Spotlight on Mairi Helena
Today on the Green Sofa, we have Mairi Helena a Scottish textile designer and photographer. Mairi makes the most beautiful wallpapers, cushions and scarves based on nature around her in Scotland.
I have had the pleasure of having these items photographed in my home and to meet the lovely lady herself and I can honestly say these photos do not do justice to her products, since I think it is the feel, texture and colour that is quote spectacular, something that is hard to get across in an image and one of the reasons Mairi takes her products out on the road to so many shows.
I also love that Mairi was (and to some extent still is) a fellow scientist turned creative. Go enjoy the journey.
Mairi Helena is an Edinburgh based designer producing high-end luxury home accessories for interiors and fashion. Her novel designs are created using influences from her photographic portfolio of Scotland, producing abstract surface pattern designs with a unique fine art feel.
‘With both my parents being textile designers, I was brought up with an appreciation of design. Previously with the vibrant, earthy colours of the Scottish Borders landscape where I grew up, then seaward by the rustic, weathered, coastal fringe of Fife and now the bustling, pulsating Edinburgh sensations, I love fusing textiles, textures and photography to create fashionable prints. ‘
Mairi Helena designs and creates from her Scottish base, where the landscapes, colours and wildlife continuously provide further inspiration and ideas. The Mairi Helena collection incorporates a variety of print processes including digital and hand screen-printing.
Mairi Helena ensures quality, premium, desirable creations; an alternative to mass market production.
The Mairi Helena collection showcases designer homeware for modern interiors and comprises of luxury textiles, contemporary wallpapers & velvet cushions. In addition to this, Mairi Helena’s design range includes fashion accessories such as Scottish silk scarves and velvet tote bags. You can visit the shop here:
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I actually trained as a vet having stubbornly decided at the age of 7 that this was the pathway for me. Much to my family's amazement! They couldn't understand where this scientific streak came from, with both parents being textile designers, and all my grandparents being in the art and design world!! However, during university days it was my photography that remained my escape to the art world and where I kept my creative spark alive. It was actually as a result of attending a photography course in the Lake District and meeting inspirational creative entrepreneurs who were all earning a living from their passions that made me realise that you can make a living doing what you love. Since then, I have never looked back...and even although the journey has been tough, nothing beats being your own boss!
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I work from a studio at home, initially this was the spare room in our cottage in Fife. Then we moved to Edinburgh in 2015 and we have a little more space and I now have a dedicated studio room within our flat which is great. Our flat is becoming a bit of a showroom with my wallpapers appearing around the fireplace in our living room, as well as the bedroom and I even managed to sneak a design into the kitchen! It's great though to be able to show customers my designs up in place and it really helps to visualise the end result.
3. How did you fund your business?
I built up my business while working full time as a vet, which was very demanding and meant I had very little free time. But as they say...if you need something done, ask a busy person!! I do seem to find that I'm more productive when I have the least amount of time to do things in as it forced me to be more time efficient. I then reduced my veterinary hours to part time as I continued to build my brand before building up the courage to take the plunge - something that I struggled with for a while as I worried about this decision so much. But I quickly learned that I couldn't keep up my eight day week that I was rapidly creating! I'm lucky in that I can continue to keep up my veterinary side of my life as a locum, which is great as I can enjoy my creative side as well as still keep up my passion for helping animals too.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Being a small business in a very saturated market can make you feel very overwhelmed at times. A bit like a small fish in a very large sea. Marketing the brand to the right audience has been one of the most difficult parts of starting up in business. I've found that it makes such a difference when people can touch and feel and see my fabrics and papers in person. As a result, this often means taking part in shows and events which are extremely good fun but on the flip side can be very expensive, exhausting and time consuming.
Another difficult part is keeping up the momentum and confidence in the decisions I was making for the brand. Believing in yourself is key but can be tricky too. Having somebody to act as a mentor or access to a group of people undergoing the same journey can be really helpful with this.
5. What help was missing for you?
Access to funding! When first starting out and setting up in business there can be great opportunities to help get your idea off the ground and initiated. But as a developing business, I've found that funding to help progress ideas and new collections can be tricky to come by.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I quickly learned that I needed to find my niche. In my first year, I wanted to take on every opportunity and say yes to everyone's particular requests. I was trying to appeal to too wide an audience and as a result stretching myself too thin.
7. What have you learnt?
Carry out as much market research as you can to help identify and track down your key audience. This will help to more efficiently target your target market when considering how you would like to market your brand and how you go about doing so.
Join groups! Whether a supportive Facebook group of entrepreneurs or a local creative network group for example. It's great to meet new people and learn of their experiences and journeys!
My most important lesson learned is that building your business takes time and that you need a lot of patience, commitment, dedication and perseverance!
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Starting your own business can be overwhelming, testing at times and uncertain. However, running your own business often means that you are getting to do what you love best and what you are most passionate about, every day of the week! Which can't be beaten and makes the rollercoaster ride well worth it. Be prepared to have plenty of stick ability.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I love the rewarding feeling of seeing my designs appear in interior design projects. It's so uplifting to think that a print I have designed is helping to provide a splash of colour into a home, hotel or any living space really!
As a result of my design work and blogging, I also love getting to know such a friendly community of creatives and individuals who I can share the journey with. I really enjoy talking to customers about my collection and introducing them to my designs as well as chatting about the story behind my brand. I'm going to be exhibiting at 100% Design within the emerging brands section this September, where I launched my collection last year. I'm really looking forward to going back again and meeting familiar and new faces.
Aside from the creativity I also love my own boss and having the flexibility of designing my own working week!
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
10!! But it's worth it! I promise.
Nicola Says "Mairi Helena picks out a lot of the challenges we see across this blog, which is how do you take a leap of faith in what you do and still make sure you can earn money? how things take time, often longer then you ever expect, how you need perseverance, to understand your market, to know when not to overload yourself by saying yes to everything, that it's really hard work BUT at the end of the day you are your own boss, doing something you love and it is absolutely worth it"
Thanks for sharing!
The Girl with The Green Sofa