Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 Hello and Goodbye

Well a new year has come around again and with it come lots of new changes for my business. I'm moving on.

As you may already know, I have a brand spanking new website and with that comes a new blog/diary of my day to day goings on.

For many years I have written a lot about working within the creative industry and I've interviewed many, many inspirational designers who have all shared their knowledge and experience with me. Giving us all secret insider tips and much needed advice.

But now I've decided that it's time for me and for my business to grow. So I'm leaving this blog behind so that I can concentrate solely on designing and manufacturing my product.

However, I have decided not to close this blog as it really has helped many designers, new and experienced over the years. I've put all the blog posts together, so why not book mark this page and come back to it as and when you need to.

So grab a cuppa, delve in and hunt out some great tips and advice from the people who have been there, done that! Find out about licensing your work, trade shows, markets, selling online, getting published in magazines, building a website or just read these truly inspirational stories! (All blog posts listed with links below)

You can also purchase my own personal background story and tips on working within the creative industry.

E Book - From Little Things - The story of the birth of my business - The ups, downs, tips and advice
E book Mini - Selling to shops and wholesale
E Book Mini - Trade Show Secrets
E Book Mini - Markets

Surface Pattern Design

Top Tips Part 1
- Including tips from Lotta Jansdotter, Rachael Taylor, Elizabeth Olwen, Bethan Janine, Racel Cave, Jessica Wilde, Mel Smith Designs, Rosa and Clara Designs, Sophie Honeybelle, Mary Tanana, Gillian Arnold

Top Tips Part 2
- Including tips from Zoe Ingram, Flora Waycott, Pink Light Licensing, Jilly P, Jessica Hogarth, Victoria Johnson, Khristian Howell, Jill McDonald, Yuyu, Valerie Foster, Rosie Simons, Veronica Galbraith, Julie Hamilton

Dawn Machell
Miriam Bos
Victoria Johnson

Going from Hobby to Business

Poppy Treffry
Dots and Spots
Charlotte Macey
Claudine Hellmuth
Kids Art
Plushka's Craft

Manufacturing and Selling Online

Rosa and Clara Designs
Gabriella Buckingham
Skinny Laminx
Bread and Jam
Clara and Macy
Angie Spurgen

Trade Shows

Ali benyon - Life Instyle Tradeshow, Melbourne
ZZ Totz - LifeInstyle Tradeshow, Melbourne
The Writing Bureau
 - Part 1
 - Part 2
Amor Amor
Baby Button
Marni Franks

Getting Press Coverage

Gidddy Kipper
Tickle the Imagination


Time Management - Judit Szilagyi
Wholesale - Anika Bee
Little Lou and Enoch and Plonk - Branding
Handmade Love - Branding

Thursday, December 03, 2015

New House, New Start

So tomorrow we finally move into our new house from the rental property we've been living in for the past 4 months.

When we moved back to the UK from Australia in August, the last thing on our minds was buying a house. We wanted to wait a year to see how we felt about being back before making such a huge decision. I had my eye on the UK housing market, but nothing too serious. In Australia we had a very large house, as do a lot of Aussies, so I knew that finding a house to suit our new Aussie ways was going to be rather tricky and it was going to take some time to find a suitable property.

However....... I kept driving past a house on the way to school that had a For Sale sign up and I couldn't stop thinking that it looked just perfect for us. It looked big, detached, next to a cemetery (quiet neighbours!! Yes, I've heard that one a few times!) walking distance to High School for my eldest who starts next September and would cut a good seven minutes off my current school run. It was also just a stones throw from the house we were currently renting and we were loving living so close to town.

I googled the house every day for 4 days on the trot, worried that it would be way above our price bracket, but the house didn't actually go onto the internet until 5 days after I initially saw the sign.

As soon as I saw it, I excitedly clicked on the link, dying to see inside the house and was gobsmacked to see that not only was it the perfect house for us, but also that it was within our price bracket, if not way below!!! It also had plans in place for us to do an extension on the back, meaning we could also add value.

Fifteen years of watching Phil and Kirsty obviously didn't go to waste on me!

Before I could stop it, I found myself calling the agent and booking an appointment into seeing the house that very day. The very next day we found ourselves sat in the car speaking to the agent and hearing that our rather cheeky and determined offer of 10k below the asking price had been accepted!!!

Fifteen years of watching Phil and Kirsty REALLY didn't go to waste on me!!!!!

So with a crazy year just about to get even crazier, we set off on the path of purchasing a house after only a month of landing back in the country!

Tomorrow is moving in day and our shipment of all the rest of our "stuff" from Australia finally arrives next Tuesday. It feels like such a long time ago that we packed all our belongings and sent it off back in July/August. It will be so nice to sleep on a proper bed for the first time in months and for the girls to get to play with their toys again.

Here are a few pics of the house and we can't wait to start turning it into our first UK family home. I think we might wait a while before starting a reno (do you say reno in the UK?? I can't remember??) but knowing us I wouldn't be surprised if the builders were knocking on our door on New Years Day!! LOL!!

Dougal and the girls loving their new outside space.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Refreshed Energy = New Designs

Inspiration and renewed energy for artists and designers can strike anytime, anywhere! (It can also bugger off for days, months and longer unfortunately)

I've not had any creative energy to design for many months (I think moving to the other side of the world and having a computer that crashed every few minutes didn't help!) But all of a sudden, out of the blue and on a really miserable day when I had received a devastating work e mail, full of tears and feeling like the biggest failure on the planet, I suddenly wanted to design, design, design. And I'm loving being back. Designing patterns for me can turn a truly bad day into something beautiful and that day did just that for me.

Since starting this surface pattern design path I keep on hearing the same thing again and again; you need to find your "signature style" I took that as having to find a style that was totally different to everyone else; out there, wild, unique.... So that's what I did. I designed my heart out and forced myself to be as different as I could.

And that my dear friends is where I believe I went totally wrong. I forced the design process instead of letting it flow and come naturally. I'm not saying that my designs were awful, far from it. I just don't think they were truly "me"

So now with my renewed energy, I'm back and I'm back with a new attitude; to relax, enjoy and design in a way that makes ME happy, joyful and to not worry if my work looks like others. I'm thinking and hoping the more I design, the more my work will become truly "me"

Here are a few designs that I have been working on this week. My new years resolution is to complete a collection per week!! Gulp!! There you go, I've set the gauntlet now, who's joining me? :)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Am I done??

After we decided to move back to the UK, I knew straight away, without a shadow of a doubt that I would apply to sell with a well known shopping platform in the UK

I applied, but knew very well that they can be rather selective with who they take on board their very exclusive website, so I was a little nervous, thinking that my product/brand might not suit what they were after. After a couple of nail biting weeks I heard back and I was floored to hear that I had been accepted! I was over the moon to say the least.

"Dream Big" Notebook using my Freya design

They sent me all their info and I must admit that for the first few weeks I just smiled, not really believing I'd managed to get on!! I was also in the midst of packing and getting ready to move back home to the UK, so life was really busy and I just didn't have time to trawl through all the info. Once I did sit down and try and get my head around it all I realised that they truly are an amazing company. They give out so much advice on photography, product, selling tips and marketing.  You are called a partner in their company and it really does feel like that.

Greetings Card using my Mathilda Design

They also sent all the info through about how to set up my store. It was a bit mind boggling at first like these things are,  but I eventually managed to get my head around it all.

They give you six months to set up your store and initially I thought it was easily do able, even with our big move. I did most of my homework whilst I was still in Australia; things like finding fabric printers, suppliers, paper printers etc to give me a head start once I landed. I thought I could take some product with me on the plane and the rest would go on the ship and be there in good time. Well that didn't happen. Firstly our suitcases were so packed to the brim, absolutely nothing else was going in there and secondly our shipment still hasn't fully landed!!

Toiletry Bag using my Heidi Design

When we finally landed in the UK, I took a few weeks off to settle the girls into their new home and then into their new school. By now we were into September and I knew I only had a few months left to get everything sorted.

I was all ready to go to print. I contacted the printers and maufacturers I had agreed on using whilst still in Australia. After looking at many fabric samples from lots of different companies and what felt like hundreds of e mails to and fro from Australia I really felt that I had found a great company thatI could work with. But then, to cut a long story very short I was let down by them big time. The quotes they had initially sent me months earlier had suddenly gone up massively, we are talking twice the price here. So much so that I was left thinking and worrying that I wouldn't be able to create any of my fabric products. The whole thing could just come crashing down on me. I was angry, deflated, annoyed and generally pissed off.

One of my purses in my Ana fabric

But that's business and I shook myself off and jumped back on the research bus. God I detest research. But now I was on a deadline which was approaching faster and faster! I had to make this work.

I managed to find an alternative way to print my fabric and by chance found the most wonderful local seamstress who is a real perfectionist like myself, so we work well together. Things were finally on the move. Samples were ordered, which took about three weeks and then finally I ordered my meterage of fabric. Alongside getting my fabric organised I was also busy putting together designs for notebooks, greetings cards and candles. photographing them (OMG the endless photography!!) and ordering up packaging boxes and envelopes.

Notebook using my Heidi Design

I love making my candles and I ordered up all the equipment I needed (so annoying when I had the same stuff all on the ship) and started candle making. After a little research I found that rules regarding warning stickers had been changed here in the UK in June. All of a sudden I had another research nightmare on my hands. It has literally taken me 6 weeks to get my head around it all, but I think I'm getting there. Basically each fragrance you use has to have a different and unique safety sticker, which has to be designed, has to have fonts of particular sizes, pictograms of certain sizes.....ahh, it's been a real roller coaster ride, but I was determined to keep selling candles. Unfortunately lots if candle makers have given up because its just become too hard :(

Anyway, I'm finally on the home straight and hope to launch within the next few weeks!!! I may not be in time for Christmas, but considering we will be moving house any day, it may actually be a blessing!!!

What next for me? Well now I have all my suppliers in place, I'm really looking forward to getting back to doing some fresh, new designs. In fact, I can't wait to get back to what I believe I do best; creating beautiful patterns.

What will (eventually) be in my store?

All of my products will be available in five of my exclusive designs


Products include

Toiletry Bags
Greetings cards
Fabric covered pocket mirrors (Once the ship arrives!!!!!)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Escape to the Country - That show has a LOT to answer for!

Someone asked me a while back if I would write down my thoughts and feelings about my BIG year. At the time I thought, what a great idea, but as I sit down now to put it all into words, I'm thinking, crikey, it's going to be one hell of a long blog!! Whatever.....here it is!

Here's my story condensed!

If you don't know me or much about me, I'm Ali. Many moons ago I studied Textile Design at University in the UK. I'm English. After finishing my degree my husband (boyfriend then) and I did a fair bit of travelling and I put my design career on hold whilst we "had fun." We continued to have fun for many years :)

After having our first child, we decided to give Australia a "go" for a year. We had never fancied Australia before, but we thought it would be a great place to bring up babies. And it is!! We were oh so innocent and very carefree back in those days. We dreamt it and made it happen. Easy!

This is a pic of me on the first weekend we arrived in Aus.

The first year we were there, we had a ball and decided that it was a much better place to be whilst our child was little, so decided to stay a while longer. I was then working as an Aerobics instructor and we had a great life. Little girl number 2 was born and we were then caught up in crying, nappies, kinder then school....you know how it is!!Life was busy, but life was good, very good.

We bought a house and spent the next few years doing it up and the years just flew. We never missed the UK at all and in nine years we didn't return to old Blightly, not even for a holiday.

This was our house back in Aus. We spent many years renovating it.

But in year nine something happened to my husband and I. All of a sudden we started to feel home sick. It was a very gradual feeling, but one that neither of us could shake. All of a sudden we were glued to the TV and we couldn't get enough of all the British programmes; Escape th the Country (after speaking to a few Aussies, it seems that they were hooked on that one too!!) Location, Location, Location and Downton Abbey.
What did we miss?
The green countryside, the lovely old villages, the people, the humour, the frost on a winters morning, the old buildings, the history, the cobbled streets, Boots, Tesco!!! LOL! You name it, we missed it!

Because of a family situation my husband had to go back to the UK in the September of year nine and he decided to take our eldest child with him. Even when he'd booked the flight I had no intention of going back. One it was too expensive for us all to go and two I really didn't want to. It wasn't until he was calling me up from the UK and telling me all about it that the pining to go back really started to kick in.

On holiday in Queensland

When he returned we talked about going back to the UK to live, but it was very light hearted. When you feel homesick you don't really know what it is you are homesick for. Is it friends and family? Is it the green countryside? Is it the humour and the people? Do you really want to go back for a few weeks and then your homesickness will go away or is it something deeper?? It's all the unknown and thinking about moving back after 10 years is very, very scary, especially when you have a 10 year old, 7 year old and a dog in tow!! But you know deep down that the only way you will get to find out all the answers to your burning questions would be to actually do it. But did we have the balls, that was the big question.

So we continued to pine, knowing that to make the decision to move back was just too huge for us to contemplate. So we carried on with our daily lives in Australia and tried to push it to the back of our minds.

One of the big problems was that we really loved Australia; it was our home. The house we bought and lived in for the last 8 years was the longest we had ever settled in one place, EVER. So we felt that we really had roots there. Also Australia itself; you really can't fault it to be honest. Yes the weather is great, the beaches are stunning, but more importantly the people are just ace! They are so positive, friendly and just lovely. I can honestly say that in ten years I have only come up against a few grumpy Aussies.

What is there NOT to like?

At some point decisions just have to be made

Everything came to a head on Christmas Day. Having no family in Australia, we always felt rather sad and alone at that time of year and Christmas 2014 was probably the worst we'd ever felt. When the kids are small, you can get away with having no family around, but as they get older, you do start to feel bad that you have taken them away from their family. So we sat there all day (in our PJ's) and talked and talked about what we should do. In that 24 hours we talked about moving to Brisbane, changing jobs, running a business together....anything but what we knew we really should be discussing and what was in our hearts. And that was to go back home.

At the end of Christmas day we finally admitted that what would really make us happy would be to move back to the UK, but the reality was that we were scared silly. How was schooling going to work? What if we hated it after a month? What if we wanted to come back? Nothing other than our guts and hearts were telling us that it was the right thing to do.

We spent the rest of Christmas day googling the ex pat sites (we had never been on any of them before) and reading horror stories about "ping pong" pommes. How they return only to ping pong back after 6 months because they hate it so much. It was hard, but we read every single story, good and bad. We researched the schooling system differences and how hard it would be for the kids to catch up. We did an online grocery shop to see if we'd be better off. We researched jobs, holidays, utility bills. You name it, we googled it!! Going back is a much harder decision than coming out in the first place to be honest.

We were so nervous, but also excited about the fact we had finally (almost) made a decision. The next step for us was to go back to the UK for a few weeks to make our final decision and look at places to live and schools.

We booked flights for Easter 2015 and excitedly started to research moving companies, rental agencies, jobs etc all ready for if/when we finally made the decision to go back. We jumped on the plane, nervous as hell, knowing that the next two weeks would be the catalyst to what happens in the next stage of our lives. ALL of our lives.

The tea rooms in Chester

So many friends wanted to catch up but we knew we had to stay focused. Schools was the main research project for us. If we couldn't make that work, then we weren't coming back, that was final. We had held our youngest back a year and so when I tried to work it out, I realised that when she was in Year 1 in Australia, she would (because of her birth date) be put straight into year 4 in the UK.

This was a no brainer as far as I was concerned and it was just not going to happen. They HAD to keep her back a year. It would be crazy not to!! But rules are rules in the UK and God forbid anyone who challenges them. Well I did (three months of emails to the local council) and I won. I was told that if I could find a school that was happy to hold her back, then they would agree to it. Yay!! Now I just had to find a school that is nothing but excellent and then had to get them to agree to holding her back. I wasn't feeling too positive to be honest, but we'd come all this way. It had to work out for us. We looked around lots of schools, many of which refused to hold her back. But finally we found one and it was perfect in every way. They were more than happy to hold her back. In their words "parents know their child better than anyone". So we'd found a school, we'd found a stunning area to live it. It was a small town, surrounded by the most beautiful, green countryside. It really did feel like we were Escaping to the Country!!!

Our new local cafe

So that was it. Decision made.  

It felt so good to have finally made the decision to head back home. We'd decided to return in the August so that the girls could start a new school year in September. We headed back to Australia in a really positive frame of mind, but also slightly apprehensive at the task that lay ahead for us; finding work for my husband, selling/renting out our house, relocating our furniture, leaving our lovely big Australian  house in exchange for a little house back in the UK, what to do with the dog, UK passports, costs etc.

Deciding to move to the other side of the world is not for the faint hearted.

I look back now and wonder how we actually did it, but we did. We decided early on that the best thing to do would be to sell almost everything we owned. Houses in the UK are small (compared to Aussie houses) so most of our furniture wouldn't fit, plus we had so much.....where on earth would it all go?! So we sold the lot.....which took ages!

We were still extremely nervous about turning our lives upside down, so we decided the best thing all round would be to rent our house out for a year, meaning the move would feel less final. That way if we wanted to come back, we could. Thankfully the house was rented out straight away to a really lovely English couple, so that was one weight off our minds.

My husband landed a job and all of a sudden things started to slot into place. I applied to sell with a popular online selling platform in the UK and was surprised and utterly delighted to be accepted. Looking back I was so stupid to have applied so early, because all of a sudden I had a deadline to meet (they give you six months to set up shop) when I already had a ridiculous to do list with the move and two kids to settle into their new life and new school.

Day trip to Lyme Park

So many times from the time we made our decision to the day we left, we thought of stopping the whole thing. It was such a huge thing we were doing and things like the girls finishing up at school (many tears) and last coffee dates with friends (more tears) closing bank accounts and our last visit to the beach were enough for us to just scream STOP, WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING!!!
We had a great life, why on earth were we turning it upside down?? So the way we got through it was to say, let's try it for a year and if we don't like it, we'll come back. We hoped we would love it as the cost of returning would have killed us, but we just kept that in our minds to keep us moving forward.

The last week in Aus was a bit manic and I'll never forget the last day. The removal men came in and worked like a whirlwind. I manically ran around cleaning and throwing out so much stuff. It's amazing how many last minute things you find when you think you've got rid of the bulk of stuff. We jumped in a taxi and drove away from the house, our home. The house that the kids had spent most of their lives in and that we had renovated and sweated over. We were leaving behind so many beautiful memories. It's a weird and very sad feeling to drive away from somewhere (a home, a country) that you have spent so long, thinking that you may never, ever go back again. It's also weird not knowing for certain if you are doing the right thing. Even when we were sat on the plane, we still didn't know.

Our new local park in the UK. We love autumn!

Going Home

We arrived back in the UK and pretty much knew straight away that we had done the right thing. We've been back almost three months now and LOVE IT!!! My husband loves his job. His working hours are better, the stress is less and he's once again having a laugh at work. I've never seen him this happy to be honest. The kids started school and in one term I can see a massive change in their work and their general happiness. Little one struggled to settle at first, but is now loving it. My eldest has made some lovely new friends and she has settled beautifully. I'm super busy getting ready to go live on the popular selling platform. It's literally like starting my business from scratch; finding suppliers and manufacturers. It's been a massive job, but I'm almost there. Phew!!  (I so wish I'd waited before applying!! Silly me!!)

Every weekend we are off into the hills going on walks, something that we really love to do and most Fridays we pop into our nearest pub for a quick drink..... Dougal in tow. Yes, it cost us a small fortune, but we decided to bring our gorgeous dog home with us. SO glad we did too.

Walks in the countryside

Walks with Dougal

We are very lucky. We took a huge gamble and it's worked. When you can feel it in your heart that you are making a good decision, then I think you usually are. We decided to rent here in the UK for a year, but have recently put an offer in on a house that we fell in love with. It was accepted and after only being back in the country 5 weeks, we found ourselves in the midst of buying a house!! How did that happen!! Again, it feels like the right decision and  we are waiting very impatiently for our completion date, which should be very soon.

The one thing that I love about being back is the fact that we look at our country with new, fresh eyes.  Being away for so long, really makes you appreciate all the stuff that a lot of Brits take for granted. I'm loving the people and their/our unique humour. I'm loving watching the leaves turn from green to brown, to red and golden. I'm loving the hills, the history (I don't think I've been to a castle before - they were just always there. I now can't wait to visit as many as possible)

We have just booked a trip to York, a stunning historical town. We are going just before Christmas and we can't wait to show the girls what Christmas is like in the UK. The lights, the cold, dark nights, the smell of holly and chestnuts roasting. I'm, so excited!!!

York at Christmas time

So there you have it. That has been my last year and the reason why I haven't had time to blog since last May!! I'm hoping that we can move into the new house before Christmas and that next year will be a little less stressful. But hey, you only live once. Go for it I say!!

Our local pub

Notes to those thinking of doing the same thing

If you are thinking of doing something similar, then I'd say to go with what your heart and gut tells you to do. If you are still undecided, imagine if someone told you that you couldn't do that thing you are thinking of doing. How does that make you feel? If you feel devastated, then that's your answer.

If you are in Australia and thinking of moving back to the UK or wherever else you are originally from, please remember that when you return, you will have NO financial history here. We had to buy our cars outright because we couldn't get a loan, so it's something to be prepared for. Same with buying a house. It's almost impossible to get a mortgage. We used a mortgage broker, but it was still very hard. Just be warned, but don't let it stop you going for your dream. Good Luck!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Expanding My Knowledge

I've been hiding away in the background lately doing a few courses. Plus working on something highly secret that I'm bursting to tell you, but can't!!! Not long now though :)

Here's a lovely little design I created last week from Bonnie Christines amazing Skillshare course. Highly recommended!!

Monday, February 09, 2015

New Year, New Products

Can you believe we are in February already? I can't. This year seems to be flying. So much to do and so little time.

Just for a change I'm here to apologise for being such an absent blogger, but I really have been super busy recently.

In the last ten weeks I have been manically putting designs together, finding seamstresses, printing fabric, cutting fabric and just going for my dream. And I'm there, I've done it....at long last! I've added many a new product to my brand and it feels fantastic. Designing my own fabric and making it into all kinds of products has been a dream I've had for years and now, finally (after a LOT of hard work) my dream has become a reality.

So here are some photo's of my new products; cushions, t towels, fabric covered mirrors, purses, toiletry bags and gorgeous smelling soy wax candles. Here's a sneak peek, but don't forget you can buy them in my newly updated shop!