Meet the makers: Ellie Laycock

When Makerhood launched two years ago, Ellie Laycock of Hunted and Stuffed was one of the first makers to sign up – and her journey over that period has been as momentous as ours! So we thought we’d catch up with what’s happened to Ellie’s business in the past two years.

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• Tell us a bit about the products you make.
All of our products are inspired by the rare vintage textiles that we discover. It’s all about how to reinvent them into something modern, relevant, beautiful and useful for the home. A lot of people love vintage style but wouldn’t necessarily know where to find originals or how to bring them to life.

We do all the sourcing, editing, cleaning, designing and upcycling so you get the best vintage finds but re-imagined for the 21st century into something unique, current and beautiful.

Our main offering is a selection of cushions ranging from small throw pillows made from vintage handkerchiefs right up to large statement bolsters made from rare vintage Japanese wedding kimono silk brocades. Most pieces are totally unique (we only make one like it), others are very limited editions where we might make three the same.

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Working with original vintage, it’s not like you can order five more metres of a popular design from your printer. It’s what you can hunt down that dictates the rarity of the finished pieces.

We’ve also recently launched a brand new range of luxury handmade aprons with upcycled vintage ‘kitchenalia’ tea towel pockets, made with all-British materials. They’re proving quite popular, and Country Homes and Interiors magazine called them their ‘Buy Of The Day’!

• You were one of the first people to sign up to Makerhood when it started – how did you get involved?
Makerhood started up at around the same time (and in the same place) as Hunted and Stuffed did. I was a new mum and had just decided to go for it with my new business, so when I heard that there was a new collective of like-minded people forming right on my doorstep, I didn’t hesitate in signing up straight away. I thought that there would be nothing to lose, it sounded exciting and like a good opportunity for both the business and for meeting more people in my community.

The things I love about Makerhood are the emphasis on community both online and offline, the friendliness and unlimited optimism – I like their attitude!

• You won the Platinum Brand Amplifier Award for female entrpreneurs – what effect did this have on your business?
Yes, I was very surprised and honoured. The biggest and most powerful impact of winning that award was to gain confidence in my business. Prior to the win I viewed my business as an experiment; after the win I started to view myself as a businesswoman, and that was a crucial pivotal moment for me.

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Also, all the finalists received mentoring sessions about PR, marketing, branding and other practical advice that helped us shape our business visions, and I found women in business who were willing to mentor me and offer the benefit of their experiences and vice versa. It was a very nurturing and encouraging experience.

ellie-book-coverOff the back of that I applied to the Startup Britain Pitch Up award and won the chance to pitch to a major British high street retailer.

I also plucked up the nerve to approach a publishing house with my proposal for a book on upcycling vintage, and they took a risk on me and agreed to publish it, for which I’m so grateful.

It’s called Creating the Vintage Look (Cico Books), features 35 step-by-step upcycling projects that repurpose vintage finds into beautiful homeware, and will be published worldwide in September 2013.

• As a single mother, how do you cope with running your own business?
Well, I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy – because it’s not. It’s a hard slog. I have certain times when I can act within my business and it helps me focus on what needs to be done. It’s working to deadlines all the time. Ones you impose on yourself but know will move the business on: create a new product, get that bit of exposure that might lead to new customers finding you.

I find myself thinking about work a lot of the time. I think the key may be to try and compartmentalise things a bit. Focus on what you are doing completely, whether that is the business, your family or time off, otherwise you lack effectiveness by spreading yourself too thin.

• And now you are at the School for Creative Start Ups – tell us what this involves and what you have learnt.
ellie-cushion1S4CS has been great. It’s a year-long course for creative start ups and kicked off with a three-day boot camp given by Doug Richard (a former dragon on Dragon’s Den). Doug is truly inspirational and has devised his course to get you to ask the right questions of your business and research where your place might be (although as Doug is fond of saying, “Just because there’s a gap in the market, doesn’t mean there’s a market in the gap!”).

We met every month and the course culminated in the Startup Showcase at Somerset House in spring, which was a fantastic venue to exhibit in. The course runs again this year and I thoroughly recommend it.

One of the many things I learnt is what my strengths and weaknesses are, which means I’ve identified the kind of help I’d like to employ/find and what’s holding back the business from certain goals.

• How has Makerhood helped you on your journey?
Without Makerhood (and especially the forums) I would never have heard of Brand Amplifier and won the award that kick started it all. The workshops Makerhood put on are great and contain really valuable information that is hard to come by for indie makers on a budget. I just think it’s such a fantastic endeavour to create a social enterprise that helps build a community and encourages people to flourish.

• What advice would you give to other makers wanting a successful full-time business?
Well, firstly there’s no shame in doing a day job to support another passion. We all have to eat. Use evenings and weekends to start with and get the foundations in place.

I would say make use of the excellent workshops and events that Makerhood put on. Jane Doxey’s workshops are great for demystifying the retail world and she is a real fountain of knowledge and experience!

ellie-cushion3Sign up for a market stall opportunity, because it will increase your exposure and even if you feel you haven’t got much to sell then you could always use it for market research. Take products with both versions of that packaging label you can’t decide on and ask people which they prefer and why, or research prices people would pay for your product. Talking to potential customers is the best way to find answers.

Starting a business requires wearing many hats. Find your strengths and let yourself delegate your weaknesses.

If you decide to do it, then really go for it. It will be tough at times, you’ll wonder what you’re doing, the little negative voice inside will pop up and try to ridicule you. Learn to ignore it -it’s just jealous.

Take stock of every success – you’ll progress in baby steps, but after a while you’ll realise that you’ve come a long way. Be proud of that.

Whatever you make, it’s all ultimately about people. Being nice is free. You’re an artist and you make things that bring joy to people, or feelings they want to feel. They’ll pay you for that. Then you can make more. It’s a simple and beautiful thing.

Creating the Vintage Look is published by Cico Books on 13 September. Hunted and Stuffed, in collaboration with Cico Books and The Old Cinema, will be presenting projects from the book and new upcycled pieces for sale  in a pop up exhibition from Friday 20 September – Sun 22 Sepembert at The Old Cinema, 160 Chiswick High Road,  London W4 1PR.  The Old Cinema is famous for championing upcycling in the UK. Pop along, pick up a copy and have a look at what else this amazing vintage and upcycling emporium has to offer.

 


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