Getting Down to Business...
A fortnight ago I was fortunate enough to see the new month in with the Makegood Festival in central London... an event to celebrate the end of a year of training and hard work, for the School For Creative Startups (S4CS) students.
Serial entrepreneur and ex Dragon's Den investor, Doug Richard, founded S4CS in 2010, with a vision of teaching entrepreneurship to creative beings... I was enticed by the video they put on the website (click on the link above and take a look it's still there) - promising not only a showcase for new businesses talking about their creative wares (over 200 of them), but also a vast array of well-known successful speakers over the course of the four-day event... Described by the organisers as a 'big, beautiful melting pot of culture, creativity and entrepreneurship' - I couldn't wait to see what would be there!
But before I get into the event itself, let's just start with some start-up business facts, so we all understand what's going on here. With words like 'indie' and 'pop-up' being bandied around, it would be easy to be patronising about small businesses, their prospects, and the power of going 'your own way', instead of succumbing to working for a large, multi national corporation (like some people do for an 'easy' life). Based on last year - just over half a million new businesses were 'born', and that's the highest figure on record so far, for the UK. AND - according to Government stats, micro and small businesses represent 95% of all companies and employ more than seven million people in the UK. So that's not to be sniffed at! If I sound like I'm writing in defence of startups, I suppose I am... This is not to say I'm against massive companies, but I like to maintain a healthy awareness when it comes to knowing what happens, where. I'm talking about the use of under-age, or underpaid workers... or knowing when you're eating horse meat instead of cow... I could go ON AND ON about the things that go on, when companies are so large that they become far less accountable for their actions, and less eager to garner favour with their customers. This is one of the main things I love about small businesses - an enthusiasm, energy, optimism, and eagerness to do well... And the belief we can forge our own path in the world, without looking to others to pave our way with riches and fulfilment.
SO! What was great about the Makegood Festival?
In short, the energy was fantastic. If you can imagine being surrounded by lots of people who all share one thing in common - being on the cusp of their dreams being realised - what do you think that feels like? I will say there was a slightly giddy feeling... I think it's because I went on the final day, and having worked at events like these (normally as a promo girl, although I've not done that in quite some time) - by the end of a four day event, I'd be giggling at anything... overly tired, light-headed, buoyed by the proceedings, but feeling ready to drop!
I'll mention a few people, and businesses, that caught my eye... As I've said previously (and is stated in the About Me section of this blog) I'm not paid to write anything. So if I I'm being complimentary, it's because that's how I feel. And, I'm sure you know me by now, I love being able to celebrate achievements, I whole-heartedly endorse the concept of entrepreneurialism - and I believe in congratulating people when they deserve a pat on the back. This post may well read as one long pat on the back... so get ready! And although some people might think the following is a bit... American... I'm going to scatter some of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes through this blog post, as I can't possibly improve on her sentiments - better to concede... starting with something that appeals to the businesswoman in me;
"I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass."
Running a successful business is the simple task of recognising a gap in the market, be it product or service, and filling that gap. I say 'simple', but obviously there are barriers to entry, sometimes the biggest barrier of all is time... This is something the founder of Victor's Drinks, Ralph Broadbent, can wholly appreciate, as he explained it took three years to fully develop the mechanics behind his make-your-own cider... It's obvious that having worked a full-time job, AND put every other hour into developing his own idea - that Ralph must have had an innate belief his business would be successful... The product is cider, which you can make in just ten days at home, by simply adding water and yeast to the Victor's Drinks box of tricks (my words, not theirs!); read all about it, here!
Moving on to the next exhibitor that caught my eye, The Vintage Photo Booth Company, 'Capturing The Dapper, The Dandy and The Debonair..,' ...
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
Simon's a vet, his wife is an actress, between them they came up with a wonderfully eclectic dressing up box filled with a treasure trove of goodies to wear, inside their vintage photo booths, with photos being printed off within minutes of being taken - thereby creating instant souvenirs... These can be hired for any event (there are a few galleries on their website of party guests which are hilarious); I've been to a few corporate do's where photo booths have been present, but I felt the main difference with this one was how the idea was executed. The booth itself was beautifully kitted out, with heavy velvet curtains, lights around the mirror like in a star's dressing room, and a leather seat...
Upstairs I met Russ who had started the S4CS course with twenty ideas in his mind, not sure which one to develop... finally it was the product he had been mulling over for the longest that won out, that we stood beneath as we chatted. With a background in industrial design, mostly in office furniture and partitioning products, it became clear Russ had applied his knowledge to a whole new arena...
"The love of the family, the love of the person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society."
Bodopods are disaster relief shelters; rapidly deployable, lightweight, secure, and much more sturdy than the alternative (a tent or the like) - so therefore perfect to endure the emergency phase, through to transitional shelter phase, for a displaced group of people. Obviously this is not something that you or I are likely to need any time soon (God willing) - but it struck me how often we overlook the victims of natural disasters, or civil wars, and their circumstances. How quickly we move from the "that's just terrible news, let's say a prayer for the people in Haiti..," to the "...I wonder how they're getting on now..," phase. This was, without question, the stand that made the biggest impression on me - and I truly hope Russ receives financial backing and success with his invention.
As we talked a little imp caught my eye... Oh no, it was just a petite woman running around in a gold dress, easy mistake to make...
"Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud."
Very simple in cut, lightweight, and in a variety of designs appealing to the 'glam girl' inside of me - these are The Anti-Christ of Anoraks. (I wonder if that name was already taken..?). Described as 'weather-ready festival fashion', these dresses are rain-proof; made from cotton, coated with polyurethane... they're like the sexy adult version of my bibs!! (different material, same wipe-clean principle...)
The designer, Tara Sharpe, also makes designs to order... it got me thinking I really should have an Austin Powers themed garden party this summer. Oh, and buy a house with a garden big enough for an Austin Powers themed garden party... might have to shelve that idea for the time being. ANYWAY! Check out all the glorious Miss Goodweather designs here!
When it comes to high-end fashion, especially the more extravagant affairs, I often think the French are naturally well equipped to bestow imaginative designs on the world...
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style."
...and La Dame au Béret lived up to my (possibly outrageously biased) view, with fairytale hats and hairpieces designed by London-based Parisian milliner Myriam Lengliné - it was a fantastic showcase of millinery magic! Combining both bespoke and opulent ready-to-wear pieces, no two hand stitched designs are the same, so if you're wanting to make an impact at the races, walk down the aisle as a warrior princess, or liven up parents' evening (hey, why not?!), then check out the website!
I recognise the business men and women I'm introducing to you are representative of my own personal likes and dislikes... but I did think that anyone would have been impressed by the range of talent on display, no matter what your predilection...
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I was (obviously!) drawn to The Old School Club based in Battersea, encouraging home sewers to get out, be social, expand their sewing repertoire, and even hold parties there... Again, I know I'm going to say this is fantastic, and you'll think I'm biased, but creating things from scratch (be they crafts, furniture or garments) is so satisfying, and useful... I had a quick chat with the founder, Inma Goodhew, and found out I can also pop along to the club for a coffee, to finish projects and get feedback from like-minded sewers - which is something I'll DEFINITELY be doing in the near future! I bought the pattern, fabric and findings for the Colette Cooper Bag ages ago, and I was a little wary of starting the project, for fear of messing it up - now I have a reason and place to do it!
Moving on to Auntie Mims...
"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
If there was one stand that seemed to bottle nostalgia, this was it! I'm going to share something here; even though their designs are unique and can be personalised, and their flair for creating whimsical and sentimental gifts is undeniable, I was most drawn to the smell. Bear with me. If you think back to your school days, do you remember the smell of woodwork? Of sawing through plywood? The sawdust, the burnt wood smell, the gratifying smooth edges of sandpapered wood? Ahhh... that takes me back! Anyway... they also work with perspex (!), all of their products are handmade, by the husband and wife team, in their own studio in Kent - what's not to love? Their gifts can be personalised to suit any event/recipient, are incredible keepsakes, and I bought a couple of their items as gifts for my brother's wedding - so that must tell you something? Love. Their. Work. Check out the full range of gifts on Auntie Mims website, or head to NotOnTheHighStreet.com - they're really thoughtful bespoke fabulous gifts to give!
Thankfully, they were positioned right next to another stand that screamed "Your brother will LOVE this!" - so I bought two gift bags stuffed with ethically created, organic plant-derived products, from high-end skincare range, Gavin Green.
"I do not trust people who don't love themselves and yet tell me, 'I love you.' There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt."
(*a quick online search April '17 seems to suggest this company is no longer in business).
I went a BIT overboard on gifts... I'm very smell-driven (I may have mentioned before... not sawdust this time), and ended up buying their 'lemongrass and a shot of fresh coffee' scented candle (well three of them, actually!). I spent so long squirting samples on the back of my hand to smell, making appreciative noises and nodding slowly, I think Gavin may have wondered if I was just there to snort. (is that a pastime?) I make no secret of the fact I try to live an organic lifestyle, and aim for natural over synthetic whenever possible, so this range is right up my street. It's a men's skincare range, so don't expect cloying floral top notes... you can see what Gavin's now up to, here...
"Nothing will work unless you do."As I near the end of this review, this stand wins, hands-down, in terms of ticking LOTS of boxes for me... A businesswoman-blogger, into making garments, and helping others start on their sewing journey... Tilly!
I've long-since been in awe of Tilly's ability to juggle lots of different areas of her business; if you're not aware of Tilly and the Buttons, I found her blog a few years ago - long before her appearance as a contestant on the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee. (*And yes, I did mention that fact to her!) She's also recently branched out into releasing her own sewing patterns, and there are also a few included in the back of her new book, Love At First Stitch, (which I promptly bought, and got her to sign!). I MAY have sounded a little 'fan' like - but at least I bought her book, took the pics, and moved on fairly quickly, without saying or doing anything TOO embarrassing. Apart from posing for a photo with Tilly, that made me look like Big Bird from Sesame Street... I mean, look at that face! Could I look any happier with myself? No! Maybe next time I'll play it cool. (*unlikely)
A final special mention for the lovely ladies from The People's Print; a company dedicated to promoting DIY textile design through lectures, workshops and tutorials. Co-founders Melanie and Emma were SO helpful when I stopped to pick their brains on fabric. I'm still in the 'beta stage' of my bib-making business, so it was really useful to talk to two people who have a wealth of experience in fabric and design... If you're into digital design, check out their floral design competition - or find out how you could be creating your own textile designs on their special workshops!
I just want to reiterate that list of people I've mentioned in this blogpost is in no way exhaustive, in fact, I had to be quite strict with myself in writing this. A massive congratulations to all the start-ups that were present at the Makegood Festival, they all deserve a huge round of applause for all the hard work they put in!
If this has got you thinking, and you're interested in reading more about starting your own business, have a chat with like-minded people on the The Creative Startup and Entrepreneurs Meetup Group site, take some advice from the government, or glean some inspiration from Start Up Britain's blog - follow them on Twitter for more info; @StartUpBritain .
And just look what was in the Selfridge's shop window as I left the event...
In other news;
- I'm customising a dress for a friend from work - it's a fabulous pink vintage number her mother used to wear... and it will next be worn at a wedding in July... so no pressure then! Can't wait to share that refashioning with you, as Androulla is gorgeous - as is the dress..!
- I've been contacted by a book publisher to write a review on Designing Costume for Stage and Screen. I mean, was this written FOR ME?! I can't wait to pore over the drama-filled-dresses... and share the love with you, obviously..! (*read all about it, here!)
- And finally, I'm meeting up with another TV Producer next week... as I always say, if God loves a trier, he must adore me!
And a few more Maya Angelou Quotes, taken from The Guardian....