Spotlight on Debbie Carne of Alijoedesigns
Today's Spotlight is on Debbie Carne ofAlijoedesigns, who makes the most incredible up cycled plates as art for you walls. But this hasn't always been Debbie's career, it is only recently that she has discovered her fantastic talent and having the belief to follow her dream has taken a lot of guts and determination.
If you want to shop her art you can here, and read on to here Debbie's fascinating journey.
At 61, alijoedesigns is a much wanted, second life experience.
After graduating in Psychology, I worked in advertising and then trained as a qualitative market researcher . . . all about understanding consumer behaviour and advising ad agencies and brand owners how to optimise their marketing and communication.
35 years later, I was feeling frustrated by changes in the industry and no longer enjoying the work. I realised I was probably close to my use by date and really longed for a radical change.
I’ve always loved the offbeat, unexpected role that art and design can play, and I recognised an opportunity to combine my passion for rummaging in junk shops with creative thinking. It is the impact of juxtaposing the traditional with the unexpected that I seek to express in my work, giving a witty, contemporary twist to the classic decorative plate.
I had no idea where it was all going to take me when I started four years ago and could never have imagined that I would be invited to be ‘Artist in Residence’ at The Exhibitionist Hotel in South Kensington. That’s happening in August/September this year
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I had a very successful career in qualitative market research, running my own company and then working independently for many years but had got to the stage that I yearned to do something different – very different! If they weren’t retiring, the obvious route that most people at my stage in the industry were taking, was coaching or counselling but I absolutely knew that neither of these was what I wanted. I’d always had a creative streak in me but hadn’t really found a way of expressing it – the big challenge was to find ‘it’.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I’d been working from home anyway and was lucky enough to have my own room to work in. It was simply a case of replacing the shelves filled with research reports, marketing documents etc. with vintage plates.
3. How did you fund your business?
Luckily, it didn’t require a huge investment and I was able to self-fund from savings.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Doing something so completely different, with no formal training, I struggled with believing in myself and putting myself out there in such a different guise. Imposter syndrome frequently rears its ugly head and I still don’t really know what to call myself (‘designer’? ‘artist’? . . .)
That said, some amazing things happened early on that gave me the confidence to believe maybe I was onto something. . .
In a serendipity moment, the creative director working for Ted Baker came across me/my work in my first year at a local market and commissioned me to make a wall of plates for a restaurant at Hilton hotel in Bournemouth that they were styling.
Soon after, I was invited to create a wall of plates in the café at The Artist Residence Hotel in Pimlico and then I was featured in Reclaim magazine and one of my plate pairs appeared in the Middle Eastern edition of Architectural Digest alongside plates by Fornasetti and Christian Lacroix.
I’ve come to the conclusion that you can be ‘creative’ without formal training and that, I guess, is me.
5. What help was missing for you?
I’m not sure that it was. I went on a couple of short courses at Morley College and City Lit that were incredibly useful and very quickly stumbled upon the amazing resources of The Design Trust. I also joined Craft Central which was very helpful too.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
At the risk of sounding smug, nothing went ‘wrong’ as such – perhaps because I was easing myself in gently and was fortunate enough to have the financial buffer of my career, there was no real pressure to ‘deliver’. It was all very organic, with me learning on the job and benefiting from some fantastic boosts along the way.
7. What have you learnt?
I knew nothing about anything I do when I started. It has all been a massive, incredibly inspiring and exciting learning curve – and continues to be so.
But if I am to pinpoint anything specific, I think it would be these:
- to be selective about social media. I have always been a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology and get dragged kicking and screaming into the next ‘big thing’. I started on Twitter, felt I ought to do Facebook but it took me ages to try Instagram. And that is the one that has worked best for me – I don’t have a massive following but I really enjoy it and it has been instrumental in helping to grow the business.
-not any live event will ‘do’. At the beginning, I was selling at a variety of different markets and often finding that people were neither interested nor buying. It was of course very disheartening but I then attended as many events as I could to get a feel for which were the ‘right’ ones for me. I’m now very selective and focus on quality not quantity.
-the importance of having your own website. I started on Etsy and still have a scant presence on there. It was brilliant to get me going and to begin to sell but it was me amongst millions of others. I’d always had my own website in my previous working life and felt that this was one way to help truly differentiate myself.
-not to wholesale. Controversial perhaps but the right decision for me. I was approached in my first year by a prestigious online retailer who wanted me to make multiples of my upcycled plates and pay me 1/3 of my retail price. Thank fully, I recovered from the flattery and declined – my labour of love comes at a price!
My tableware range was designed and developed for wholesale purposes and despite a fantastic experience at Top Drawer last year, I quickly learnt that it just doesn’t pay and reluctantly, I am winding that down.
- the perils of outsourcing. Related to the above, I worked with a pottery in Stoke to have my tableware made. I’d done my research and found a company that I believed was of the right mindset to work with small fry like me, and it was all wonderful at first. My second order of plates was a disaster – despite the promise of top quality control, most had to be sent back, I was delayed in fulfilling a Christmas order and was stressed beyond belief. Amazingly, the same happened with the next order. Very reluctantly, another reason to not continue with the tableware.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
-Do something that you feel passionate about. It takes commitment and drive to ride the hurdles and unless it is something you REALLY want to do, it will be hard to keep motivated.
-Believe in yourself – or at least have the attitude so that belief can follow. (I’m getting there. . .!)
-Have a decent website – it’s incredibly easy to do and there are many options to choose from. I went for Squarespace and if I can do it, anyone can.
-Don’t be afraid to let go of something that isn’t working for you. You have to try/take some risks but move on if it isn’t right.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
It’s hard to identify one thing, but I think it has to be witnessing the emotional response at live events. I love art and design that makes me smile and it feels incredible when I get that response from viewers of my work.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
That’s a tricky one but given that I ran a business before, albeit in a very different industry, I would say a 5. Most of my hurdles are emotional ones – believing in myself, dealing with creative blocks etc. There is help out there, not least via others on Instagram sharing their experiences and frustrations - but then I wouldn’t be ‘me’ without my demons!
Nicola says "Debbie gives some great advice throughout this post, particularly the need to believe in yourself. I see this time and time again. Business is tough enough going without you constantly questioning yourself. Of course, be analytical, if something isn't working then you need to move on, but if you've found something truly unique, be kind to yourself, you can do it and you have to believe so, or the other hurdles will be insurmountable"
The Girl with The Green Sofa