Spotlight on Lillarugs
Lilla Rugs helps people find the perfect rug, at the most sensible price. With 26 year history, collecting rug, they now have one of the largest showrooms in London. Every Lilla Rug is made 100% by hand, so each and every rug is one of a kind.
Read on to find out more about this brand but also the heritage that has gone behind it.
I'm half Iranian and half Scottish, I was born in Zurich, and brought up in London, with a short stint in Tehran as a child. My parents set up an oriental rug wholesale company when we moved to London a couple months after I was born (back in 1992) so rugs have been in my life for as long as I can remember. My older brother and I were lucky enough to travel around Iran as children, visiting all the weavers in villages across the country. From a young age, I learnt about the incredible stories behind each and every rug, direct from the families that weaved them.
After four years of working in Advertising, I realised I needed a creative outlet, to pour my passion for interiors and my heritage into. So, I started an Instagram page, where I compiled interior inspiration and photos of a lot of handmade rugs, which soon spiralled into opening an Etsy shop and later quitting my job and launching the Lilla Rugs site and open up the showroom for viewings.
I’ve always had a passion for interiors. I spent a lot of time in my family home rearranging rooms to create new looks. I also always knew I wanted to, one day, work for myself. It took me a little while to realise that the rugs, that were so a part of my life already, were the ticket into my dream career. I had been looking at the family business in the wrong way. I didn’t want to join the fold, I wanted to create something of my own. To redress tradition for a new generation. To show the younger generations in particular how cool oriental rugs really are. They’re regal, cultural and often classic in style, but just needed to be put into the context of today’s trends to bring to light how stylish they are.
Now here I am, with Lilla Rugs London. Helping people find the perfect rug, at the most sensible price. Every Lilla Rug is made 100% by hand, so each and every rug is one of a kind. No two rugs are the same. They’re designer rugs, made by locals.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
After four years of working in Advertising, I realised I needed a creative outlet, to pour my passion for interiors and my heritage into. So, I started an Instagram page, where I compiled interior inspiration and photos of a lot of handmade rugs. It wasn’t necessarily on my agenda to create a viable business off the back of this, but about 2 months in, I started to get messages asking where the rugs were for sale. I decided at that point to upload about 10 rugs to Etsy and see what happened. I was completely caught by surprise when I sold a large Persian overdyed rug within 24 hours, and shortly after the rest of the first upload batch. So, I just kept uploading.
My mindset really changed in September 2017, when I joined a course ran by a company called Escape the City. I met so many like-minded entrepreneurs and suddenly it just all clicked that I was sitting on what could be my full-time career. My vision was so strong as to what Lilla Rugs could be, and I knew that the flexibility of working for myself would be the dream.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I took the ‘side hustle’ route. I was working full time and running Lilla Rugs on the side for almost a year. I didn’t quit my job until I had done three months of making enough money to ensure I could cover my basic living costs. As soon as that happened, I decided to go for it!
3. How did you fund your business?
When Lilla Rugs started, overheads were very low. I was earning just about enough at my full-time job to pay for some basics: photographing the rugs mainly. I only launched my website in March this year, and before that I was running 100% off of Etsy, so being via an online platform, costs were minimal.
As for the product, we have a 10,000 sqft warehouse full of rugs that is family owned. My parents have been gradually building up the stock for the past 26 years. For the first 6 months I only sold what was already there, paying the wholesale cost of the rug only at the point at which it sold. So, no upfronts! Once I’d sold a few, I was able to initiate new productions, such as our Moroccan Berber range.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
In the early days, the biggest challenge was time. I was waking up a couple hours earlier and slotting in time to respond to client messages and do the basics I needed to do for the daily running of the business, all before I started work. Working in Advertising is far from a 9-5 job, so evenings would often not be an option. Only having enough time to be responsive meant that the business would never meet its potential, as I didn’t have the time to build on the bigger picture.
Since working on Lilla Rugs full time it’s become apparent that I’m an incredibly impatient person. Learning that building a business you hope will survive your working lifetime is a slow burner, has been a hard thing to do. Just because you’ve got the most amazing product, a beautiful website, smashing branding, and the personal drive, doesn’t mean that hundreds of people will start buying your rugs overnight.
5. What help was missing for you?
Trade contacts. I don’t have a background in interior design, and I think that has been a missing piece of the puzzle that would have been incredibly beneficial. Who knows, maybe that will have to change one day! For the time being, I am trying my best to meet as many interior designers and other trade professionals as possible and will be exhibiting at 100% design in September in the hope of getting the Lilla Rugs name out there.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I don’t think anything has gone wrong necessarily, but there have been a lot of learnings through mistakes made! I’ve realised the importance of inventory tracking – some rugs say they are ‘here’ in the system but have in fact sold. I’ve also learnt that just because your competition is doing something, doesn’t make it right for your vision and your brand – stick to what you set out to do!
7. What have you learnt?
I have learnt so much, about business and about myself. Too much to list. I guess the most noteworthy thing I’ve learnt is stamina. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to pace yourself but push when needed. Celebrate successes, try new things, keep coming back to your vision, take a break when you need it, and don’t compromise on your key life values.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
The absolute most important thing about starting a business is passion. If you are not passionate about the product, the cause or the service, you will not find the stamina and strength you need when times are tough, and you’ll be risking your happiness.
The other piece of advice would be to just begin! You don’t have to stop everything at once and built the perfect iteration of what your vision is. You just need to put one little thing out there and build on it day by day. Someone was told me that if I didn’t look back on my first 20 Instagram posts and feel deeply embarrassed by them, then I haven’t been learning and evolving in the way I need to be. Thankfully, I’m deeply embarrassed by them, and I love that.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I will never take being my own boss for granted. I love it more than I ever imagined I would. I love the flexibility it brings to my life. I am so much more in tune with how I feel and am working on the right things in accordance with that. I also love that I wanted to have a go at designing some rugs, so I just did it, because there was nobody else to ‘approve them’ for me.
I also still get a buzz every time I sell a rug, and I love that. I get so much excitement from the fact that my rugs are in people’s homes, dotted around the world. That’s pretty cool.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
It depends how I feel each day! When I’m faced with something new I have no idea how to navigate, or I realise it’s all down to me to get things done, it’s a 9 or 10 on the hard scale! On the days I’m shooting rugs in a beautiful home, have clients in for a visit, or am playing about on Instagram, it’s a 1 or 2!
"Just because you’ve got the most amazing product, a beautiful website, smashing branding, and the personal drive, doesn’t mean that hundreds of people will start buying your rugs overnight." Nicola says "this is so true when starting out in business, you have to make yourself heard over the large amount of "noise' in the market place and plan for sales not going quite as quickly as you might expect early doors. Have a contingency fund, or find a way to fund your business (through working or savings) until you can actually start to see the benefits coming in."
The Girl with The Green Sofa