Sunday, 14 February 2016

Hello everyone! Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you all enjoyed your weekend.

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to give up your day job and follow your passion, and make it work. A few months ago I was not about to change anything, but now, after being at work for a month, I am not sure how much it helps (except on the financial side of course). I am wondering more and more what it would be like to do something with this crafting obsession I have. To find out more I have decided to interview those who just went for it. 

This month I am talking to my friend Justine who runs Simply Solids, a fabric shop based in the UK (I made two tutorials for her, here and here). I knew she had given up her (rewarding) job to run Simply Solids, but I did not know much more. So it was time to interview her, and hear about her experience. I am going to meet her in Birmingham next week, and I cannot wait! Here is her story... 

I got involved in the quilting community a fair few years ago, I think about 7 or 8, when I first started sewing again. I was a lurker on blogs and on Flickr for months and months, just observing this great community but really feeling like I didn’t have the skills to contribute anything! Throughout this time I was just buying and buying quilting fabrics and building this huge stash!! I eventually began commenting and connecting with people and the rest is history!

I actually didn’t start Simply Solids, I bought it on an absolute whim through a spur of the moment decision during the summer of 2012. I’ve always been impulsive and the opportunity arose so I took it, back then it was an online only business and had a small turnover, I was going to run it alongside nursing part-time but it became very apparent, I’d say within 6 months of me taking the business over, that I could not run Simply Solids and nurse as well, I had a difficult decision to make. I decided to quit nursing and grow Simply Solids as I felt working for myself would be more flexible around my then 3, now 4 children. I’d never run a business before but I had the support of my family and friends, some of whom do run their own businesses and I just had a gut feeling it would work.

As a business Simply Solids has grown enormously over the last 3 years and I think our success is somewhat down to the connections we make with the sewing and quilting community. When people contact the shop via social media or email, they get a fast response, even if it’s out of shop hours. I’m active both personally and as the shop on social media and in various online groups and forums and so people in the modern quilting world tend to know me. I’ve worked hard to forge good relationships with magazines, suppliers and fabric designers themselves and this has really helped. It was one of these connections that led to me taking on Lisa as an equal partner in January 2014. Since handing over the day to day financial management and office based work to Lisa, I’ve really been able to concentrate on the marketing and PR side of things. Lisa’s impact on the business has been huge, within 6 months of her been on board we felt able to take the plunge and open our first bricks and mortar. This aspect to the business has been a huge and ongoing learning curve for the both of us. In fact it’s like running two separate businesses, the needs of our local customers are very different to those of our well established online customers and we weren’t expecting that!

I would say our best selling fabrics are still Kona Cotton Solids, people come to us specifically for them. I think that our online customers recognize us as a Quilting shop rather than a general fabric or craft shop and so tend to buy fabrics for quilting rather than any other sewing project. In terms of choosing fabric we know which designers sell well, which designers are popular so we do keep this in mind but to be honest we mainly stock what we love. Lisa and I are both passionate about colour and so that is our guide, the more, the better! When the reps come to see us we make joint decisions about what we buy and if we see things on social media we tag each other so we can remember to ask the reps for specific things.

This last few months things have had to get pretty serious on the business running front, we’ve reached various different thresholds which has meant our finances have had to become even more water tight, this has been very scary as the numbers are big but Lisa has got it under control with our accountant! This side of running the business is the most difficult as we’re constantly learning the rules and regulations of what is required of us legally etc as a business. We’ve also taken on another member of staff too to work in the shop one day per week so Lisa can get a day in the office as it were!

I’d say to anybody wanting to have a go at starting their own business to just do it! It’s really hard work for very little financial gain so you’ll need support from family if you want to do it! The incentive for me though is working near to home, flexible working hours and been able to do something I am passionate about.

When Lisa and I opened the bricks and mortar shop we really hoped that it would be a place where local people could come and hang out and be inspired by the fabrics and samples we had on display as well as the classes and tutors we brought in. We just make everyone welcome, from the little old dear across the village who makes Project Linus quilts to the young girls and boys just starting out sewing. We encourage everyone to bring their latest makes in to show us and we’re often working on our own projects in the shop so people can see us in action too!

Inspiring the shop right now is quilting, we’ve really gone back to our roots and are loving planning fabrics for quilts and teaching quilting. I am particularly inspired by English Paper Piecing as I can do it on the go, my household is so busy just now that I don’t often get the time to have the machine out but I always have my EPP on the go! I find myself at my most creative when I’m at work as it’s just such an inspiring place and our customers totally inspire me, we see such great makes!

I honestly feel that people will still make things by hand and Lisa and I are passionate about passing on our skills and bringing in the best tutors that will inspire and teach people to continue making.

If I had the time right now I would make me a handmade wardrobe that would feature fabrics by Lizzie House, Aneela Hoey and Kaufman denims!!

Simply Solids has big expansion plans over the coming months, our shop is doubling in size and we have some awesome tutors coming to teach too! We will continue to source and supply the most gorgeous fabrics for quilting and dressmaking, as well as be adding more haberdashery and trims to our repertoire.

Good luck with all these plans! Cannot wait to see how Simply Solids evolves!

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