• Katie Elliott

David Versus Goliath


I have been giving my business a lot of thought lately. When I started Oldhaus in May 2013, both of my girls having started school and giving me the time and being in a postion to concentrate on all those skills and motivation and passion I learnt (and missed) at University and college; I started making products mainly on ideas I got from Pinterest for simple bunting and cushions made from other designers fabrics. I opened an etsy shop and a folksy shop and listed my items on ebay.

I started selling, mainly wedding bunting and standard cushions made from vintage fabrics ( my sewing skills at this point weren't quite up to scratch!) then I started getting into print transfers using vintage advertising images making cushions. Me being me, wasn't satisfied with just one technique and started experimenting with print on bunting. I remember thinking, if you can print one letter per pennant as most independent designers were doing at the time, surely you can push the boundaries and print pictures and sayings.

My husband is a cycling enthusiast and loves to spend an hour shoe horning himself into his lycra before going out for a two hour ride, come back, wash and oil his bike for an hour - all in all the process takes about five hours before he finally presents himself showered and in normal clothes! In 2013/2014 cycling was becoming incredibly popular and he suggested I try and make a set of bunting that reflected the cycling enthusiasts all over the world and incorporate yellow ( main colour for the Tour de France race) and print bicycles ( I had never seen any bunting up to this point with printed bicycles or images other than standard lovehearts or polka dots).

The first set I made was just before the Tour De France was about to start in Yorkshire (Grand Depart 2014) and I thought about playing around with Yorkshire sayings such as 'eeh by gum' and 'by eck' and incorporating it to my bike designed bunting. Within twenty of minutes of listing it, I had sold my first one! I remember we went away to friends house that same weekend and my phone just wouldn't stop buzzing with sales to the point that I was worried (and excited) about how I was going to fulfill all these orders! At that point I had cardboard stencils for everything, I made stencils out of cardboard and every bike and word took a painstakingly long time to print and dry and then I started investing in screen printing materials to speed the process up.

I made many different versions, all popular and started to divulge into other areas of sport such as Wimbledon, the Olympics, rugby and football. All have proved popular and unique to me and my business. Meanwhile I was still pushing my cushion and home accessory ideas but they just weren't selling as well as the bunting. It was frustrating because having admired designers such as Orla Kiely, Cath Kidston and Laura Ashley and wanting to specialise in home décor, my designs just weren't hitting the right notes and I didn't want to be tied to just doing sports and celebrational bunting.

Over the last few years I have learnt so many more techniques and developed my skills at sewing and print and applique, I have learnt a lot about inks and materials but when the sports market goes quiet usually at the end of the summer and sales slow down I start analysing what I am doing wrong. It can be very demotivating when it goes quiet and I miss getting that real buzz from creating new items and getting sales.

Having spent the time thinking about my business, a lot of my cushions are priced at £15 - £20 which on comparison with other more established designers is quite reasonable. If you pop into John Lewis or Heals – they would be a steal at this price.

But because of mass production a lot of people do not realise that all of my products are handmade and made from scratch, therefore the time I put in to making each separate thing is just not understood. With so much mass production readily available, I find like many other small hand made businesses that we are fighting a losing battle.

You can pop to places such as Dunelm Mill or Wilko and pick up a pretty good cushion or pillow for a fiver and it's very difficult for small businesses to compete. I don't blame anyone for buying something cheaper when it is so readily available ( including my mother! Hmmmm! But lets not go into that here....)

Apart from the competition between big and small businesses, on my journey in starting my own company I have come across articles from other designers similar to myself, who have blatantly had their work plagiiarised by big companies.

Tuesday Bassen of 'ShopTuesday' has accused the spanish clothing company ,Zara of blatantly stealing four of her designs. She is entering a huge legal battle with the firm who (through their lawyers) she feels are belitlling and bullying her. This has a massive impact on her livelihood as an independent designer.

Peggy Noland of Wacky Wacko has also had her designs blatantly copiied both by Zara and @7Mang and she has a great way of using social media to hit right back at them!

So how do small independent designers battle with huge global companies with huge budgets and an entire team of lawyers? Where are the ethics? Where are the boundaries both in mass production and plagiarism? I am fortunate to not be in the position of having any design ripped off but I think it is something that kind of has to be accepted that it will happen in some shape or form as an independent designer. There is just no control.

Above Peggy Nolands T-shirts copy by Zara with slight changing of letters in wording and her drinks T-shirt above copied by @7Mang

All design be it furniture, textiles, interiors, graphics all interlinks, inspires and motivates itself in a continuous circle of reproduced design. As designers are all inspired by images and designer items they have grown to love throughout their lives and so these elements will always influence that particular designer's work – the colours they like, the patterns they always go for in the things they create. Design is a continuous circle of being inspired by somebodys else ideas and adapting them to your own ideas.

So....with all that established and vented! I am now customising clothing which I absolutely love and something I have always done so I may as well make clothes for other people to enjoy. It sells. From customising clothing I hope to get enough ground to start another business which can specialise in home décor using knit and weaving and have a different design edge so I can develop the millions of ideas I have floating around my head and the endless lists I write daily ...into a different area of the fashion and textiles market.

Katie x

#TuesdayBassen #PeggyNoland #Oldhaus #Zara

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