held a launch party at the Coppa Club in Henley where I live and that was a really special moment for me – to be able to celebrate the achievement of creating beautiful nightwear pieces with friends and family and to celebrate the start of a new journey after a difficult and dark time was amazing. We need to remember to celebrate the good things in life! After this, I had such positive feedback and received a letter from our MP, which was just amazing. Siân Esther was then featured on Sheerluxe as the brand to know for ethical pyjamas and that was very exciting.

Alongside this, I have also loved meeting so many new people, who I would otherwise not have met; other start-up founders, the charities which we support and people who have reached out through social media as they love what I am doing and want to help. I have realised not to be shy when asking for help and people are often flattered to be involved.

 Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

 Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

Photo by Feia van Dusseldorp

How would you encourage others to harness difficult circumstances or situations in their lives to create something positive?

I have realised that sadly we do sometimes face difficult situations that we cannot change but that we shouldn’t let our circumstance shape our future. We can build resilience through these tough times and use this to propel ourselves forward and grow. I think it is also important to mention that resilience isn’t just about being strong, we also have to be willing to be vulnerable and to allow others in to build relationships and to ask for help when needed.

When a traumatic experience happens to us, it often changes the way we see things or the perspective that we approach life. I listened to a talk by a chap called Stephen Foster, who talked about no risk = no reward, which really resonated with me. I found that after losing my parents, I became even more aware of other’s reactions around me but if we focus on these reactions, we can miss out on the opportunity in front of us.

What message do you hope people take away from Siân Esther?

I hope to encourage others to be bold and do something they really enjoy but also to build businesses that are purpose-driven from the core and not just as a bolt on, as a nice-to-have element. Finding something you really enjoy doing - which for me is creating nightwear, arranging flowers and baking - can provide a great sense of relief and joy through the mist of a difficult time.

Hopefully the women buying my pieces will feel empowered wearing them but also that they are playing their part in helping to empower other women.

Moments of Sense and Style

Based in Lincoln, MOSS encapsulates an elegant and thoughtful calm. Their range of candles and room mists, notebooks, luxury matches, and Rob’s art is based on their story and journey- each evokes a place and a feeling, and is a reminder to slow down and cherish small moments. It was clear from Rob’s exhibition at the University of Lincoln earlier this year, and the TEDx talk they did together in June, that both Rob and Syreeta talk and create candidly about their experiences. Rob’s art encourages us to see how love can truly heal, and that he continues to do brilliantly as his tries his utmost to get through. Syreeta filled me in further about the history of the business and how it has helped the couple to embrace what life has thrown at them…

 Photo by Natasha Boyes

Photo by Natasha Boyes

Tell me a little more about MOSS.

Moments Of Sense & Style or MOSS for short, is a lifestyle studio and brand. Each product, art print or project we work on is considered and developed with a sensory experience of beauty in mind. The ethos is simplicity, to encourage people to slow down; embrace their senses and do it in style.

The brand was born out of life changing events, it has been a creative saviour. A loving, healing and cathartic project, but also a way to try and get back into the world again. To establish ourselves and earn a living around our life as it is now.

We are socially and ecologically aware, that yes, we wish to create products, but not creations for the sake of it. Each product is deeply considered and aligns with a need or desire from our life as it is now, with respect for the provenance and raw materials. By embracing the path of a studio alongside our wares, we are able to work on projects that compliment our ethos and help spread awareness of not only brain injury, but the importance of wellbeing to our health and inner world too. It’s more of a movement, a fluid label, one that leaves room for us to grow and change; as change is the only constant we have. Life is always changing and shifting and we have created a space in which to evolve.

 Photo by Natasha Boyes

Photo by Natasha Boyes

What in particular inspired you to create something positive out of difficult personal circumstances, and to share your experiences so frankly as well as positively?

It’s quite a tale. My boyfriend at the time Rob and I were living and working in Hong Kong, when on the 27th September 2014, Rob suffered a near fatal brain haemorrhage and stroke. To make things more complicated, we were on the second day of a holiday in Sydney. Rob was in a coma and I was told he wouldn’t make it, but here I am almost 4 years later balancing life as full time carer, Rob’s slow rehabilitation, starting life over again and able to share this with you.

After being stuck in Sydney for 3 months, we realised life in HK was over and moved back to the UK to be with family. I had to move countries, start life in a city and home that was not my own, whilst dealing with Rob’s needs and care. Trauma on all levels. I lost my identity and sense of self, my home, my job, all in one go, whilst having to radiate love and support to Rob. I realised that’s all I had. Love. And that’s what has carried me through.

In all this, caring and rehab and grief, I needed an outlet. I could’t find work, was feeling low and needed to do something. It started out initially as a blog - a Tumblr page - inadvertently creating an aesthetic for the brand. It’s slowly evolved and become a creative space for both of us. Sharing the story through the Tumblr was a visceral journey. I pulled words, music, visuals, many of the photos our own and it was essentially a form of therapy for me. It had to get out of me.

The Maya Angelou quote rings true “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. And as I shared, with friends at first, the response was overwhelmingly encouraging. It spurred me on and I continued to take step by step. And not only was I sharing to get it out of me, I was sharing to feel connected. I was isolated geographically, mentally, physically. In a city without any contacts, I had to start again on every level, yet how does one connect in a new city without work and in our horrendous situation?

Social media was a window to the world and made me feel part of something when so far removed from reality. Not only that, I was incredibly proud of what I was doing and of Rob - his determination and strength, our courage as young couple; staring tragedy fearlessly in the face. I wanted to tell the world how brilliant he was and how my efforts, by investing patience, love and care, had spurred on such wonderful changes.

I had taught Rob to draw again and this was how we communicated for a really long time, and we still do on bad days. He now draws for pleasure and is pursuing a new path as an artist, selling his prints as part of MOSS. Rob suffers with Aphasia which affects his reading and writing as well as speech. He is learning, but essentially it was like having a six-foot baby; he’s had to relearn everything.

And we will continue to share and talk about it. As when something happens to you, society tends to decide your fate. Writes you off. But we feel that everyone has something to offer if only given half the chance. Especially when offered a creative space. We feel passionately that creativity heals.

Don’t get me wrong, it has been horrific at times and still is on occasion. But with time, gentleness and positivity and a whole lot of love, we have got through.

 Photo by Natasha Boyes

Photo by Natasha Boyes

 Photo by Natasha Boyes

Photo by Natasha Boyes

What has been the biggest challenge about developing and communicating the philosophy that underpins MOSS?

It’s a challenge that’s for sure, but I always describe us as more than just a brand. Its more than just a candle, notebook or art print. For many people, they feel with their heads, not their hearts and don’t quite understand. They wonder why I do what I do. I wonder why they wouldn’t. The challenge is seeking the like minded souls, who feel deeply and perhaps have been through something. Where life has tested them, whether through something big or small, but something has awakened within them. They’ve let their guard down, not fearful. Something has moved them deeply and allowed them to understand the fragility of life and be open to others, with the understanding it comes with both dark and light; the good in the bad and bad in the good.

And as a fast evolving tech first world, I feel we are losing that connection to understanding ourselves, our connection to others. But those that do get it; it’s pure joy to feel connected to them. That they too, hold a place for our recovery and path as much as we encourage positivity and love for those of theirs. Fundamentally, it’s about being; the complex bundle of emotions and feelings, respecting one another for who we truly are, lifting each other up, supporting each other when chips are down.

And the best? Which moments or opportunities have especially stood out to you?

We held an exhibition for Rob in January this year at University Of Lincoln. It was an incredible achievement, at just 3 years after the brain haemorrhage, for Rob to be able to do this and for the uni to welcome us graciously. For me, it was incredibly tough to write and curate it, yet under Rob’s strict instructions, we shared the full story. Images from life before, his coma, the rehab recovery; all out in public. Yet the message was strong; one of hope and positivity. How creativity and love can heal.

And we elevated that message with a Tedx talk in June, sharing our hearts and story, on the world stage! What a moment, to be on stage together. But fundamentally, that we are here. Together. Doing this! I write this as we near the four year anniversary and to be able to share this with you, all that we have done and are doing, is incredible. They told me Rob would never make it, and if he did he would never be the same again and none of this was a possibility. Look at how far we have come. That is the most incredible thing.

 Photo by Natasha Boyes

Photo by Natasha Boyes

How would you encourage others to harness difficult circumstances or situations in their lives to create something positive?

By letting everything go, every inch of my life as I knew it came nothing. It was not easy, nor was it comfortable. But from nothing, comes something. The quiet, the slow pace. The emptiness is a place of possibility. And from possibility, comes curiosity. And the space to dream and wonder. As what have you got to lose at this point? Nothing! So take a step. Even if it’s just an inch. Inch by inch, as with Rob’s recovery, it’s the only way to build, to grow, to develop.

Find the energy to do so, as sadly no one else can do it for you. There is no hero or knight on a white stead, other than the one inside of you. It won’t be pretty. But surrendering to the situation, letting it get all messy and mad is one of the most liberating things. Letting go of what once was and opening your heart and mind. Allowing yourself to feel every bit and understand your emotions around the changes and when you try new things.

It’s not always easy, and I still have to remind myself of this notion. But it’s where you really delve deep, finding strength you never knew you had.

What message do you hope people take away from MOSS?

Hopefully, more than one. First and foremost, the message to slow down. To breathe. To carve out time, just for soothing the soul and taking stock of the good in the world. And in that way, I mean carve out time and create a ritual, perhaps lighting a candle to mark the change of pace, or noting or doodling in a notebook, to soothe your soul. To be grateful. To cherish the beauty in the mundane, the precious every day things we all take for granted. They are the true gifts. And most importantly, one of light, of hope. That no matter what is thrown at you, there is always a way through.

91 is pinning... indie brands

It’s a bit of a quick post on the blog today as things are a little hectic at 91 HQ right now. The AW18 issue goes to print TODAY! I’m busy preparing for the delivery of boxes and boxes of magazines in a few weeks, addressing envelopes of our pre-orders, getting the digital version ready and all the other admin that comes with it. I’m also getting ready for my creative business workshop with Inspired Collective on the 27th (this one is sold out, but there’s another one for sale at the mo, happening in Nov). Anyway, I just wanted to share what we’ve been pinning of late. A new board - Indie Brands - is where I’m collating all those gorgeous independent makers, designers and shops that we love. Here’s a little taster, but do pop to our Pinterest page for more. It’s very much a work in progress, so we will continue to add to it, so make sure to follow!

Stylish co-working spaces

These days more and more of us our working for ourselves, but being at home all day doesn’t suit everyone. It can be easy to start feeling lonely or develop cabin fever spending too much time in the space you live as well as work. Thankfully, co-working spaces are now popping up everywhere, many of which have went to town on their design and aesthetic, proving that office spaces don’t need to be dull, grey, uninspiring boxes. Sophie Warren-Smith discovers five of the most stylish work hubs from around the world…

The Wing - female only co-working space New York
The Wing - female only co-working spaces - New York


WhereThe Wing, various locations in the US.

The Wing is a unique networking and community space that’s exclusively designed for women. We are in love with their chic aesthetic and colour palette of millennial pink, pastel blues, russet and olive green.

What they offer

They have four beautifully curated locations - Flatiron, Soho (above top), Dumbo (above bottom) and DC with San Francisco launching in October 2018. There are two membership options, Single Location which gives you your own space, priced at $215 monthly, or All Access which gives you unlimited access to all of their locations and events, $250 a month.

Special features:

Being for women only some of the special features include a beauty room and lactation room. There’s also a library, showers, phone and conference rooms, food & drinks and other perks and freebies. The Wing also plays a big part in supporting women and girls in community projects. 

Uncommon Borough - co-working space
Uncommon, Borough - co-working space


Where: Uncommon, 1 Long Lane, London SE1 4PG

Uncommon have various branches around London - they can be found in Borough (above), Highbury and Islington, Fulham and Liverpool Street. Plant lovers will enjoy their nature inspired Borough location, which also has a lovely open plan coffee lounge for meetings or just taking a break.

What they offer:

All locations offer five options and you can choose from day passes, weekend passes, a hot desk, dedicated desk or private office. Prices start from £20 for a day pass - we love this option - it’s perfect if you live out of town and want a day or two working in a different environment or you’re visiting and want somewhere creative to work.

Special features:

All of their locations have a coffee lounge, meeting rooms, showers, bike storage, phone booths for extra privacy, outdoor space and are dog friendly. Some of them have kitchenettes and Borough has a pop-up retail space where you can trial new products that you’re working on, or buy from fellow creatives.

Stockholm co-working space The Castle


Where: The Castle, Slottsbacken 8, 111 30, Stockholm

Situated in a stunning period style building, The Castle is in the heart of central Stockholm. The great hall of Flemingska palatset, still has the beautiful original decor from the 18th century with decorative wallpaper and gold panelling.

What they offer:

They have many options starting at fixed desk, flexible desk full-time and the useful low income 2 days a week or low income full time. You can also rent a room, prices start from 1800kr/month.

Special features:

There’s a cafe where you can socialise with other co-working members and network over meals, tea and coffee, a yoga room that doubles as a photo studio and screening room, plus you have access to printers and conference rooms.

We Work La Fayette in Paris
WeWork LaFayette co-working space in Paris


Where: WeWork La Fayette, 33 Rue La Fayette, Paris 75 75009

WeWork is a global network of workspaces with locations in most major cities worldwide. Their La Fayette location is situated in a stunning Art Deco building, which has an eye-catching central atrium, multiple outdoor terraces and scenic views over St.Georges and Pigalle.

What they offer:

There are nine locations in Paris, La Fayette (above), Champs-Élysées,  37 Avenue Trudaine, 123 Boulevard de Grenelle, Coeur Marais. 7 Rue de Madrid, 198 Avenue de France, 18 Rue de Navarin and Colisée. They vary in what they offer - all have private office space and other options include dedicated desks and hot desks. Prices start from €360 for a hot desk.

Special features:

At all of these locations you’ll have super fast internet, daily cleaning, IT support, 24/7 building access, office supplies, global network, coffee, draft beer, bike storage, business class printers, mail and package handling and private phone booths.

Mesh - co-working space in Oslo, Norway
MESH co-working space in Oslo - Food & Drink Bar


Where: Mesh - The Creators’ Community, Tordenskioldsgate 3, 0160 Oslo, Norway

Mesh is the first co-working space in Oslo and has been designed specifically to nurture and grow creativity. The Work Lounge is a creative space to meet new people whilst working, or use it for meetings if you’re visiting the city. The Food & Drink Bar is open to everyone and serves international dishes throughout the day, so you can eat and network at the same time!

What they offer:

Mesh offer three memberships - private office space for teams of 2 - 40, plus desk membership is for those who want to work in an open plan environment, flex or fixed term options available and The Work Lounge is a great space for meetings, so it’s ideal if you are in Oslo as a traveller and want somewhere to connect with others. Prices start from kr790 excluding vat.

Special features:

Mesh’s Food and Drink Bar is open to both members and non-members, and they have six event spaces with their own event crew and sound engineers. They also hold a series of talks that are held throughout the year on various different topics.

another handy tip…

Croissant app

Croissant - a co-working space app

We’re not talking about pastries here sadly, but Croissant is still a genius idea! Started by a group of friends who used to work together in coffee shops and who wanted the freedom of being able to bounce from place to place to meet up and connect wherever they were. Basically it’s a monthly co-working membership that gives freelancers access to hot desks at the coolest workspaces in cities all around the world. In London and need a space to work? Simply log in to the app and it will tell you what’s available, or likewise in any city.

How does it work?

There are three payment options - Explorer at £29pm, Creator at £99pm and Luminary at £199pm, and it works by using hours, so for example you turn up at a place via the app in New York and are there for two hours, you’ll get two hours taken off your membership. You check in like you do in a hotel, and check out when you leave.

Growing your creative business

With so much noise on the internet these days, it's often hard to track down the genuinely great content that will be worth spending your precious time on. We often find ourselves endlessly scrolling Instagram or reading memes on Facebook that, let's face it, aren't really going to benefit our lives in any way. If you've found yourself craving an online haven, a place to learn, socialise and get inspired without all the distraction, then let me introduce you to Sisterhood Camp. Lou Archell launched her 'IRL' Sisterhood retreats back in 2015, but this summer she has created an online retreat - perfect for those who can't make the real life events but want the benefit of the creative community and learning they offer. 

It is a private member community, which runs for three months each season. Once enrolled, you'll have access to all of the content - e-courses, blog posts and forums. It encompasses a range of topics - career development, creativity, wellness and travel. Summer Camp is already in progress so enrolment for that is now closed, but we have a little snippet from one of the e-courses to whet your appetite. If it floats your boat, then do hop over to the website for more blog content (many of the posts are public, although some are for members only) and register your interest in Autumn Camp which will open for enrolment on 20th August. (Pricing: £200 for 3 months. or instalments of £67 per month.) Autumn Camp starts on 1st September through to 30th November.

Growing your own creative business

Growing your own creative business - with Camilla Westgaard of Folksy


Is there a secret to building a successful creative business? Scroll through Instagram and it feels like there are some creatives who have just got it down. Their feed is full of beautifully wrapped parcels ready to be shipped, their workshops are sold out in seconds and their inboxes are overflowing with DMs asking when the next shop update is happening. But how did they get there? Probably with a lot of hard work. Growing a business takes time and dedication, and stories of overnight success are rare or not quite what they seem.

Over the last decade, I’ve been there, put in those hours, had the successes and the failures, watched, learned from, listened to and guided other indie businesses as they’ve grown and thrived. It’s these creatives who keep the world interesting, so in this series I’m going to share the lessons learned to help you take your idea and grow it into a fully-fledged business or a nice little side-hustle that nurtures your soul, depending on what you want and need from it.


Growing your own creative business

Consider what kind of business you really want – and be honest here. Do you want something you can do from your sofa while listening to podcasts, that will bring in a little extra money to subsidise adventures away? Or do you aspire to having your own design studio with a team of people working for you so you can focus on ideas? Maybe enjoying the physical process of making is more important? Or maybe you want to travel the world passing on your wisdom and meeting interesting people?

If your business takes off, you may end up making the same products a hundred times or running the same workshops over and over again. How good are you at repetitive tasks? Think about which parts of the business you enjoy, what you would like to do more of and equally what you’d like to do less of. Then design a business around that – one that suits you. We all have to start somewhere but if you know where you’d like it to go and how you’d like it to look, it’s easier to get there… and also to make sure you don’t end up in a place you never meant to be.

How: Write down what your ideal business looks like in terms of the number of hours you are working on it, the number of people you have working with you, the scale of your output, where you work and what that work consists of. This will help you create a business that you can sustain and nurture.


When people start a new business, they often assume that by offering a vast variety of products and choice, they’ll be able to appeal to more people and sell more products. In most cases, the opposite is true: occupy a niche, limit your product range and you’ll have a stronger business. You don’t need loads of product lines and variations to be successful; you just need to do one thing really well. Imagine you’re a restaurant (bear with me)… don’t be the one with the stressed chef serving hundreds of items on the menu, buying in tons of ingredients and juggling hundreds of pans. It’s not cost-effective and it’s not the way to go if you value reputation or quality. Instead be the one where the chef has a limited board serving the best ingredients, combined to create interesting and original dishes, cooked well, and where people queue for tables.

Focusing on one thing also makes it easier to define your customers, target your marketing, hone your skills and stand out as the go-to person for that product, style or content.

How: Think about what you want to sell. Are there lots of other people doing something similar? Good, that means there’s a market for it. But how can you get a slice? Who are the established businesses people look to? Is there something they are not doing that you could? What can you offer that isn’t currently out there, or what can you specialise in? Is there a community you can serve?

Growing your own creative business

Don’t expect to be able to leave your 9-to-5 straight away. If you do want to make your business full time, be realistic about when that’s possible. It’s true that if you leave your job you’ll be able to focus all your time and attention on your new venture, and it may well flourish more quickly. Some people thrive on this and feel they are more likely to succeed when all the safety nets have gone and the only option is to make it work. But being completely dependent on your own business for your income is risky, which is why having fallbacks in place and designing several revenue streams makes sense.

This isn’t just about how reliant you are on your new business to pay your bills, it also relates to where you focus your business and the channels you rely on for your marketing and sales. Think about Instagram: if you only ever focus on reaching customers through IG, what happens if a new platform comes along and people leave Instagram in droves, or the algorithms change the network so significantly (as happened on Facebook) that it no longer works for indie businesses who don’t want to pay to advertise their posts? You might be able to move your business across but you could have a period when your revenue plummets and your business might not survive the dip.

How: Being absolutely reliant on your business, or turning what you love into a profession, can change how you feel about it, and leaving financial stability for a new business venture is also a risk that not everyone can afford to take. You know your situation, so take everything at a pace that works for you.

*Extracted from Camilla Westgaard's e-course on growing your own creative business - part of Sisterhood Summer Camp.* - Camilla Westergaard has been immersed in the world of creative indie businesses for almost a decade, first as a designer & maker stocked in Liberty’s and then as Content Lead at Folksy, the home of British craft, where she interviews makers, writes advice for other sellers, commissions articles and designs social media content and campaigns. She is genuinely passionate about supporting makers and believes there are simple, practical steps everyone can take that will help their creative business become successful. If you want to see pictures of hedgehogs, cats and cushions, you can follow her on Instagram at @bbutterscotch

Growing your creative business

91 loves... Marta Abad Blay

We've had so many questions about the artwork that appeared on the cover of our current issue, which is hanging in the home of Ilona Zieltjens (@mamoesjka_nl). The print, entitled 'Girl 1' is the work of Spanish artist Marta Abad Blay, and we have fallen a little bit in love with her distinctive style. We caught up with Marta to find out a little more about her work....

 Image:  @mamoesjka_nl
 Image:  @mamoesjka_nl

91: What is the inspiration behind your series of Girl illustrations? 

Marta: I cannot stop drawing girls right now. It is like I cannot stop it. :) My work is very organic and I try not to think about it too much. When I think too much then I don't produce something I really like. With this series, I was very inspired by children's drawings; I see my daughter Mia painting and I really admire her process - without thinking, without judging. So I have tried to do the same when I am painting these girls. :) 

 Image:  @martabadblay
 Image:  @martabadblay
Marta Abad Blay and her work

91: What is your working process? How do you come up with your gorgeous colour combinations? 

My working process is completely organic. The colour combinations came about without any planning or preparation. This was actually intentional - I tried not to plan it, plus I don’t follow any trends. I just paint what I like to do.

91: How does it make you feel to see your work featured in lots of beautiful homes on Instagram? Does this help with selling your work? 

It is an honour for me to receive such a great response to my work.  And, yes, it has really helped to sell my work. It is a way to see my products in different places and atmospheres. 

 Image:  @magdalenad
 Image:  @teamtonkin

91: How can people get hold of one of your original artworks? Do you take commissions? 

Yes I do take commissions,  just write to me at I have also original pieces for sale in my online shop

Favourite independent shop: Stockholm store Beton - also online at 

Favourite Instagram account: Melissa Tonkin - @teamtonkin and Ilona Zieltjens - @mamoesjka_nl

Favourite designer/maker: Japanese artist Mogu Takahashi @mogutakahashi

Favourite city: Amsterdam

Favourite book or magazine: Apartamento

 Image:  @mamoesjka_nl

Thanks so much Marta! So there you have it, the artist behind that eye-catching print on our S/S 18 cover! You can order direct from Marta on her website, or UK online store Grey September have recently started stocking some of her work. 

Making terrazzo coasters with Olivia Aspinall & Pelican Story

We are always looking out for the most exciting and on-trend events that are happening across the country, and anything that combines shopping, making and great interiors has definitely got us intrigued! We sent 91 contributors Nancy Straughan and Jemma Watts along to a recent event at Kreativ House in London, to shop the pelican story pop-up and make terrazzo coasters with Olivia Aspinall...  

Terrazzo coaster making with Olivia Aspinall

Terrazzo burst onto the interior scene a few years ago and since I first discovered it via Pinterest I have been dying to know more about it and how it's made. Like me, you’ve probably noticed it being used recently by some of the coolest interiors and homeware brands and in modern kitchen design, but in fact terrazzo dates back as far as the 15th century, and traditionally utilised chips of marble or granite. I spied a lot of terrazzo flooring while in Greece recently, thanks to the country's history in producing beautiful marble. 

These days, contemporary terrazzo features bold colours and shapes and is being used in lots of unusual ways. I would never have considered being able to craft something from it myself, so I was thrilled to be invited to workshop recently to learn how to make terrazzo coasters.

Kreativ House Hackney, London
Kreativ House, Hackney, London
Kreativ House, Hackney, London
Pelican Story pop up at Kreativ House London

The class was a collaboration between three creative businesses, Olivia Aspinall, pelican story and Kreativ House. The workshop was run by Olivia Aspinall alongside pelican story who were running a special pop-up shop on the ground floor of Kreativ House. Kreativ House is a beautiful private workspace that helps support small businesses in East London, the perfect place for both the pop up and workshops.

Pelican Story pop up at Kreativ House London
Pelican Story pop up at Kreativ House London
Pelican Story pop up at Kreativ House London
Pelican Story pop up at Kreativ House London

Before beginning the workshop, I had a browse of the beautiful pelican story pop up. This relatively new brand stocks a great selection of contemporary and hard to find homeware, furniture and gifts, many which are mid-century and Scandinavian inspired. Some are also locally made and the range felt a little bit different from your average homeware collection.

Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop
Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop

Moving on to the workshop, our host and teacher Olivia was exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable and she carefully explained each stage of the making process before we got started. The main material for our home-made terrazzo was jesmonite. This is a composite material that combines plaster, cement and a water-based plastic resin. Bright pots of saturated pigment were laid out, which we would use to colour our jesmonite chips as well as the base of our coasters.

Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop
Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop
Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop

The first stage was to carefully mix two batches of coloured jesmonite to make our chips for the coasters. I opted for a pale peach and a navy blue to match my living room at home. Measuring out the ingredients, we all made two separate batches of jesmonite resin, which would then be spread thinly onto sheets of plastic and left to dry. A quick cup of tea later and our coloured jesmonite was dry and ready to be broken up into chips.

Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop
Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop

After placing these pieces into cups, it was time to decide on the base colour for our coasters. My living space is relatively neutral and features hints of peach, blue and green, so I decided an off-white colour would work best. I added a touch of white and a little bit of mustard to the base to create a very pale cream colour. 

Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop

Next, we weighed out our jesmonite chips and Olivia provided us with some complimentary colours for us to add to our existing mix. Along with my peach and navy blue chips I added some mustard, pale pink and beige. These were then added into the base mixture of jesmonite and the entire lot was poured into two coaster moulds. The last stage was to tap the silicone moulds to ensure that all air bubbles would escape, then they were left to dry out completely.

Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop
Olivia Aspinall terrazzo coaster workshop

Olivia explained to us that she would take our coasters to her studio where she would sand and polish them to reveal the layers of our coloured chips. A few days later my coasters arrived in the post from Olivia and I absolutely love them - they complement my living room perfectly!

My expectations of making terrazzo was that it would be extremely complicated, but in reality it's simply a bit of colour theory, measuring and stirring! The trickiest part was choosing colours, but thankfully Olivia’s guidance was really helpful. Not only was it amazing to create something that seems so complicated by hand, but I so enjoyed learning about a new and exciting material – I’m positive that jesmonite will be making a firm impression on the interiors market very soon!

Check out pelican story online - their mailing list or Instagram will keep you posted on future events - the next one is happening in June (15th, 16th & 17th).  Olivia Aspinall will also list more workshops dates on her website and Instagram

Words: Nancy Straughan

Photography: Jemma Watts

Six indie shops hosting creative workshops

We love indie shops here at 91, and often wish we could spend more time in them. Luckily for us, the trend for indie store owners collaborating with creatives to host workshops means we can do exactly that. It really is a match made in heaven. Michelle Evans talks to six shopkeepers to find out more about why they do it and how it benefits both their shop and the creatives they work with. 

 Image courtesy of Botany

Image courtesy of Botany

We all like to feel like we are part of something meaningful. We look towards things that speak about the kind of life we want to lead and hold values that resonate with us. That counts for the purchases we make too, and unlike the consumerism of the late 20th century, the modern shopper is much more mindful, ethical and considered about the choices they make in the things they buy.

Independent shopkeepers with a bricks and mortar residence, know that they offer one golden thing that no online store can replicate: a real life store experience. It's the chance to connect with customers in a more meaningful way, giving them a more personalised and memorable experience. With this, retailers are finding ways to bring their shop to life by inviting creatives to join them with workshop experiences. It gives a unique way for a customer to participate with the shop, where they can feel part of the brand and learn something, or even make friends. For shopkeepers, it's also the opportunity to collaborate with like minded creatives, inviting them to set up a mini studio in store, and help show customers what the shop is all about.

 Life Story, Edinburgh, Scotland / Photo courtesy of  @wearetrouva

Life Story, Edinburgh, Scotland / Photo courtesy of @wearetrouva

 Squid Ink workshop at Life Story

Squid Ink workshop at Life Story

At Life Story in Edinburgh, owner Susan Doherty works with artists or makers who are associated with her business. ‘For example, when Squid Ink hosts workshops, they are using Sarah's (the creative behind Squid Ink) branded mini looms, that we also sell in the store. Participants often come back to buy one for a friend having fully understood themselves how they work and what the benefits of the product are, having attending a workshop.’

Not only does this enhance the story of the product and maker, it also shows that the shop has a love for craftsmanship, and encourages the customer to try craft themselves. The workshops create a buzz, make people curious and want to come in and find out more. This helps to raise awareness of the shop and collaborators alike.

Future workshops include macrame and leather purse making. Life Story @lifestoryedin

 Caro, Bruton, Somerset

Caro, Bruton, Somerset

 workshops at Caro

workshops at Caro

Having workshops in store is also a great way to build community. Natalie Jones has created an events calendar at Caro in Somerset to encourage collaboration. ‘Caro is situated in a very creative and convivial town. We are surrounded by a pool of people with a hugely varied arm of interests which I wanted to embrace at Caro. Having a space to encourage people to get together and learn a new skill or spend a few hours sharing ideas is a lovely thing to be a part of.’

The shop becomes a place of destination and discovery, where people not only build a more personal connection with the store, but also with each other. At Caro, Natalie has collaborated with creatives from jewellery designers to calligraphers to oscar winning photographers and says, ‘It has brought a fascinating mix of people to Caro which is fantastic.’

Upcoming workshop: Branding, Trends, Social Media & Blogging Workshop. Details here.

Caro / @carosomerset

 Sarah and Bendrix, Cheam, Surrey

Sarah and Bendrix, Cheam, Surrey

 Floral workshop hosted by Inspired Collective at Sarah and Bendrix

Floral workshop hosted by Inspired Collective at Sarah and Bendrix

Veronika Pollard and Petrica Harmsworth had a similar philosophy when they began running creative workshops at Sarah & Bendrix in Cheam, Surrey. ‘We started running the creative workshops (called Inspired Collective) because we wanted to give something a little different to the local community than just a gift store. Our aim was to create a space where people can come together to learn new skills, explore their creativity and make new friends at the same time.’

Workshops are a way for Veronika and Petrica to know their customers more, and develop their relationship with the creative community. 'We’re really keen on collaborating with local small businesses that focus on handmade, small-scale production, whether that’s through running workshops, stocking their product, and hopefully longer term, helping them to develop their business expertise.'

Fundamentally, the workshops have allowed us to be creative in different ways, brought new ideas and a closer connection to the local community. ‘Quite unexpectedly, we’re now working with a local creative crafting business, in hosting an event for a mental health charity, something we would never have envisaged a year ago!’

Find upcoming workshops here. Look out for a 91 Magazine workshop coming soon! Inspired Collective / @inspired.collective

 Home byKirsty, Roath, Wales

Home byKirsty, Roath, Wales

 floral workshops with Forbesfield flower school

floral workshops with Forbesfield flower school

Building on shared interests is a very natural way for shops to collaborate with creatives. Kirsty Patrick runs floristry workshops via her shop Home ByKirsty, along with Beth at Forbesfield flower school. Their story began as shop neighbours in Cardiff, and after a few successful classes together at Kirsty's new shop location in Roath, they decided to make the classes a regular event. With a combination of business savvy and floral artistry they have built a series of workshops across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

‘We work so well together, not only in our creative style, but we also balance each out - Beth teaching with her incredible knowledge of all things green, while I do the hidden organising and businessy bits. Having a business partner that virtually reads your mind is priceless, as running a business is tough.’ Their work together has become a partnership, where unique qualities of one business and owner, helps the other. Kirsty's bricks and mortar shop is the business base, while the workshops are in varied locations, helping to find new creative, engaged customers and spread the word about Home ByKirsty.

New workshops will be posted here. Home byKirsty / @homebykirsty

 Botany, Hackney, London

Botany, Hackney, London

 wildflower workshops at Botany / Photo:   Anna Jacobsen

wildflower workshops at Botany / Photo: Anna Jacobsen

Hosting workshops or classes can build a closer connection between shops and their customers. It also helps show a deeper message or ethos behind the shop, that people can connect with. At Botany in East London, Angela Maynard has curated a series of events that encourage people to step away from the digital world and make something with their hands.

‘So many of us are stuck behind a computer during the working day or using social media instead of pursuing hobbies like we may have done in the past. So to be able to take a few hours to explore our individuality – either through a wildflower walk used to inspire bouquet making, pinch pot making with a mediative approach, botanical drawing using the shops plant life as the subject matter, or learning about essential oils and how to make your own natural skincare, helps us (I think) to explore aspects of our personality, using our brains in a slower, more relaxed and focused way, that we may have forgotten about or not used for a long time.’ There is something very grounding about doing simple things with our hands, and focussing in a gentle way. The workshops become a form of relaxation, the chance to slow down, learn and be creative.

Workshop listings are here. Botany / @botanyshope5

 Bears Ice Cream Co, West London

Bears Ice Cream Co, West London

 Watercolour workshop at Bears Ice Cream

Watercolour workshop at Bears Ice Cream

At Bears Ice Cream company, imagination is their raison d'être: ‘Our mission has always been to give our customers the chance to experience creativity in some way. This is reflected in our unusual Signature Cone menu, the “make it yourself” Glacier or when they sit down and get drawing on our chalk table. Therefore it was a very natural step for us to start collaborating with Michelle Evans of Roxwell Press, on our watercolour x ice cream experience. For us food and art are two different mediums of expressing your passion.’

The class creates a unique atmosphere, and lets people 'live the brand', by learning to paint ice creams in watercolour, then creating a real one to eat. ‘Michelle brings her wonderful mix of bright colours into our shop and her relaxed way of teaching is a great start to our Saturday mornings. Collaborating with an artist brings in a great energy and seeing people leave after a painting class with a relaxed smile on their face and ice cream in hand makes our day.’ It has also opened up new avenues of collaboration, with gift and greeting cards designed by Michelle for the shop.

Michelle concludes: 'As an artist and designer, collaborating with shops on workshops has been a fantastic way to' step out of the studio and meet a new audience. It's inspiring to be creative with a group of people, in unusual places, and for all of us it feels like a fresh, liberating experience. We all learn from one another, I get to know a group of people who frequent a shop I feel akin to, and they learn some new watercolour techniques. Everyone comes away with something that helps them develop, something meaningful.'

Workshops at Bears can be found here, or for other watercolour workshops by Michelle, head here. Bears Ice Cream / @bearsicecream

The Importance of Purpose For Creative Projects

Today we have an in-depth, practical post for any of you pursuing a creative career or even a personal project or hobby, but need some focus and guidance. Marketing coach Kayte Ferris delves into the importance of purpose in your work, how to discover that purpose and then how to use it to your advantage. Pour yourself a cuppa and let's get started....

Tea on a pile of notebooks - finding purpose in your creative projects

In my work as a marketing coach for small creative businesses, one of the very first things I tackle with clients is their purpose – the reason their business exists and why they get up and work on it every day. Think about the brands you love or the last few non-necessities you bought. I’m willing to bet that you love those businesses because you buy into what they believe, and that their own views on life match up with yours. That’s the power of having a strong purpose at the core of your business; you build an audience of advocates who believe what you believe, and will support you through transitions and pivots in your products.

But I’m not just here to talk about business, because purpose is exceptionally important for our passion projects too. Whether you’re starting a new business, side hustling, or have a creative project you’re doing just for you, having a strong purpose is vital for keeping you on track, motivating you, and overcoming those guilty feelings of doing something just for you. It’s similar to how it’s easier to lose weight when you have an event coming up that you want to feel confident for – when you’re clear on why you’re doing something, everything else just flows.

In this post, I’m going to talk about why that purpose is so important and how it can help you in your creative project, as well as give you my tips for finding your purpose, the very same ones I talk through with my client’s at the beginning of their journeys.

Planning on a big piece of paper

Why is purpose important?

  • It’s an anchor - As creatives, we have a tendency to be pretty magpie-ish when it comes to opportunities and ideas. While this leads us to exciting, and at times life-changing things, it can also cause us to stray off our path and into something that isn’t particularly on brand or right for us as people. Whether it’s a sponsored brand collaboration that leaves you feeling icky, or coverage in a publication that doesn’t sit well, we all know the feeling when we’ve done something that didn’t feel right.

What a strong purpose does is anchor you in these situations. It gives you a standard to hold all opportunities and ideas up to and see if they directly serve that purpose. In this way, it helps you to be more objectively yes/no about new ideas, but it also ensures that every single thing you do is on brand and purposeful.

  • It’s a motivator - We all have days where we sit at our desk or walk into our studio and are just not feeling it. When the deadline is fast approaching but you’d rather walk across hot coals than tackle the thing that needs doing. Our motivation and energy naturally ebbs and flows, and we need to accept and work with that rather than fight against it.

A strong purpose, however, will make sure that you spend more time in flow than in ebb. Particularly with passion projects, when life more easily gets in the way and it becomes harder to justify the time and energy you’re spending, having a core purpose you can continue to come back to is a way of giving yourself accountability and justifying the project to yourself.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve started a blog whose purpose is to make you practice your writing so you can take on more fulfilling tasks at work. Having that purpose statement on a post-it stuck to your laptop, or simply remembering it every time you dread sitting at a desk will put the fire in your belly to carry on.

  • It builds community - This one is particularly important if you are working on your business, but community can also be extremely powerful for your creative projects too. Your purpose is a big neon sign to your target customers and other like-minded souls that you are for them, and it gives them a reason to jump on board with you.

With all the noise on the internet we are all in a constant state of sifting for what’s relevant to us. It’s like we’re panning for gold, and the internet is constantly pouring a deluge of silt into our sieves, so we have to continually shake through the dirt keeping a beady eye out for the nuggets that are useful to us. What we have to do as businesses, or the gold in this analogy, is make sure that we are so shiny and bright that our people can see us clearly in the mud.

Now everyone is looking for slightly different gold – some people want great big chunks, others want smaller pieces that are just perfect for what they need. What our purpose does is highlight to our people that we are the nugget they’re looking for. It’s not about standing out to everyone; it’s about making sure your people see you and recognise you.

Purpose statement for creative business planning

How do you find your purpose?

Ok, so hopefully by now I’ve convinced you, but now you have a bigger nagging worry of ‘what even is my purpose?’. The first thing to do is not panic: the vast majority of people I work with haven’t got as far as thinking about their purpose, sometimes even years into their business. It also takes time to think about your purpose – this is a meaningful mantra and not something you’ll come up with in five minutes. It’s a good idea to sit with these exercises, go for some mulling-over-walks and let your purpose develop organically.

One thing to be aware of is that people will often fall into the trap of confusing their ‘what’ or their ‘how’ with their ‘why’. For example, you may think “I love making homewares” – that’s your ‘what’. Building on that you may say “I’m passionate about using recycled materials” – great, that’s your ‘how’. “I am working to make the smallest footprint I can on the planet, and want to provide others with ways to lessen their impact too” – now that’s your why. Do you see how much of a difference that last statement will have move on anchoring and motivating you, but also helping others to get on board with that purpose and form a community around it?

So how do we start to draw out your why? Below are a few of my favourite exercises.

  • What do you want to be known for?

Two friends are having a conversation. One says, “I really need X”, and the other friend excitedly recommends you as the guru for all things X. In this situation, what is X? What do you want your name to be synonymous with? What do you want to be known for?

Using this as a nucleus, you can begin to build your purpose out of and around it. Is the answer you came up with more of a ‘what’ or a ‘how’? If so, track backwards to the ‘why’. If it’s already closer to a ‘why’, flesh that out – what about your story inspired that ‘why’? Make it real and tangible in order for it to be truly meaningful.

Exercises to find purpose in your creative projects
  • Ask why five times

This exercise can be difficult and frustrating, but in spite of that it’s annoyingly effective. If you’re struggling to get to the nub of your purpose, this exercise is about challenging your statements and deepening your thinking by continually asking you to go one step further.

Here’s an example of what this exercise might look like:

·      “I make homewares” – Why?

·      …”because I couldn’t find anything I wanted for my home on the market” – Why was that?

·      “…because it tended to be mass-produced and poorly made” – Why is that important?

·      “…because I wanted a home that felt cosy and organic, unique to me” – Why?

·      “…because we moved a lot when I was a kid and nowhere ever felt comforting like that” – Why is that important?

·      “…because I believe that your home should be the place you feel most comforted, safe and at peace”

By challenging each answer you get closer to what is actually driving you, and what will therefore inspire others to join you.

  • What good do you do in the world?

This is an especially good exercise for those who struggle to see the value in their project, or who can’t put a finger on why it’s important they continue doing what they do. It’s also great for thinking about those passion projects and continuing to be inspired by them.

I’ve worked with graphic designers who feel like they provide ‘just a logo’, or shop owners who say ‘it’s only a cushion’. That is not a very motivating or inspiring way of thinking! While none of us creating online are quite at the ‘solving world hunger’ end of spectrum, we are still doing good in the world. By creating a logo that graphic designer has given their client the confidence to hand out their business card without shame and grow their business – so perhaps that can be their why. The shop owner is selling cushions by young designers just starting out and giving them a chance to pursue their creative dreams – maybe that’s what motivates them.

Even if your passion project means that you are calmer and shout at the kids less often, that’s still doing good in the world. Thinking about the value that comes from your work from a different viewpoint is a great way of pinpointing what is motivating you.

Like I said earlier, your purpose won’t necessarily come to you in five minutes, or even five hours. Even if it feels weird thinking so deeply like this, at the other end you have a totally invaluable guiding light to help you out on ebb days and inspire you to ever greater things in the future. With a purpose, everything else becomes easier – everything that you talk about in your marketing will flow from here, what you post on social media, even which channels your on in the first place come from that purpose. As you and your business change over time, so too will your purpose flex and adapt – treat it as a living thing you continue to nurture and work on and you’ll have a very happy creative life together.

Kayte is running Out Of The Woods workshops in Bristol and London exploring business purpose and using it to grow this April - Find out more here. She blogs about growing a soulful business and has lots of free resources you can download and work through to explore this concept further. Thank you Kayte for this insightful post! 

The Importance of Purpose For Creative Projects

Discover new talent at UAL shop

We love discovering new designers and makers through our research for 91 Magazine, and it's always exciting to see the talent that is emerging from our younger generation, whether that is from self taught artisans or those graduating from colleges and universities around the UK and beyond. University of Arts London (UAL) have recently set up shop in London's Holborn area to promote and sell the work of their alumni, calling the outlet 'not just a shop.' 

UAL Not Just A Shop 5 by Damian Griffths_1200.jpg
UAL Not Just A Shop 1 by Damian Griffths_1200.jpg

The six colleges that make up UAL, which includes Central St Martins and London College of Fashion, has educated many high achieving creatives from London Fashion Week designers to Turner Prize winners, so the calibre of the work stocked in the shop is sure to be high. The launch collection included  By AlexChatty FeetCrispin FinnJacqueline ColleyKangan AroraTatty DevineThe London RefineryWrap and Yuta Segawa.

not just a shop_Products by UAL Alumni_photography by Yeshen Veneema_01_1200.jpg
not just a shop_Products by UAL Alumni_photography by Yeshen Veneema_03_1200.jpg

The range showcases of mix of products from fashion and homeware to stationery and artwork - definitely worth a look if you are still in search of Christmas gifts! Any sales directly benefit the designers as they are wholesaling their products, and any profits made by the shop go back into funding the University's enterprise programme which supports the students with embarking on their professional career. 

UAL Not Just A Shop 2 by Damian Griffths_1200.jpg

If you are in London do try and pop in - let's continue to support the value of independent business, nurture the creative community and help Britain's talent to thrive. 

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 11:00-15.00
Location: 272 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EY
Closest tubes: Holborn/Chancery Lane
For more information visit: / @notjustashopual

Creative women in the north

Traditionally, London has been the go-to location for creatives in the UK. After all, there is an endless supply of inspiration found on the walls of the world-class galleries or echoing across the many music venues – not to mention the connections, buyers, journalists and influential folk that swarm the streets on a daily basis. However, with house prices booming and the cost of rent reaching eye-watering heights, makers are heading further north. Hannah Clugston chats to five business women taking their creativity that little bit closer to the North Pole.


Karen Mabon, illustrator, Edinburgh

How did you find yourself living up north? I grew up in the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands and gradually moved south (I did my undergraduate degree in Edinburgh and then my masters in London). When I was in London I always felt a bit homesick and missed the space and time I felt were more readily available in the north. After a few years in London, I moved up to York and now I live in Edinburgh.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? I found anxiety over paying my bills in London was getting in the way of my creativity. My work is quite playful and fun and I find it hard to design anything when I feel stressed. I also feel more able to develop a personal aesthetic in Edinburgh. In London, I always felt very aware of trends and what was fashionable, but it's different in the north because trends take a little longer to reach us, so it's possible to be more selective in your inspiration and reference material. Of course London has so many wonderful and obvious advantages, but for me personally, access to the countryside and quality of life are more important.

Is there a strong creative community? It's definitely growing as people realise it is possible to live in the north and build a business here. I think you have to put a bit more effort into finding like-minded individuals, but when you do, they are brilliant. The community is so supportive here; there is a sense of comradery as opposed to competition. I met a few amazing designers last year through the design curator Dr Stacey Hunter who is doing a lot to promote contemporary design in Scotland and we have remained in touch, sharing tips and contacts and generally helping each other muddle through the creative industry, which can be a bit of a minefield.

Name one thing you love about living in the north... Summer nights stay light for longer!

 Image: Kirsten Johnson Photography

Image: Kirsten Johnson Photography

lemongrass and yellow plant.jpg

Nat Bond, skincare creator at Nathalie Bond Organics, Sheffield

How did you find yourself living up north? I ended up moving to Sheffield when I met my husband Andy. We dated and had our engagement long-distance for a year and then got married, at which point London or Sheffield were the options. Sheffield won. 

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? The first thing that comes to mind is cost. In the north the overheads of running a business are smaller. But above all, I would say there is a growing hub of innovation and creativity bubbling up in the north and it's exciting to be a part of that.

Is there a strong creative community? There definitely is. We don't get the chance to network much because we have young kids, but I love meeting lots of interesting and creative people at trade shows. One of my best friends runs the Sheffield Creative Guild which is an amazing community representing all creative fields. It's nice to see vibrant new businesses springing up, but also see old businesses like scissor manufacturer Ernest Wright thriving because people appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship of their products.

Name one thing you love about living in the north... Nature. Sheffield is full of trees and we live minutes away from the Peak District National Park, which is stunning.

Geo Fleur.jpg

Sophie Lee, plant curator at Geo-Fleur, York

How did you find yourself living up north? My parents are from the north and I grew up here. I went to university in London, but it felt like the right thing to move back up here again.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? Everything! I ran my business in London for two years, but the main benefit to the north is cost; rent is 75% cheaper and the cost of living is 60% cheaper. The thing that really wins me over though, is that everyone is much friendlier. I'm currently searching for more craft markets and events. The London market scene is totally saturated, but there are only a select few up north, which my friend Sean Mort is changing with his Northern Craft Market - @northerncraft.

Is there a strong creative community? There is. Sean set up some community meet-ups for northern craft makers, which is great! As I live in a rural village on the edge of York, it is difficult to meet like-minded makers, but the more northern events I participate in, the more people I meet!

Name one thing you love about living in the North... Everything, the countryside, the space and the fresh air!

Idaho Manchester
Idaho shop in Manchester

Amy Bartlett, shopkeeper and buyer at IDAHO, Manchester

How did you find yourself living up north? I grew up in Staffordshire but came to university in Manchester nine years ago to study Textiles. I studied Interior Styling on a summer course at Central St Martins and even though I really enjoyed my time in London, I remember feeling that people were too busy to acknowledge you. In Manchester, life tends to be a bit more relaxed and I’ve found it easy to be able to make contacts to develop my business.

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? Despite the fact Manchester has always been a bustling, busy city, it is such a privilege to be part of a movement in the north where there are new start-ups emerging across the region. Altrincham is the perfect example of growth in the north and I’m very happy to be part of it.

Is there a strong creative community? With us being located next to Altrincham Market, it’s difficult to not feel inspired by our creative neighbourhood. We’ve had the chance to meet creatives in a variety of forms such as the skilled boys from Sugo Pasta Kitchen who never fail to deliver, the artists in the studios around the corner, the best coffee from our new neighbours at Common Ground and our other fellow indies such as Edit & Oak and Rose & Grey.

Name one thing you love about living in the north... Probably the accessibility of visiting neighbouring towns and cities. I love how we’re never too far from an exhibition or gig in Manchester or Liverpool, or from a walk in the Cheshire countryside. We’ve truly got it all on our doorstep!

 Image: Ohladedah Ltd

Image: Ohladedah Ltd

 Image: Sian Hallam-Davies

Image: Sian Hallam-Davies

Marianne Slater, florist at Frances & Rose, Derbyshire

How did you find yourself living up north? I was born in Derbyshire in a little village outside of Bakewell. I also studied at Leeds College of Art – I’ve been a northerner through thick and thin!

What are the advantages of running a creative business in the north of the country? One advantage is the amazing community I have found here. I also find the incredible beauty of the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales gives my business some stunning backdrops and venues to work with. We are so lucky to live with so much green space and breathing in the fresh air of the Peak District hills means so much for my mind and soul. I work best here, I feel at home.

Is there a strong creative community? I find the community in the north so supportive. The network of like-minded creatives is amazing, not to mention the incredible female community that is booming right now. I have been lucky to be part of a number of different groups based in Sheffield, Derby and Chesterfield, as well as co-working and collaborating with some of the best in my industry. I know a lot of other creative business owners and feel lucky to be part of this network of talented individuals. I have made friends for life, all through my business!

Name one thing you love about living in the north... How friendly everyone is! I also love the countryside and the beauty all around me. As I source my flowers locally, the northern countryside offers opportunities for my business that I might not get in a built-up city. It’s also great for my wellbeing, I feel I can escape and find peace and quiet so easily!

Thanks for the insight ladies and to Hannah for conducting the interviews. It's truly wonderful to see creativity and independent businesses thriving in all areas of our country and that we can all connect through the wonderful world wide web!