Caron not only makes her own lampshades, cushions and more but prints her own Perthshire and 1950s inspired fabrics. Her designs have a mid-century feel using rich and vibrant colours. A background in textile design put Caron on the right footing for her new craft career when, as part of a college project in 2011 as a mature student, she made her first lampshade. Caron has given us her inside story with hints and tips on setting up and running a lampshade business and is the lucky winner of £250 to spend on Needcraft lampshade making supplies to give her business a helping hand!
How did it all begin?
My first career included public relations, event management at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and sales & marketing for the conference facilities at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh and other prestigious venues across Scotland. A career break followed coinciding with starting our family and several house moves to accommodate my husband’s career (6 house moves in 10 years). I was at a career crossroads deciding whether to return to what I’d done before or start something new, with at least 20+ years of work life ahead of me, I really wanted to try to develop a sustainable career and had always wanted to work for myself, and the time was right to start anew. Having always enjoyed interior design I decided to explore my creative side and enrolled onto a one year Interior Decoration course, that led onto studying Textile Design, culminating in a BA Design & Creativity in 2013.
I set up as a textile designer in September 2013, hand screen printing my own designs onto fabrics to create various homeware items and accessories. Lampshades were always going to feature as I see the lampshade as a mini canvas and a way to develop new collections. I’ve enjoyed making lampshades so much that I’ve started running ‘lampshade making’ workshops at a couple of local venues. One is a lovely fabric and haberdashery shop in Perth called The Peacock & Tortoise and the other is a recycling charity called Remake in Crieff where participants are encouraged to up-cycle fabrics and various other coverings, maps have proved very popular to date.
How did you setup?
I’ve chosen to keep my setup as simple as possible and have taken over the spare room as a workroom and use the kitchen table to print my fabric and make my shades. My family is very accommodating as there are times when lampshades seem to be taking over certain areas of the house, but I want to establish the business before I commit to the costs of a studio and am taking small steps to build my profile as a designer maker and develop a customer base, it’s still early days and this is still very much in progress. I used some savings to help build up the materials required to create my designs and products and have used sales income to sub materials and activities as I go forward.
What’s helped you along the way?
Support from friends and family have been really helpful as well as linking in with local creative groups, working from home on your own ticks lots of boxes but it’s important to be able to share ideas and challenges with other people working in a similar way. Also accepting when a task is both way beyond my comfort zone and likely to take more time for me to get my head around than is productive, and it’s time to call in the help of an expert, notably an accountant.
What do you still need help with?
Daily chores to free up more of my time! Guidance on how to work with the trade sector as well as considering how to grow production levels as a one man band! Running a business has been tough though It’s not really that different to how I imagined, I always knew it was going to be a slow long haul and am more than happy to be getting on with it: total belief in what you’re doing and where it will hopefully go are crucial and keep me motivated.
What do you love about your business?
I love the designing element of my business and have always got my ‘pattern head’ on, I also love receiving images from customers who have purchased one of my shades and seeing it in situ in their own house and how they’ve used it to complement their own interior style. I also love teaching people how to make a lampshade and the pure satisfaction they have as they leave with a very professional product they’ve made themselves, even if they consider themselves not to be a creative sort. I love that Needcraft lampshade making suppliers produce in the UK which helps me ensure that my products are supporting the UK market and sustainable too. I know with them, I’m going to be given the correct advice. It’s really refreshing to receive excellent customer service and very much appreciated, I feel supported by them even though I’ve never met anyone in person.
What challenges you the most?
Time, working as a one man band I need to make time to handle every element of the business from designing, producing, marketing, selling, delivering, photographing, social media, sourcing supplies etc etc. This is also being juggled alongside the usual busy family life. I try, when I remember, to grab a moment and consider just what I have done and have achieved, rather than constantly be thinking about what remains on my ‘to do’ list, it’s human nature to focus on what’s not been done and forget just how much has been achieved – and this takes time!!
What materials/ fabric do you use?
My own designs are printed onto an unbleached soft linen union fabric, this is a great fabric as it provides a very natural base for my prints, yet its soft enough to allow plenty of light diffuse through the shade. When running workshops and creating my ReLoved Collection, maps have been very popular and this is always lovely as it’s a way of personalising it in an unusual way, like a memory of a special holiday location, where you come from or an old style of map which is just lovely to look at.
Do you use/ do anything unusual?
When up-cycling shades for a workshop or my ReLoved Collection I’ve used vintage crochet pieces sewn onto linen which make a lovely shade. I’m also sampling a style of shade which uses different colours of silk from a discarded sample book purchased from the Remake Scrapstore. There are a few additional steps I take when assembling a lampshade, small steps which I’ve discovered create a truly professional finish.
Three tips for new craft entrepreneurs:
Invest in a good camera and make time to keep a library of good photographs, interesting images are vital to both promote and ultimately sell your products.
In the early days explore all sales opportunities, especially ones where you can get to speak to customers direct, their direct and indirect feedback is an important way to gauge the reaction to your products.
Embrace social media regardless of how tech savvy you are, it’s part of modern communications and although it can often be confusing it really is a necessary evil and one which many people are equally exploring for the first time, even if it looks as if they are more confident in how to use it.
Three warnings for new entrepreneurs:
If working alone be prepared that you’ll have many, many ideas and actions you want to put into place and that in reality it will take much longer than you want it to take. Deadlines will naturally prioritise activity and to dedicate your time to the activities which will build your business in the direction you want to go.
Don’t be afraid to alter course if after testing something out it doesn’t prove fruitful. It’s amazing the difference 12 months can make. Whilst you need to explore different avenues, listen to your gut feeling. If something isn’t working for you, use your energies in a different way and trust your instinct.
Double check and research any sales/advertising opportunities which come out of the blue. More often than not they are from scammers and if it appears too good an opportunity to miss, a quick double-check with a fellow maker or online can help clarify the validity of the opportunity.
Find Caron Ironside Design:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CaronIronsideDesign My Twitter: https://twitter.com/TextileCaron Blog: https://caronironside.wordpress.com
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