Spotlight on Jamie Watkins and Tom Kennedy of Divine Savages
Today's spotlight is the immensely talented Divine Savages, who I have featured on this blog before here. Launching just a few short months ago, this brand has become a firm favourite with the interiors community and if you scroll through this post you will see why. From stunning wallpapers, to lampshades, cushions and prints, everything is totally drool worthy.
So why did Jamie and Tom start out on this journey. Well read on to find out!
Divine Savages specialises in creating an inspired collection of must have treasures. All lovingly designed from the South London HQ of husbands Jamie Watkins and Tom Kennedy. We pride ourselves on delivering fabulous gifts, glamorous home accessories, stunning wallpapers and fabrics and limited edition art prints.
Here at Divine Savages our mission is to inject a splash of wonder into your home and our collections reflect our passion for unique, daring design and patterns with a flourish of both the divine and the savage. We think there's a little bit of both in all of us.
Everything starts with the design concept, which all comes from the genius mind of Tom who studied graphic design at Westminster before following a career in fashion and branding. First and foremost, we develop designs and collections that we love ourselves and that we are proud to have in our own home. We work with some of the finest makers all across the country from Scotland to Manchester and beyond, tapping into their rich heritage and experience, using quality materials and processes to create our range of high-end products, and at the same time support UK manufacturing.
Since we launched the online boutique in October 2017 we have been overwhelmed with the feedback from the interiors community, already partnering with key bloggers and influencers including Nicola Broughton, Melanie Lissack and The Interior Design Collective. Sales have been strong in the short period and seeing our lovingly designed products in real homes makes us do a little dance every time.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
The Divine Savages story began in 2012 in South East London when we were finally able to get on the property ladder and buy our first home. We put our shared passion for quirky interiors and styling to good use and set out to do interiors our own way, but we struggled to find what we wanted. So, we began designing our own homewares, accessories and artwork and when friends and family came to visit they kept asking where we sourced them from. The seed of an idea was planted, and we dreamt about potentially selling our range one day.
2.How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
Well, life as it does, got in the way and it wasn’t for a few years that our dream of creating a new interior brand finally came to fruition. Tom had recently decided to quit his design job at a fashion and branding agency and to finally go freelance (oh the joy of working from home when your other half has to get up and commute across London!) and so it was this opportunity that gave him the time to focus creatively on what would eventually become Divine Savages. It’s a huge leap of faith to launch your own business, bloody scary - those little voices in your head start telling you it’s a crazy idea and you’re going to fail. Then when you start looking at everything that needs to be done - all the boring but necessary things like banking, tax, accounting - it doesn’t half make you think twice!! But we took the leap and made it happen - all out of our spare room, although it’s getting pretty cramped and we’re dreaming of a gorgeous garden studio - but one step at a time!
3.How did you fund your business?
We had some savings we’d squirrelled away over the years and Tom was lucky enough to secure some high profile freelance work which paid really well. So, we decided to use this to invest in starting up the brand. We were also fortunate enough to have family who believed in our vision and creativity who also invested at the start which allowed us to get stock made. We’re so grateful to them, and to friends who put up with endless WhatsApp messages about different designs and colours!
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Time! There just isn’t enough of it! We had grand plans of launching in summer 2017, then this soon became a pipe dream as things just take so much longer than you think. Working out shipping also almost gave Jamie a breakdown - a key part of selling online and so complicated. Also, for our brand, working in interiors, the final print and colour is essential, things have to match and coordinate and the difference between one supplier and another can vary significantly. Sampling took far longer than we had anticipated but we got there in the end and launched in October 2017 - so only a few months behind schedule!
5. What help was missing for you?
Neither of us come from a business background - Jamie’s day job is in TV content and strategy and Tom is a true creative - so we found this side of the venture a huge mountain to climb. We wanted someone to tell us all about branding, profit margins, retail to wholesale and marketing and PR (and the list goes on). But Instagram has been the most amazing networking tool. We’re amazed everyday how open the small indie businesses are - and we owe many thanks to everyone who we reached out to asking questions. Google is also a life saver and we’ve found a bounty of online courses, information and forums where expert advice can be discovered about setting up your own brand and business.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I wouldn’t say anything has gone wrong but that learning curve has been incredibly steep! It goes back to the time factor again - with Jamie in charge of all the non-creative elements of the business, and having a full-time job there have been pretty stressful times. Trying to fit everything in after a full day of work can be difficult - from planning the content we want to put out on social media, to processing and packaging orders to networking with bloggers and makers - but you just learn to make it all work.
7. What have you learnt?
We’ve learnt to just enjoy this crazy ride we’ve jumped on; our passion is for design-led interiors and we want to create designs and products that people love just as much as we do. We have huge ideas and plans for where we want to take the brand over the next few years but have learned to do things at a pace that suits us. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support on Instagram of people wanting to follow our journey and this is fantastic; we know it doesn’t have to be a mad rush but that the brand can evolve naturally over time.
Speaking of Instagram - we’ve learnt so much from social media. Before we launched we rarely used it (just the odd photo of our cat Ripley and some holiday snaps) and now it’s the main way we communicate with our customers. It’s taken some time for us to find our voice but we can’t get enough of it now!
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Just do it! If you’re passionate about something then just get on with it, if you don’t try you’ll never know. You can learn along the way and refine things and you’ll be so surprised at the number of people who are willing to offer help and advice if you just ask for it. People really are happy to help!
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
Seeing our lovingly designed collections in real homes! It sounds cheesy but it’s so amazing seeing something that we worked so hard to design and make, feature in someone’s home. And it’s something that a customer has thought long and hard about - for example our wallpaper; people have created entire interior schemes around our designs. We still have to pinch ourselves.
10.On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
We’re still new to this so it is hard work. I’d say around 7/10 - some days are better than others! It’s totally worth it though and on the days where it’s all a bit too much we just have to remember how far we’ve come in such a short space of time, pat ourselves on the back and have a cup of tea. And a few Oreo cookies.
Nicola says, "The first 12 months of any business journey are tough, especially if you don't have the experience to run "the business side" and are also working full time to earn a wage to pay the bills, it's a constant juggling act, but Jamie and Tom have used their drive and passion to come through this very quickly and launch an amazing collection of homewares.
It doesn't always get easier either, you just get used to the different challenges and more come along and time is a rare commodity that there seems to never be enough of. But, if you truly believe in what you are doing and can keep the balancing act going past the 12-month point (where most businesses fail or give up) you stand a good chance of growing, growing enough to perhaps take on help or to pay people to do the bits you are not so comfortable with, and then it does get a bit easier. However, you should always be prepared for 24/7 when you run your own business, some days you will be quieter others not so much, but then you are your own boss and that's the beauty of running your own business; the freedom!
Tom and Jamie have used influencers and social media to really help drive the growth of their brand, a really good piece of marketing. You can read more about this here.
The Girl with The Green Sofa