Emma and Aminah are young, talented, lively, ambitious and the founders of the successful design house, e&a clothing. Not only are they a thriving young business but they act as a platform to allow young designers to get their ideas to a larger audience.
We asked Emma to tell us about themselves and their business.
How did you meet?
We both studied interior design at the Glasgow School of Art and by the tme we graduated the idea for the business was already fully formed in our heads. By the August of that year we had set ourselves up in an office in Glasgow and away we went!
Tell us a little about e&a?
e&a works with new art school graduates and designers from all over the U.K to produce lines of jewellery, clothing and accessories all available for sale in our boutique in Glasgow and online. We started with all pieces being one off and hand made by the designer, but as demand grew we started to allow more than one of each design to be made, and then expanded further by hiring a seamstress to manufacture pieces for sale. The aim of the business is to provide a starting place for designers to showcase their work and experience designing for retail. This really helps them to improve their design skills and also practical manufacturing skills.
Web sales are also a huge part of our business, with jewellery being sold and sent out all over the U.K. Magazine features and shoots are an enormous part of our marketing, and by far the best way to reach new customers. We have also been lucky enough to be able to make pieces for up and coming stars such as Little Boots, Pixie Lott, Solange Knowles, Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) and many others. They all really love to receive little packages of goodies backstage, and are always really very appreciative too. Maybe slightly more famous, and much more wealthy stars wouldn’t be so grateful, but we don’t usually make goodies for them!
Have you always wanted to be your own boss?
Yes! Very much so, although I think that until the business actually began I didn’t fully realise it. The business in my immediate family inspired me to start my own, and I realise I was very lucky to see that first hand. For most starting a business can be a very daunting thing, as most people can’t really understand why you would want to do such a thing.
Why did you start this particular business?
e&a began during art school with a realisation that most graduates were really very talented, but that the job market worked in such a way as to not recognise and utilise the them fully in the design industry. Most graduates spend a few years running errands and making tea before they can really design anything. We wanted to change that.
What business/entrepreneur help did you get at school?
To be honest, not much at all. Certainly not at art school, where there was little talk of entrepreneurship or business opportunities. Young Enterprise clubs in school were a fun way to ‘play at businesses’ but aside from that we were taught mainly how to work for other people. I do understand this though, as most people would benefit more from that than how to do it yourself. Most entrepreneurs I know wouldn’t listen anyway!
What help was there at college?
Further education taught us that if you wanted something done you had better go and do it yourself, because no one was going to do it for you. I don’t mean this in a negative way, as I think it should be the way everyone thinks. We were in a very small class and were lucky to have all the tutorial time we needed, but that didn’t mean anything was going to come easier! We also knew that if we could survive week after week of grueling art school critiques that we could survive anything.
Were you influenced by your family and friends?
I certainly was, but not intentionally as far as I’m aware. It was all available to me if I wanted it, but it was never pushed upon me. I thought everyone must surely want to start their own businesses until I started to talk about wanting my own. Then I discovered that we are most definitely in the minority and that most people are appalled by the idea. There are two types of people in the working world and everyone thinks that they are in the majority. As much as a regular pay cheque would be lovely, I truly cannot see myself seeking it out through employment. My mother thinks I’m crazy, but I think she understands! We’re all different, and that’s a very good thing.
What kind of things are your school/college friends doing?
I have met a lot of friends through the business, mostly people setting up companies nearby or their staff and so it has changed my circle of friends quite dramatically. Some friends are traveling in Australia, others are taking on further study. Lots from university have found jobs in their field. It’s quite a mixed bunch.
The other young people in their own business, how are they finding things?
Things are very difficult at the moment unfortunately. Some businesses have closed, which I think is very sad. Others are still going, but slowly. I don’t know anyone in business near me who hasn’t taken on a second, and sometimes a third job. But you know this is what business is about. We are not a huge corporation with mounting costs and huge labour bills. We are a small company and we are prepared to take risks. We can move faster and we can adapt and it is in this way that I feel we are stronger. It’s hard now but just you watch. Some of these tiny companies working their socks off just now will be the big companies you will know tomorrow. And we will be stronger for all our hard work. If nothing else, working in a second job for someone else while owning your own company makes you very determined not to work for anyone else again!
How did you finance the business?
We were funded partially through PSYBT after speaking before a panel and receiving a soft loan. We also received a grant from Business Gateway as the company was starting. The rest we were very grateful to be able to borrow from family.
Did you have any problems raising the money?
We didn’t need much to start so we were lucky. Raising money after the business started was very difficult indeed! Since we have our own sales space we are considered a purely retail business and raising finance for a high street retail operation is really difficult when banks see major chains and established brands folding.
How you are growing the business? What are your plans for the future?
We are working on developing our online shop, and allowing our products to become more widely available. We have had some great press coverage over the last few months which is a fantastic and something we would definitely like to continue.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
It’s hard to say really. I would say that I should work more slowly and think more carefully. But in all honesty I know that wouldn’t ever happen. The excitement of working towards your dream is what makes your own business what it is, and shouldn’t be changed. There are other things too; money I wouldn’t have spent contracts I wouldn’t have rushed so quickly into, but these things I know now because we did them. We have learned and we won’t do it again!
What change would help you most?
We find the grouping of businesses into categories quite frustrating. In essence we are a design group, but we sell from a shop. This means that although we help new graduates and designers get onto their feet and out in the big bad world of design there are no grants for us. We are seen solely as retailers. Grants would have helped a lot as it would have allowed us to pursue different avenues that we are not be able to afford to develop at the moment. I think the introduction of very small grants of only a few hundred pounds would help young businesses enormously.
What advice would you give others starting out?
Put a bit of money aside and don’t touch it. Absolute emergency money should not be used for shoes, new bags or new stationery. When it is an emergency you will know about it. Don’t use it before. Apply for an overdraft on your company account before you need it and don’t use it. It’s amazing how often emergency money is used on things we feel sure were emergencies at the time. It’s only when big things really happen that you think ‘ah, so that’s what that money was for’.
And finally I would say;
If you’re not sure about starting a business, don’t.
If you think that you might possibly one day like to start a business, don’t.
If you truly want it, you will do it regardless of what anyone says.
You will eat, sleep and breathe the business. It will be all you will ever talk about and you will drive your friends crazy. But you will love every last minute of it, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. e&a clothing is a success story of two talented, dynamic young women determined to make a go of things and to help young designers get their ideas into production. Their website is full of fantastic, original artistry and you can do your bit to support this young enterprise by paying a visit to their website!