Gifts that rock

Meet Charlie Male, the self-titled ‘Chief Rocker’ at Rockbox, an independent business that sells stylish and beautifully curated gift boxes. If like me you struggle to find original gifts for friends and family then these thoughtfully themed boxes are the perfect solution. You can even personalise your box, choosing from a range of covetable goodies. We asked Charlie to share her story so we could find out a bit more about the woman behind the business.

Tell us about yourself

I launched Rockbox just over a year ago, although it was a few years in the planning. The initial inspiration came in 2012 when Mr Rocker and I moved to Singapore. Whilst this was the most excellent adventure it was very far from our favourite people and their celebrations. Maintaining connections became even more important and I wanted to still send beautiful gifts that felt like I had chosen and sent them myself rather than something generic and impersonal. I struggled to find something that really hit the mark and the idea for Rockbox started to form.

We’ve moved back home to the UK in 2014 and the next life event hit – Mini Rocker was born adding another dose of (fabulous!) chaos. Time became precious and gift giving became a last-minute rush or (more often than not) totally forgotten. What I needed was a stylish yet effortless gifting solution and in 2016 I was able to put my ideas into reality and haven’t looked back since!

Simple, stylish packaging.

Before Rockbox my career has mainly been in aviation (I’m a bit of a secret plane geek!). Being in aviation has given me the opportunity to travel to some amazing places and work with some great people. I met Mr Rocker whilst working at an ‘orange’ airline where our eyes met over a check-in desk. I love to travel (I am an airport geek too!) and I have a wandering spirit, although currently my feet are firmly planted on the ground in a little village near Buckingham. I have a daughter (aka Mini Rocker) who is nearly three and Baby Rocker is due in July this year. I could live on sushi and cold beer with a large gin chaser although all three are currently off the menu until July so in the meantime I am a tea and cheese addict!

How are you embracing digital media to promote your business online?

As Rockbox is an online gifting service digital media is hugely important. Our website is our shop front and it is essential that this represents the Rockbox brand and provides a strong indication of the level of quality you can expect from our gifts. We are continually reviewing the website to identify opportunities for improvement to ensure our customers have an easy and consistent shopping experience that totally rocks!

One of Charlie’s favourite boxes ‘Sleep’.

Social media has been a huge part of the journey. Rockbox is a very visual product and it is important for potential customers and suppliers to be able to get a visual sense of what we offer and what our brand is all about. I use social media to not only promote the brand but many of my current suppliers have been sourced through Facebook and Instagram. I have built a great network of friends because of interactions on social media and get so much support from this community – it’s amazing how people you have never met in real life become your go to tribe!

What are your tips for aspiring businesswomen?

Never underestimate how much time social media will take if you intend to actively use it to promote your brand. You need to clearly define your social media presence – how do you want your posts to look, what do you want to say and make sure that it really represents who you are and what your brand is all about. Take time to plan your posts and think about what is important to share and what will engage your followers.

What are your personal favourites from the Rockbox collection and why?

I genuinely love all the our products and spend a lot of time researching the brands that I work with and the products that I offer. A particular favourite however is ‘Lazy Days’ (see photo below). As a busy working mum, I often need encouragement to take time out for myself and I believe that this box is the perfect way to get someone to put their feet up and chill. I love seeing people send this as a gift to their mothers, sisters, daughters, besties to encourage them to take some much-needed time out. The ‘Sleep’ box (see photo above) that we launched as part of our first Mother Day campaign is also a favourite and I just love the Tom Lane Alpaca bed socks – they are one of our best-selling products and I wear mine constantly!

‘Lazy Days’ features a range of items to help unwind.

I am a huge fan of our ‘Rock Your Box’ service where customers can choose from our selection of products to make a customised box for their favourite rocker. I absolutely love being able to offer this and it has been a very popular choice with our customers – the ability to create your own Rockbox to suit your budget and the style of the person receiving the gift really enables the customer to feel in control of their gifting decisions whilst still letting us do most of the work.


Charlie is following…

Hayley Southwood @hjsouthwood: inspires me with her infectious enthusiasm for women and business. She is a great support and is all about building women up and working together to achieve fabulous things.

Etta Loves @ettaloves: Jen is massively inspirational – she has launched a super cool brand whilst working full-time and caring for her gorgeous mini rocker Etta. I love watching her brand develop and evolve.

Not So Smug Now @notsosmugnow: Cat makes me cry with laughter almost daily – which is a pick me up that every busy, stressed out mama needs! She is massively supportive of women in business along with her work wife @gayle_carry_me_home who collectively are @hustleandfox.


Charlie’s work

rockboxrocks.co.uk
instagram.com/rockbox_rocks
facebook.com/rockboxrocksgifts

Sewing her way to success

Meet Helen Baker, a former primary school teacher who pursued her creative passion and retrained as a fabric and soft furnishings designer after becoming a mother. We asked Helen to share her story of career reinvention and her tips on how to style your home office space.

I’ve always been a creative person and I grew up making things on my mum’s sewing machine, playing around with any left over fabrics we had at home. Over the years I learned from my grandmother and mum, who would often be running up a pair of curtains or creating cushion covers, constantly making home improvements. My home has always been important to me and became even more so when I was on maternity leave, nearly 10 years ago. I wanted my surroundings to look as good as I could whilst I was spending so much time at home with a baby. After my second child, I found returning to work as a primary school teacher increasingly difficult – trying to balance work and family life, having no time left to be creative. I decided to leave my teaching career of nearly 10 years to be with my two sons, then aged two and four years. I went on to set up a small sewing business that I could work around the children but soon came to realise I enjoyed the designing more than the making.

In 2015 a change in my husband’s job meant a move from Cornwall to Wiltshire. Whilst renovating our new home I was searching for fabrics that weren’t too feminine, floral or fussy (I’m the only female in our household) and wanted something that suited all ages and genders. Frustrated that I couldn’t find what I wanted, I looked into how fabrics are designed. I took an online surface pattern courses, taught myself digital illustration and read as many books on fabric design as I could. Throughout this learning process I was constantly refining my design principles which I narrowed down to being nature inspired silhouette designs, shapes that everyone can recognise and relate to. I sent off my initial designs to be printed onto fabric which I then made into roman blinds, cushions and lampshades for our home. I was so pleased with the results that I wanted to take the fabric design further and create my first collection.

Growing up and living in Cornwall has always been a big influence in my life so I was drawn to create a contemporary coastal inspired collection – a far cry from the clichéd nautical knots and anchors that we so often see. I wanted the designs to reflect modern-day Cornish life. Designs include ‘Cornish Clouds’ and ‘Surfboard Scallop’ in colours such as Atlantic blue and Saffron yellow. From talking to people I heard how so many people have connections with the coast and how it evokes many happy memories. I wanted people to have these positive feelings everyday within their homes through a subtle nod to the coast, whether they lived by the sea or not. This is my debut collection titled ‘You can take the girl out of Cornwall…’, my story in a nutshell. It is family friendly and gender neutral to fit with how modern families live today, increasingly in open plan spaces. My aim is to create fabrics and home furnishings that fit the needs of everyone.

STYLING TIPS FOR YOUR HOME OFFICE SPACE

We live so much of our lives online, whether it’s working from home or online banking, we all need a comfortable space that allows us to concentrate on the task in hand. With so many distractions at home it’s crucial to create the right working environment. So here’s a handy guide on how to style your home office.

  • THE RIGHT SPACE: To create an effective home office it has to be somewhere you actually want to be, ideally with lots of natural light. This could be a separate room or just an area within another room but a designated area is preferable to the kitchen table otherwise you will be constantly moving your work to make room for meal times at the table.
  • DESK: Any sort of surface can work. From small desks to large worktops, as long as you can fit all the items you need, you can make any space work. The key is to keep things organised and keeping extra items to a minimum to avoid unnecessary clutter, wall mounted shelves are perfect for home offices.
  • CHAIR: Is it comfortable and at the right height? Two important factors that can really effect how long you are able to sit comfortably at your home office. I also recommend having an easy chair nearby for times when you don’t need to be at your desk but nearby, taking a phone call for example, or enjoying a drink away from a screen.
  • ACCESSORIES: Cushions are my go-to home office accessory. They not only look good and show your personality but they provide comfort and can boost your sitting height if needed. Keep everything you need for your home office nearby so it can be easily accessible and tidied away.
  • INSPIRATION: Keep whatever inspires you nearby. This could be books, photos of your loved ones or an inspirational quote, but think about where they can be displayed, on a wall instead of taking up room on your desk, perhaps? Peg boards and picture shelves are an easy way to restyle items that inspire you.
  • PLANTS: They create fresh air and are soothing to look at, perfect for a home office. I would suggest a small plant for a small desk or again you could think about having it on a shelf or nearby rather than on your actual workspace.
  • GET CREATIVE: It’s your space so make it work for you! By using colours, accessories and items that you love, your home office will reflect your personality and will become a space that you love spending time in.

Helen is following…

Phillips Kay @recipeforflowers: sells the most beautiful wild and seasonal flowers from St Agnes in Cornwall, the village where I grew up. Her bouquets often include foraged snippets from hedgerows and she can send these blooms anywhere in the UK. Her Instagram feed is a floral feast.

Alison Bick @alisonbickdesigns: a friend, inspiring business woman, talented designer illustrator and creator of generally lovely stuff. I love seeing how her business and design style has grown from strength to strength over the last few years.

Mari Andrew @bymariandrew: an amazingly perceptive illustrator. Her work captures modern life and how we cope with everything that’s thrown at us. She is authentic, inspiring and has a great sense of humour.


Helen’s work 

helenbaker.com
instagram.com/helenbakerhome
twitter.com/helenbakerhome
facebook.com/helenbakerhome

Interior design with a difference

Zoe Hewett began her career as an Art Director in the film and television industry before retraining as an Interior Designer. She is now expanding her digital business offering and running workshops alongside her consultancy work. We asked Zoe to share her story and tell us about her plans for the future.

How did you become an interior designer?

Growing up in Cardiff, I spent my childhood making rudimentary props and sets for the plays we would put on for the grown ups, and my teenage years making giant carnival costumes and redecorating the house when my parents’ backs were turned. When I took the school quiz to find out what career path I should follow, I got into trouble for being interested in too many topics. Little did I know at the time that is precisely one of the best qualities for being a designer! I knew that I wanted to be a set designer though, so I went to art college in London and had a ball making live performance art installations in broom cupboards, period costumes and miniature models of monolithic opera sets.

The reality of making a living as a jobbing designer in Wales was incredibly difficult, particularly as I had trained in a different city and didn’t have those all important college to industry links. I was an outsider in my home town, and never quite managed to get enough work. Instead I found work in the film and TV industry as an Art Director. It was heaps of fun and better paid than theatre, but the crazy hours and feast or famine nature of it all eventually left me feeling disillusioned and burnt out. To get out of this rut I moved quite suddenly to Bristol, and as cringe-worthy as it sounds I kind of found myself, or at the very least my mojo, upon starting Capoeira. It had a profound effect on my outlook and confidence (not to mention physical fitness).

I decided to retrain and enrolled on an open learning Interior Design Diploma. Although the design process and required skills are exactly the same for both roles, the two industries are quite different. As career changes go this was more of a tweak than a total transformation, but that’s just as well, because having been creative all my life because I can’t really do anything else. So far it has gone smoothly, probably because people expect to have to pay interior designers, whereas the art world runs on air and broken dreams.

My business, although micro, is finally starting to grow after being in start-up mode for an extra long time. Midway through my first big job (a furniture store) I found myself unexpectedly expecting a baby with a (very) new man. Our daughter was then born suddenly at 26 weeks. It was a pretty hideous time and as a result she has additional needs, so it is imperative that at least one of us has flexible work, and for the moment that’s me. It is important to me to be able to also offer something affordable, because consultation, design and project management fees are exclusive for most, so I have started running interior design workshops which seem to be going well. That also fits around family life better than a full-time job with a commute!

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

Digital technology has absolutely revolutionised how I work. When I was documenting scenic continuity on film sets the preferred method was (the now amazingly retro) Polaroid camera! Digital cameras were just coming in but it was easy to lose track of scenes. It also used to be almost impossible to photograph anything in a dark theatre without paying a professional photographer, which would have cost most of the design fee, but of course without photos of your work you can’t get more work.

The iPhone for me has been amazing. Being able to show all your previous work in the palm of your hand is serious luxury after years of lugging around a heavy A2 portfolio of artwork in all weathers. I used to have to burn CDs with home printed front covers to send people my portfolio, which makes me feel like an old lady saying “we didn’t have TV when I was young”. I did go on a Dreamweaver course to make my first website, and I managed a one page CV with a photo which was pretty impressive for someone as analogue and non-techy as me.

Now, my website (an easy drag-n-drop template, of course) is all singing and all dancing with video, a shop and a rather earnest design blog. All these little graphics apps are my favourite, for editing photos and overlaying text on images to quickly get messages out on social media – it is just amazing. I just need to keep gradually growing my audience.

Tell us about your new design packages

The idea for the Newlyweds Nest came from wanting to give friends a meaningful wedding present at a time when I had no money. They had not long moved into a new house that needed some character, so I gave them some pointers and it grew from there into a comprehensive interior design service. Initially it was email based, which is quite a popular concept in the States but hasn’t really caught on over here. Somehow I arrived at the idea of putting it in a gift-box, to make it a more tangible present, which is infinitely more charming than printing out documents from an email!

The idea is for couples to enjoy filling in the questionnaires inside the box together, whether their home is old or new to them, and return their answers with photos and dimensions to me. From there I can put together a bespoke design scheme for the room of their choice, complete with sample boards, drawings and a budget spreadsheet, with an action plan for them to follow, to make it a reality under their own steam.

There are two packages: a classic monochrome version and a rainbow pride ribbon option for LGBT couples, and those who just prefer joyful colour. I think there is something fun about using the postal service in this crazy digital age. This is a scaleable business model which is potentially quite exciting, plus because I never meet the client in person it is easier for me to work and still do the school run.

I love face to face client work, but there is a limit to how much I can take on, because the logistics of getting to site to let tradesmen in and simultaneously take a small person to school without any grandparents nearby are a bit tricky. Luckily I have some fantastic builders and project managers to call upon for help with bigger jobs where we do meet the clients and undertake the installation work for them. But I think the digital-postal design packages like Newlyweds Nest (I have more in the pipeline) are likely to take over, because it is also a more affordable slice of luxury service,  especially for clients who would rather save money by doing or organising the hands-on redecoration work themselves.


Zoe is following…

@blackparrotsstudio: Sarah Mitchenall won The Great Interior Design Challenge in 2016 and kindly loaned me a few of her fab monstera lights for a roomset I designed for Grand Designs Live last year. As a former garden designer, her work with jewellery designer Alexa as Black Parrots Studio is just utterly fantastic. There’s a lot of interiors ‘noise’ on instagram, but these women actually HAVE IT!

@ware.london: Jewellery designer Emma Ware is a long time buddy of mine from when we were students at Wimbledon School of Art. When she quit TV working as a Focus Puller to set up her brand, she was a huge inspiration to me and set the bar high. Her work is hugely stylish, wearable and ethically produced. Amazing!

@iris.apfel: How could I not follow this inspirational woman? Interior designer turned fashion and style icon, still working in her 90s, Iris Apfel has such a wonderful outlook and a gentle, joyful demeanour. She is an incredible wit, huge intellect and cheers up my feed every time. I also covet her architect’s glasses!


Zoe’s work 

zoehewettinteriors.co.uk
instagram.com/zoehewettinteriors #mybristolhome
twitter.com/zoehewettdesign
pinterest.com/zoehewettdesign/zoe-hewett-interiors
facebook.com/zoehewettinteriors

Stationery in a digital world

Meet Rebecca Bradley, owner of Proper Post, a monthly subscription delivery of greeting cards and stationery. In a digital world there is something special about receiving a card in the post or simply taking time to write your thoughts down in a notebook.

Tell us about your career journey and why you launched Proper Post

It’s been a winding path that led to Proper Post. I started out as a nanny in London, worked at University, gained an MA in HR and ran a social enterprise children’s centre for years along the way. All that experience led to knowing exactly what business I wanted to grow. I didn’t want to create a job for myself because I already had one, I wanted to create something I felt passionately about and Proper Post was born. I wanted a relationship with customers that was ongoing to feel as if I was sending products to people I actually know, to add to their lives and help them, not to create ‘just another’ consumable.

I also run a Pinterest training and consultancy business, Pinright, which has allowed me to use my social media skills to grow Proper Post and learn all about Instagram too. Bringing the threads of various visual digital mediums together is perfect for a business like Proper Post because it is so visual, but also emotional and these are perfect ways to connect with customers.

Why is the giving and receiving of mail still important in the digital age?

Essentially post is pieces of paper, folded or otherwise. But in reality it is (and represents) so much more than that. Post and letters in general are a way of connecting and strengthening relationships. Who doesn’t love receiving a card or letter and feeling thought about and special. There’s something about good old-fashioned snail mail and receiving a thoughtful card that just can’t be beaten.

Try one of the monthly subscription packs.

Letters and greetings card are a way of expressing emotion in a tangible way, they can tell a story and have more meaning than the physical card itself. Whether it’s wishing someone a happy birthday, letting a friend know you are thinking of them at a difficult time, showing someone how special they are to you or simply just saying hello, cards spark joy – fact!

What other product can do all of those things in one form? Cards and letters are a positive product in a sometimes negative world. They are a solid, physical, tactile and real ‘thing’ in a digital age.


Rebecca is following…

@etceteravintage: Shelly and I have been friends forever she has always been creative and entrepreneurial and most importantly she marches to her own beat. She has always been an innovator and ahead of most trends and she doesn’t follow others. She inspires me to be creative and to be brave.

@nutmegandarlo: Elle is someone I am lucky enough to have met online and what a lucky find she is. She inspires me because she has stumbled into her business quite by accident and has had huge success because her design work is gorgeous. She has had a really hard year personally and in spite of that her business has flourished, her positivity and her humour inspire me all the time.

@jengotch: I think I had to include someone I don’t actually know but that I follow and Jen as the Founder of Ban.do has the dream business and work set up and she makes me laugh every single time I watch her Instagram stories. She has built and incredible brand and stayed utterly true to her own personality.


Rebecca’s work

properpost.co.uk
instagram.com/properpostuk
pinterest.com/properpostuk
facebook.com/properpost

Our subscription service is all designed to make life easier, reminders for birthdays and important occasions, cards to choose for the right person and a monthly delivery to make sure you have your stationery addiction sorted and unique and design led cards that will make you look like the best friend ever. Our blog series the Collective features 14 writers from all over the world covering stories from craft DIY to stories of family hope and connection.

The florist who is living the dream

Meet Fiona Lafon, a lawyer turned florist living in Bristol, and owner of Emerald & Jade. Her story proves it’s never too late to pursue a creative career. In fact, Fiona is also launching a new coaching programme, so it’s going to be one busy year.

Tell us about yourself

Originally from France, I have always loved the creative arts. Although born in Versailles, I am lucky to have mostly grown up in the French Alps, with a few years initially spent in Ireland. This, combined with the fact that I spent a lot of time travelling thanks to adventurous parents, lead to my love of nature and green things coming about really early on. I went to an International School in Grenoble, I then came to the UK to complete a law degree in French law and English law at University of Kent. I never intended to become a lawyer, but found myself qualifying as an employment lawyer in Bristol a decade later. There, I met my husband to be and have been living here since.

Following the birth of my two children, I started a blog: Green Loving Girl. Through this I remembered how much I loved writing, and realised how much I was craving a more creative job. I loved running this blog, but my corporate job as a lawyer took too much time for me to run it properly. At the time, my job also took over everything else, leaving me stressed, run down and generally not a very pleasant person to be around, and it seemed my partner and children got the worst of me.

Following a series of events in my personal life, my mind-set changed and I started to think that there had to be more to life than working in a stressful job which seemed to leave me with nothing good, there had to something else. I have always been a proud working mum. Going back to work after having my children was always my choice. I always enjoyed being at work, and I knew the children thrived at the nursery we chose for them so I had no guilt.

However, it got to a point where I really did not want to go to work, so I started thinking about handing in my notice. Financially we worked out that I would be better off for not working, as my salary got engulfed into childcare (crazy isn’t it!!). But I had no plan B. I was really scared but I also knew that I couldn’t carry on like that. It took my 3-year-old to have appendicitis & peritonitis whilst on holiday abroad, which forced me to be off work for 4 weeks, to think it all through and actually hand in my notice. I decided that I would take a career break for a maximum of two years. This left me time to explore my options, and the children could then go to the local preschool and school, therefore facilitating childcare options. It was terrifying, I had never envisioned being a stay at home mum and I had never not worked from choice. However, I have always trusted my gut feeling, and I knew things would be ok. I had no idea at the time what to go for. All I knew was that for my next role, I wanted to start-up my own business and follow a more creative route.

Fiona and Barry on their wedding day.

I therefore took various opportunities that presented themselves to me. I was already blogging on a monthly basis for French Wedding Style writing about my wedding planning. The editor then offered me an internship, which I started shortly after leaving my legal job. From there, I met a lot more creative entrepreneurs, and started seeing a different world and a lot more opportunities. Around this time, I was helping my sister plan her wedding, as she lives in Australia but was getting married near Bath. I found her a florist, and got chatting to her about where she’d trained etc. Before I knew it, I had attended a taster session and then was signed on to an intensive training course via the fabulous Tallulah Rose Flower School in Bath. Emerald & Jade Flowers was born, and I have since been working as a Florist, working on weddings, funerals, events and holding workshops. I love it!

I absolutely love being a florist. Going to the flower market, meeting so many creative, talented entrepreneurs in the wedding industry. It truly is a wonderful industry to be part of, and very supportive, even amongst florists. I am so happy to be part of it. A couple of years after I started my business, I started to feel as though there was something else I could be doing. I had a feeling I wanted to help others but I couldn’t quite figure it out. This took me a good few months to work out (and assistance from my own business coach) to figure out that I had a new passion which could be turned into a business. Since starting my own business, I have loved this new world I live in. I realised just how much I love talking to people about starting their own business and the journey that goes with it. I have loved my journey and am really excited about what is it still to come. I have also greatly benefitted from a business coach. Whether someone is thinking about starting their own business, fancy a change from their job, or want to make some changes to their lifestyle, I always love talking to them about this and trying to help them find how to materialise their thoughts into actions. How to make that seedling of an idea in their mind, grow and blossom into a new, beautiful way of life. In light of this, I have just set up my own coaching programme, due to be launched this month under Emerald & Jade Lifestyle.

How has digital technology and social media has changed the way you work

I’m all about my online presence. Running a blog and doing an internship for an international award-winning wedding blog has helped me gain understanding on SEO and other terminologies. It was like a foreign language at first, but it’s amazing how quickly it can be picked up with some research and good mentors. My businesses are both home-based, therefore I always knew that my online presence had to be strong and clearly represent me so that, when people saw a photo or an Instagram post, they would automatically recognise it as mine.

My online presence is effectively my shop window. This is why my website is quite different to most florists. I knew it had to reflect me and the type of work I like best, in order to attract my ideal clients. I have had brides tell me that as soon as they found my website they knew they had found their florist, and that was great feedback to hear!

My website is a great base. I also love using Facebook as I can tag in my clients and other suppliers, which makes it a great networking and sharing tool. My all time favourite though is Instagram. With my floristry business, it allows the photos of the flowers to speak for themselves, and again, it gives people and potential clients a great first insight as to what my business is about.

For my second business, Emerald & Jade Lifestyle, it will have a different feel to it, but still in a way that reflects me. I am going to focus this one more on my love of travel with almost a dreamlike, yet energising, positive feel to it. Learning to find my voice for each businesses has had a great effect, and is clearly reflected on my social media and my online presence. These are noticeably different to my personal Instagram account greenlovinggirl. Yet all three fully reflect me, and I love that.


Fiona is following…

@laurapaynestanley: I met Laura when writing for my blog Green Loving Girl. She asked me whether I would like to blog about my wedding planning journey for her website French Wedding Style. When I decided to take a career break, she offered me an internship. She has now been my business mentor for over a year. I have known her over three years now and can safely say that my life has changed since meeting her.

@victoriafarrmua: I discovered Victoria and her work about three years ago. I have seen her business grow and love seeing how she made her business her own and made it incorporate her love for travel. She is also really lovely.

Nicky King/@Bobbyrabbitkids: I met Nicky when I was looking for ideas on decorating the kids bedrooms. We realised we had a lot in common and have since become Instagram friends. When I first met Nicky, she was working on her new business. Bobby Rabbit is now a great business and I find it really inspiring seeing where she is now, knowing how hard she worked, especially as she has children similar ages to mine.

Joanne Hegarty/@stylistandthewardrobe: I have just discovered her feed, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I love her Instagram account, filled with gorgeous photos of her son, her home and her travels, it is really beautiful to look at and inspiring, reminding me that as a woman, a mother, we can still aspire to living a beautiful life and having beautiful things and travels. This is a big part in my businesses.


Fiona’s work

emeraldandjadeflowers.com
instagram.com/emerald_and_jade
facebook.com/EmeraldandJadeFlowers

emeraldandjadelifestyle.com
instagram.com/emeraldandjadelifestyle
facebook.com/emeraldandjadelifestyle

Living in the present

Meet Alison Goode founder of new online gift company A Present Affair. Not content with running a business on her own, Alison continues to work as a wardrobe mistress and as a PA to a music promoter. Her enthusiasm, determination and desire to embrace the digital world will hopefully inspire other women to follow their business ambitions. Alison shares her story and imparts some great advice for anyone thinking about working for themselves.

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in Liverpool,the youngest of three children. I now have two children of my own aged 11 and 22. We live in Buckinghamshire with my husband who works in the music industry as a lighting technician.

After leaving school aged 16 I was very lucky to get a job in the theatre working in the wardrobe department. I loved every minute of it. I have been doing the same job ever since, I’m now 47! I left Liverpool to go on tour with Postman Pat, yep you read that right! Don’t be fooled, that tour was wild.

That job was followed by working on various shows in the West End, before moving into the music industry where I have worked ever since. Before the children were born I toured full-time with many pop bands but have now cut it right back to one tour a year, but I still work on lots of concerts throughout the year. As well as my wardrobe and styling work I am a PA to a music promoter and book artists for big events.

I recently launched a new online gift box company, A Present Affair. This venture began almost three years ago with my friend and business partner but after she went through a life changing health issue we put everything on hold. Although fully recovered she felt she had to step away. I had two choices, close it down or take a deep breath and go for it. I chose to go for it.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

My work as a wardrobe mistress never involved using any sort of digital technology, it didn’t even exist when I started out! Since working as a PA and launching A Present Affair I have had to learn a whole new set of skills. It has been extremely hard as it isn’t something I grew up with like todays young women. I booked a 1-2-1 session with Hayley owner of Southwood Social Hub and she talked me through lots of ideas and how to raise awareness for my brand etc.

I have learnt so much and continue learning everyday with regards to technology. I love the way you can connect with people across the globe and get your ideas and products out there for all to see. My gift box company is a visual product, so social media is a very important tool now days for reaching potential customers and finding great new products. Also through social media (particularly Instagram) I have met some amazing women who have supported me through the tough days.

Technology is moving so fast that it does feel overwhelming sometimes trying to keep up, find out what works for you because it’s almost impossible if you are working alone to keep up with everything!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a business?

  • When I found out I would no longer have a business partner it completely stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t talk to anyone or do anything for a couple of weeks. I spent days just crying and saying to myself I could not do it alone. I slowly picked myself up, thought of the time and money already spent and decided to try.
  • For anyone thinking of starting something I would say talk to people. Ask for advice and maybe a few hours help. Most people don’t have the budget to employ someone in the beginning so take one step at a time and you will be surprised at what you can do.
  • The most important thing for me was having that one person in my life that puts everything into perspective when you are having a wobble. I have an old friend who is never fazed whatever life throws at him. As soon as I tell him what I am worried about he takes the fear away. Some days that quality has saved my sanity. There are some fantastic groups online you can join to meet people who can understand and relate to what you are going through.
  • Remember, when the days seem overwhelming and you feel as if you can’t carry on just stop. Go for a walk, get a coffee or call a trusted friend and talk it out. Things will always look better if you just step away for a moment and just breath.

Alison is following

@marniandmowgli
We toured together over many years, she was the hot dancer and I was the wardrobe mistress telling her to “just put the bloody costume on, you look gorgeous!”. This amazing lady has been so supportive to me as we launched our new ventures at the same time.

@whattheschujj
For her total lack of pretension, her intelligence not forgetting to mention her very wicked sense of humour.

I have to give a mention to @helloruthuk  and @lara.quin who have kept me going with cake, emails and laughs when the days threatened to overwhelm me.


Alison’s work

apresentaffair.com
instagram.com/apresentaffair
facebook.com/apresentaffair
twitter.com/present_affair

How to create Scandi-chic in your home

Meet Sara Griffiths the woman behind online shop Grey September: a beautifully curated collection of Scandi-style items to decorate your home. A self-confessed interiors obsessive – Sara was able to realise her dream after a successful career in television. Starting a family meant she needed a better work/life balance, but with support and a genuine passion for the concept, Grey September was launched. Her story proves you’re not fixed in life to one career path and it’s never too late to embrace the digital world.

sara-griffith-photo-grey-september

If you love the cool, simple lines of Scandinavian chic then read on to discover Sara’s favourite items which can recreate this look in your home. In fact, she’s kindly offering our readers 10% off all items for one week: use promotional code SOCIALBUTTERFLIES10.

Tell us about yourself

My career started as a production secretary in a TV production company and later progressed to working as a production manager, which often took me abroad to many varied and beautiful locations. When I had my children ten years later, I decided I needed to work closer to home and side-stepped to working freelance within various Script departments at the BBC. This gave me the flexibility of juggling the work/life balance I needed. While I have loved working in the TV industry for the past 20 years I have always had a life-long dream of owning my own interiors shop! With a lifetime (obsession) passion for all things design, interiors and shopping, I realised that with a little help I could finally put the dream into reality by starting my own online homewares and interiors business. My family has been instrumental in helping start the business. My husband is a designer and was therefore able to help me with the branding and the more technical side of building the website! My daughters often play their part by advising me on my Instagram feed and whether my feed is following the correct ‘colour scheme’!!! I’m constantly grateful to them for putting up with all the cardboard boxes of stock in our house!

How has social media has changed the way you work?

Social media and Instagram in particular has been a crucial part in developing the business since it started back in June. Instagram is a bit of a virtual ‘shop window’ for the business where I’m able to showcase new products on a daily basis which is invaluable to such a new business like mine. Instagram has also been a brilliant place for discovering new brands for the business (often from around the world) that I may not have necessarily found otherwise. Working from home can sometimes feel a little isolated, but Instagram is a fantastic place to connect and chat to customers, suppliers, bloggers and for making genuine Instagram friends! It always amazes me (without sounding too gushing) how incredibly encouraging and supportive the Instagram ‘family’ community is. (Click here to see who Sara follows online.)

BRING SCANDI-STYLE INTO YOUR HOME WITH THIS SELECTION OF ITEMS

I’m always drawn to the Scandinavian styled interior images on Pinterest and Instagram and it’s heavily influenced in my own home (although not always the ‘minimalism’ bit!). I don’t buy anything for the store that I wouldn’t buy for myself or my home. Like the Scandinavians, I love all things black and white, and grey also features heavily of course! The Scandinavian homes always seem to possess such a gorgeous pared-back style, simplicity and beauty. The style is often centered around functionality, craftsmanship and elegance.

VASES:
Cooee Design from Sweden epitomises this style to me with their beautiful and elegant ball vases.

ball-vase-grey_-_10cm_20cm_1024x1024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRINTS:
Scandinavian interior design often alludes to landscapes and I love the simplicity of this ‘Lonely House’ monochrome print by Coco Lapine Design.

A picture of a lonely house on a grass hill, photographed in Iceland by the Berlin based Coco Lapine Design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLANKETS:
The Scandinavians are fantastic at adding texture, warmth and materials to their homes by accessorising with simple blankets.

throw_wafer_slate_1024x1024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CUSHIONS:
Adding simple monochrome cushions is an effective way to update a sofa or an armchair.

monochrome cushion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOME ACCESSORIES:
Use garlands to add interest to a room or for special occasions.

flags scandi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RUGS:
Choose a rug with a striking pattern to create a strong visual focus in a room.

scandal rug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sara is following…

12728473_1063136293738441_1509759819_aI love to follow Denise from @aboutthishaus who was co-incidentally my first ever Grey September customer back in June 2016! I just love looking at her beautiful pictures of her dreamy Scandinavian-style home. D has been a huge support and is a great advocate of many brands and small businesses across Instagram.

 

wunderblumen

I also love to follow @wunderblumen on Instagram purely for the most amazing style and photos of her home and family always including elements of nature and flowers.

 

 

sara tasker me and orlaI adore the lifestyle blog of Sara Tasker (@me_and_orla). I adore her beautifully shot photos and often try to catch up with her useful podcasts and blogs online.

 

 


Sara’s work…

greyseptember.co.uk
info@greyseptember.co.uk
twitter.com/greyseptstore
instagram.com/greyseptemberstore

Bring colour into your home

Vickie Nickolls is an interior decorator from Buckinghamshire who is embracing social media to grow her business online. A career change after the birth of her daughter (due to lack of flexible working provision) led to the launch of her business Interior Therapy. Taking the plunge and following her passion for design, interiors and colour has proven to be the right decision.

Vickie shares her career story and interiors tips. Read on to discover simple and effective ways you can add personality to your home.

Vickie Nickolls owner of Interior Therapy

Tell us about yourself

I live in Buckinghamshire with my husband, daughter Grace and dog Geoffrey. I have always had a really passion for interiors, fashion and all things design related. With a background in fashion retail, I have been a buyer and also a wholesale agent, which lead me into a job as Trend Researcher for an international footwear brand. I was lucky enough to travel the world focusing on new trends in footwear, material and colour – working alongside a large design team.

Unfortunately, after having my daughter the company were unable to accommodate a part-time position – therefore forcing the hard decision to leave.

I had always been told I had an eye for interior design, so I decided to build up my portfolio and take the leap by starting Interior Therapy. I wanted to make the most of people’s homes and make them personal to them and a space that they loved living in. This doesn’t have to be huge changes – but even the smallest item such as a rug, new cushions and some artwork can totally transform a room.

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls
Adding pops of colour into a neutral scheme lifts the look

I have never looked back, I work around my daughter being at nursery three times a week (so I get a nice mix) although now that the company has grown I am finding it hard to get a balance between family and work life which is frustrating. My daughter will start school in September, so I am hoping to be able to increase the business.

I help clients save time searching for items (a lot of my clients are mums and just simply don’t have the time). I take the stress away by giving them multiple choices for each item.

How has digital technology and social media has changed the way you work?

Social media has played a huge part in building my new business. Not only as a huge source of inspiration, including sites such as Pinterest and Houzz, but also being able to network with others who share the same passion.

Houzz has been by far the best social media platform for me with one of my images being saved over 220k times, which has led to press such as the Mail Online. I’m also being featured in a book which comes out in April, this has helped raise my profile and I have received lots of work via the site.

Instagram has been an important factor (I’m building a following slowly!), mainly for inspiration and also for finding new products, especially for independent brands. I really like to support the independents and often find great pieces via Instagram to use in my clients’ homes. It’s also a great way to showcase my style and current projects.

VICKIE SHARES HER INTERIORS TIPS…

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Create a feature wall of prints

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Be creative, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on expensive artwork to give your living room a boost. Simply display an eclectic mix of framed photographs, quotes and prints or anything that is important to you to create a wow factor feature wall.  Behind a sofa always works well and frames the area, and also you are not directly looking at it whilst relaxing! Mix up the frames, or even co-ordinate your sofa and cushions for a dramatic look!

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Add character to your bathroom

Adding a personal touch, a private ensuite bathroom warrants the use of more personal decor. Have something framed that is personal to you, whether that would be a wedding invite, favourite place to visit, picture? Hanging this up will add instant character that is special to you and only you will see it!

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Be bold: mix and match

Don’t be afraid to mix and match prints and patterns. You can use a variety of scales large and small when doing this just ensure that you stick with the same colour palette. Or choose a dominate print from either artwork or wallpaper then select a smaller scale print for something such as a cushion or rug.

Here I have used a contrasting print on the cushions and pillows to add interest, but have kept to the same colour palate and also introduced plain bold colour pops.


Vickie is following… 

Sarah Akwisombe

Sarah Akwiscombe: I love her honesty, style and straight forward talking. Her blog has totally inspired me and helped me along the way in improving my business.

The Unmumsy Mum

The Unmumsy Mum: I literally love her, every post makes me laugh out loud, its nice to know your not alone as a mum and her honesty is refreshing!

Kitty McCall

Kitty McCallI love her style and use of colour, prints are to die for and also so are the cushions!

Vickie’s work…

Interior therapy logo

interior therapy.co.uk
instagram.com/interior.therapy
pinterest.com/vickienickolls
houzz.co.uk/pro/vickienickolls/interior-therapy
facebook.com/interiortherapyuk
vickie@interiortherapy.co.uk

Design with style

Gayle Mansfield lives in Worthing and runs her own company Gayle Mansfield Designs, which specialises in producing bold, typographic prints and cards. Having changed careers and taught herself design and typography she successfully setup her studio and was able to pursue her passion for design and interiors. Gayle now runs a growing business and is a great entrepreneurial example to other women looking to find a fulfilling career which fits around family life.

We asked Gayle to share her story and her interior styling tips – check out her dreamy Instagram accounts for beautifully curated photographs of her prints (see images below) and her magazine-worthy home (which will be featured in House Beautiful magazine later this year).

How and why did you set up your design business?

I’ve always loved design and interiors in particular but never had the confidence or opportunity to pursue a career in the industry, instead I worked as a project manager for a housing organisation and interiors stuff was a hobby. After I graduated (more years ago than I care to remember!) I started working for a local council and progressed from there. After about 15 years in that field I had the opportunity to quit and took a couple of years out, focusing on renovating our house and looking after our young daughter. I felt the time had come to set something up by myself. I’ve always had friends telling me I should be an interior designer and I do hope to end up doing some styling in the future.  My partner is a graphic designer and I kept having ideas for designs for wall art so he encouraged me to set up a small shop and see how it went. He has been instrumental in the whole process and I absolutely couldn’t do this without him. We bought a huge industrial printer from one of his clients as I was keen to do all our production in-house.  I had a business idea years ago when my daughter was a baby but due to personal reasons I couldn’t pursue it (someone else has since done it!) and that really spurred me on to come up with something else.

How has digital technology and social media helped grow your business?

There really is nothing else quite like Instagram for small businesses, particularly a visual one such as mine. I owe a lot of my success so far to Instagram. I tend to use the same content on Facebook but it’s not really so instrumental to my success (aside from nudging my friends to buy something!) and I feel my business is best placed on Instagram at the moment. Having said that I am a member on some Facebook groups set up for women in business and these are brilliant. I’m currently doing a course about how to use Pinterest effectively for business, which is really exciting.

How to style prints in your home

Try hanging pictures without a frame for a relaxed look

gayle mansfield

“In our daughter’s room I have styled one of our personalised prints with a Happy banner from This Modern Life and some ball lights from Tiger. I like to hang pictures with no frames for a relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple picture ledge creates an effective display

sofa and picture by gayle mansfield designs

“Above our sofa we have an IKEA picture ledge with framed photos we sourced from Unsplash. I really like the thin profile frames from IKEA as shown here in black.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group prints together for a bold, contemporary look

pictures on wall by gayle mansfield

“We have an area at the end of our kitchen that needed to be pulled together and I have achieved this by hanging two prints above this upcycled (by me) dresser. I like the look of two different sized prints together but with the same colours (one on the left by Seventy Tree, one on the right by me).”

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t have to attach pictures to a wall – try propping them up instead

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“I like to prop prints up rather than commit to always putting them on the wall, as I am constantly moving things around! I have left the cat eyes print unframed as I like the relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By placing simple, typographic prints on shelves you can create Instagram-worthy displays

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“Again, I have propped up two prints here, on our shelving in our living room, so that I can move them around easily.  I am naturally drawn to prints that are typographic and simplistic.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gayle is following…

sarah akwiscombe

 

 

 

 

I find @sarahakwisombe‘s approach just so refreshing and real, she really inspires me so much.  She’s clearly very hard-working and knows what she wants and is very passionate about what she does.

blogga i bagis

 

 

 

 

I cannot get enough of @bloggaibagis interior styling.

selfish mother logo

 

 

 

 

I have a lot of respect for Molly Gunn @selfishmother.

Gayle’s work…

gaylemansfield.co.uk
instagram.com/gaylemansfielddesigns
Pinterest.com/gaylemansfield
hello@gaylemansfield.co.uk

Interiors blogger Lisa Dawson’s top independent retailers 

Instagram is a social media platform that has really captured the imagination of interior lovers all over the world – arguably overtaking Pinterest as the social media of choice. Lisa Dawson is an interiors blogger who is riding the wave of this growing trend and has built a 25k strong Instagram following (impressive considering she only started posting photos of her house last year). It has helped raise her professional profile organically and now she now runs regular ‘Styling Your Home Workshops’ with her workshop partner Dee Campling (another interiors obsessive with a loyal Instagram following). The business Lisa Dawson Styling is going from strength to strength and now offers an interior room design service.

lisa dawson styling

Quick to realise the potential of social media Lisa finds it’s a great way to discover independent brands. “Instagram has become the social media hub to be on. No longer the domain of the teenage selfie, everyone and their dogs are getting in on the action. With the huge increase in hash tagging and its popularity as a creative platform, more and more independent companies are finding that Instagram is perfect for launching and promoting their businesses.”

Lisa lives in York with her husband Joe and three children (Ella, Max and Leo) and her “badly trained” Lhasa Apso dog, Buddy. She has a background in fashion retail, having previously worked for Top Shop. She’s learnt the hard way about running her own business (she used to sell jute bags on notonthehighstreet.com). “When the plastic bag charge came into effect and supermarkets started selling similar products to mine at a quarter of the price, I was forced to admit defeat”. So, with her new interiors business she’s keen to champion the kind of independent brands she identifies with and is “committed to the promotion and support of these inspirational companies”.

With that in mind I asked Lisa to pick her top five interiors and homeware companies which we should look out for in 2017. So check them out: “but be warned the temptation to purchase will be strong!”.

Lisa’s top five independent retailers for 2017

Violet & Thistle

Jane is the founder and owner of Violet & Thistle and she is absolutely fab. With a background in costume jewellery retail and years spent visiting the Far East in order to source, Jane realised after the birth of her first daughter that she needed a business that kept her closer to home. Based in London, she launched her online store at the end of 2015 and you could not hope to meet a friendlier person. If you follow her on Instagram, you will know that she loves a chat. Her shop is a fabulous collection of individual homewares, lighting and one off vintage pieces.  Check out her most recent stock which includes fantastic neon wall lights and a gorgeous range of macramé plant holders. My favourite all time purchase from Jane is my pom-pom basket which is always commented upon and my applause light box is about to be put above my bar so that people can clap me when I pour them a drink.

pink neon wall light love violet and thistle
Violet & Thistle sell an eclectic mix of items for the home including this vibrant pink neon sign

Curious Egg

Lorraine Aaron is a professional artist with a background of making art for public places. She has an obsessive interest in art, architecture and interiors and how the combination of these can contribute to our happiness. Her store is a curated heaven of the most beautiful items sourced for their interest and individuality. Her customer service is second to none and her shop is well worth a visit.

gold-strand-candleholder-lifestyle-curious-egg
Curious Egg has a carefully curated selection of items to make your home beautiful

Grey September

Sara Griffiths is the founder and creator of this newly formed online collection of homewares, interiors and gifts. Expect a little bit of Nordic, cool Copenhagen and the rest of the globe for a unique blend of design must haves for your space. Sara has worked in TV for the last 20 years whilst also having the extremely busy job of being a mum to two girls. Having curated her own small but perfectly formed family home, she finally decided to put the dream into reality and her fabulous store is well worth a visit.

grey september bed
Grey September is a beautifully curated shop selling Scandi-inspired homewares

We Are Amused

Susan and Donna, with their backgrounds in styling and photography, are the creative wonders behind We Are Amused. They produce innovative photographic and typographical prints from their studio in Fife, Scotland that look stunning in any interior.  Their prints will add that essential edge of cool to your space.  I’ve got their gorgeous (and I’m sure to be iconic) shoe last print, or I did until my daughter decided it would look better in her room than mine. You can contact Susan and Donna via their Instagram feed. Inspirational mums Donna and Susan started their print design business from a studio in Fife last year.  Through sheer hard work, their artwork is flying into stores. They supply Rockett St George and were recently part of a pop up in Liberty London, as well as a huge selection of independent stores.

sixties chair neon print fireplace interiors we are amused
We Are Amused produce unique prints: as featured in Lisa’s daughter’s bedroom

Hilary & Flo

Founded in 2015, Shelley’s shop is a gorgeous eclectic mix of home accessories and furniture that is an absolute must. How excited was I when I realised that Hilary & Flo was in Sheffield and therefore close enough to visit? Very excited. My (very good at shopping) friend Liz was visiting from America, had been following the Hilary & Flo feed and was desperate for a visit, so together with two other friends, we had a girls outing. The trip got off to a bad start after I drove into another car at the roundabout on the way there due to excessive chatting, but we persevered and were very glad that we did. Shelley is absolutely lovely and so welcoming and friendly, making any visit to her store a pleasure. She stocks a selection of independent retailers including Abigail Ahern.

hilary & flo interiors shop sheffield
An interior lover’s emporium: Hilary and Flo is one of Lisa’s favourite shops

Lisa is following…

Jennifer Harrison, Fleamarket Fab

fleamarket fab“Stateside Jennifer is an inspirational mother and businesswoman with an online store and design service.  Her style is recycled glam and she sources from flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores.”

 

 

Sarah Akwiscombe, Interior Stylist & Blogger

sarah akwiscombe“When I decided to start blogging, it was Sarah’s webinar that I took to get the lowdown.  She created and runs the No Bull Blog School teaching others how to start writing and also has a career as a successful interior stylist.  She’s a mum of one and lives in London.”

 

Lisa’s work…

Wesbite: lisadawsonstyling.com
Instagram: _lisa_dawson_
Twitter: Lisadstyling
Facebook: lisadawsonstyling
Pinterest: Lisajanedawson
Email: hello@lisadawsonstyling.com


Interview with Amy White