At an evening at Soho Works, we asked three leading design companies a few questions about growing a creative business. Here are the stories and key tips from the team behind Tatty Devine creative director, Harriet Vine and md, Rosie Wolfenden...
- What prompted you to start your own business? Rosie: We met at Chelsea Art School where we were both studying painting. After we graduated we found lots of leather sample books and started making leather cuffs, which we sold on market stalls as we really didn't want real jobs. It spiralled through lots of twists and turns by just saying 'yes' to everything. From the market stall we got into Vogue, London Fashion Week, a place on Brick Lane, perspex cutters... But the key was just saying 'yes'.
- What was the best opportunity you seized? Rosie: Before we really started when we were just experimenting, I was working in a vintage emporium in the King's Road, wearing a rhinestone-covered headband we'd made. Someone came in and asked where it was from. I replied that my company made them. The woman asked us to bring our collection into Vogue House on Monday... this was Friday. I rang Harriet to say that Vogue were expecting to see our collection on Monday morning, she replied 'But we don't have a collection!' Needless to say we seized that opportunity!
And the one you missed? In 1999 we had a fax machine which also worked as an answer machine. One day we got back to see the message light flashing. We listened to that message countless times but it just wasn't clear. Then we bumped into a guy sometime later who asked why we hadn't replied to his message. He was looking for a jewellery designer to work for Ungaro and had wanted us to do it.... It probably would have taken the business in a totally different direction.
- What was the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome in all the years of trading? Harriet: Getting together the finances to buy a laser cutter... then we needed more space, then a 2nd laser cutter. And being in London was really restrictive with property so expensive. We had to look outside so part of the studio is based in Kent. My mother lives in Kent - when we were looking she asked the council what support there was - they offered match funding to help buy a laser cutter and space was cheaper. It's not on the tube but with HS it's genius to get there. And there's lots of local talent in the area from art school.
- What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you? And the worst? Harriet: I tend not to listen to anyone. I've got a sticker on my computer saying 'everything that is in heaven is already here on earth'... just enjoy what you've got and see the beauty in things. Rosie: Just trust and believe in people as they will help you do what you want. I was once told to trust your gut instinct and I think that is really valid. People telling me what they thing can be really annoying. You don't need heavy analysis to make things happen, you've got to believe it and just do it.
- What decision/action did you most regret? Why? What was the impact on your business? Rosie: We don't have any regrets, because you learn and move on. But a few years ago we had a relationship with a large department store. Harriet and I have always been in change of our future. But suddenly with a third party in the mix, you have to think about them, do things the way someone else wants it done and potentially it starts to dilute things. We decided to stop working with them and are really glad we're not they more. We don't regret it as we wouldn't have known had we not done it, so our business is 100% real to what we both love and believe in. Tatty Devine can't really have a third party bringing in rules and costs as it takes away from what we want it to be.
- What or who has had the most impact on your business - in an unexpected way? Harriet: I think for us it has been lots of people. Our customers are key. At the beginning it was our friends who made our business what it is. They were key. It first started when we got a shop in Brick Lane - a big white empty space, with nothing to put in the shopso we used to have an exhibition of all our friends' work that subsequently became a real network. Every month all these people descended on the shop for a big party. It got the word out thereabout what we were doing. 20 years ago Brick Lane was a totally different world. No social media and very exciting.
- What key piece of advice would you give to designers/creators looking to launch or grow their businesses today? Harriet: I am now at the point where design can be the key thing in my life. I don't have to change the printer cartridge any more, so I can think about what is happening next year. When I've given advice to young businesses after I've told them its needs to cost less to make than you sell it for. The next thing is don't forget to put time in for product developemnt. If you're too busy printing tea towels or moving boxes around, what moves your business forward and stops competitors ruining everything is actually investing in your new ideas and taking time out of your everyday life to ensure there is newness and originality in your work going forward. I think that's what drives us - going on a trajectory moving forward and not worrying to much about the wake you are creating. Rosie: Focus on what you know and what you have got rather than on what you haven't and don't know, so really develop the things you understand, have and know because it is real.
- Who’s business do you most admire and why? Harriet: Sugru. She is a product developer in material. It is like blue tack that turns to rubber and it raised money on Kickstarter. There is a sense of international genius going on there. Rosie: And I really admire Lazy Oaf - one woman with a big team, having started with one aesthetic. Harriet; I also still admire Morris & Co. 'Have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful.' If you are putting stuff into the world it is beholden on you not to put rubbish out there as there are so many other people doing that. We try to make everything beautiful with a reason to it.
- You two head up a company together - what are the ups and downs ? Have you ever had a barney? Rosie: No. Harriet: We are two sides of the same coin and have been together for 20 years. We were at college together. The ceiling fell in where Rosie was living, so she came to live at my place. I cut her hair into a pointy flick, we would dress similarly. We've both always work together, with this similarity, but with complementary skill sets. Rosie: From day 1 Harriet was making things and I was selling them and making things happen. Both couldn't do it without the other. Tatty Devine is like our child and we would not want to hurt it or do anything to damage it. It supports too many lives. We have a big team and employ a lot of people which brings lots of responsibility. But more than anything we want to make really cool stuff. Harriet: Making something by your own hand can mean it is hard to be objective, but having Rosie there saying 'yes, it's really great, you should buy it' is how the relationship works even now.
- Are there any things coming down the tracks towards you that you think will have a big impact on where you are now? Rosie: We are just about to launch product ranges which having only made jewellery for the last 16 years, we are very excited about and don't know where it will lead. Think bags, purses, fairy lights - jewellery reimagined as products that are more useful.